Blog: Innovation at Phoenix Futures

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13 February 2015

A blog post by Jim Armstrong, Director of Marketing and Innovation at Phoenix Futures

We’ve created a new department called Marketing and Innovation. Over the next couple of months I’ll talk more about what that means for our approach to innovation in 2015 but first I thought it would be interesting to look back at how we came to be doing what we do.

Dr Griffith Edwards set up Phoenix House (now Phoenix Futures) based on his experience of visiting New York in 1968. There he saw a new and successful self-help therapeutic community model of treatment.  This is at a time when the only approach to treating alcoholics in the UK was to shut them up for a long time in hospital. This new approach provided a structure in which people with drug and alcohol problems were expected to take responsibility for their own recovery. Addiction was viewed as a symptom of a disorder of the entire person where changes in behaviour including abstinence, the elimination of antisocial activity and the adoption of prosocial attitudes and values would facilitate the achievement of employability and a new way of life.

Within a year he took a research trip to New York to observe the rehabilitation processes first hand and brought back over two Americans, one an ex-addict and graduate of Phoenix House New York, to come over and take up clinical posts as Director and Assistant Director of the new project.  Simultaneously, a patient of Dr Griffiths Edwards who had completed a detoxification programme was sent to Phoenix House, New York, for rehabilitation with the intention that on his return he would become trained ex-addict staff member.

The fact that an ex-addict could be appointed a staff member, let alone manage a rehabilitation unit, was seen as a truly radical step. It was a key element to the Phoenix model: positive role models embedded within the rehabilitative environment provided day to day examples of ‘right living’ and live evidence that recovery was achievable. So enabling people in recovery to work in the sector and creating the concept of peer mentors.

Around the same time Alcohol Recovery Project (ARP) was established by prison welfare officer Tim Cook, and Dr Griffith Edwards, in order to serve homeless alcoholics in London. ARP initially worked from Rathcoole House, a small hostel providing for people with alcohol problems. The staff at Rathcoole initially struggled to define the house rules, this reached a point in 1966 as Tim Cook says: 

“It all really came to a head at the very first Christmas in 1966. We had a full house. All the men were in work but by Christmas day there was not a single man left in the house. All were drinking. Some returned and we took them back. Some I went out to find and invited them back. But then we realized this was a very chaotic way to proceed. We decided that we had to engage the residents much more in developing an appropriate policy. This was the key development in the history of the house in my time.” (Conversation with Timothy Cook, Addiction, 98, pages 1029–1038)

ARP merged with the charity Rugby House to form Foundation 66 in 2009 and became part of the Phoenix Futures Group in 2014.

These early examples of Service User Involvement and Peer Mentoring highlight to me that what could be seen as the latest trends in the sector actually started in our own organisations.

The work of Dr Edwards, Tim Cook and others revolutionised the drug and alcohol sector in the UK. Their innovations, of which there were many, were successful because they were open to radical new ideas, they were evidence based and they gave individuals the responsibility for their own treatment. They offered people in need respect and dignity. 

As we look to develop an approach to innovation that is fit for 2015 there is much to be learnt from Phoenix achieved in 1968.

Here’s some more firsts that you may not be aware of from Phoenix’s past –

• the first prison based therapeutic community treatment service for addictions,

• the first residential rehabilitation service to accommodate parents and their children

• the first supported accommodation services for people in recovery

• the first provision of specialist drug workers to the probation service

• the first specialist palliative care unit for drug users with AIDS

• the first specialist provision of an education, training and employment resource for drug users

• the first specialist family outreach service for drug using parents

• the first treatment module combining conservation of the environment and therapy for substance misusers

• the first prison link worker service

• the first comprehensive multiple needs assessment tool for substance misusers

Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).