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As new students embark on their higher education journey this month, the charity Recovery Connections is asking universities to consider students and staff in recovery and sign up to a pledge to make their campus recovery friendly. And the University of Sunderland has already become the first in the country to support the initiative.

Recovery Connections, based in Middlesbrough, has long been a national advocate for increasing the visibility of recovery from all kinds of addiction on university campuses. As the charity behind the HEART (Higher Education and Recovery Talk) peer-support website, Recovery Connections was also responsible for the UK's first collegiate recovery programme (CRP), based at Teesside University. 

The charity is now urging other university leaders to sign up to its pledge - something it believes is particularly paramount at the start of a higher education journey, where alcohol is often an overwhelming focus of social activities.

Recovery Connections CEO, Dot Smith, said: "Fresher's Week is always a really exciting time for new undergraduates, yet the overwhelming focus on alcohol can be problematic for many students in recovery who are finding their feet and making new friends. Additionally, those who have been impacted by family addictions may also seek non-drinking social opportunities.

"As an illness, addiction thrives on isolation and shame, so bringing recovery to the fore, building peer communities and creating sober spaces will undoubtedly change - and save - lives.

"We know that recovery is contagious, and that people in recovery are invaluable when it comes to helping others, but unless a university is proactive in its approach to supporting its staff and students, such opportunities to stay well and thrive whilst studying or working on campus remain hidden."

Thanks to funding from The Churchill Fellowship and a subsequent research trip to the US where CRPs are well established, Recovery Connections has been able to work with Teesside as well as other universities across the country to deliver several focus groups exploring what needs to happen to make a University recovery friendly. The outcomes of this research have informed the pledge, which is now being supported by the University of Sunderland.

Simon Lees, Assistant Director - Student Journeyat The University of Sunderland, said: "We are always interested in new ways to support our students, continuously creating a culture of inclusivity and diversity in which they can feel safe, and positive. Putting in place the actions that make up the pledge enable us to reach and support more students, and reduce the potential for stigma to interfere with them seeking help. For Sunderland to be the first university in the UK to sign up demonstrates our commitment to these values."

Some of the actions the pledge asks universities to undertake include: Training up at least one member of staff as a recovery ally, creating sober spaces, raising awareness and educating people on recovery and actively challenging the stigma relating to people in recovery.

While collegiate recovery programmes (CRPs) are well established in the USA, the approach is relatively new in the UK, with only two other universities, Teesside and Birmingham, taking a proactive approach to supporting students in recovery - up until the end of the previous academic year. Meanwhile, it's reported that the USA now has over 150 established CRPs.   

With additional support from LBC presenter and mental health campaigner and researcher Natasha Devon MBE; Behavioural Change Specialist, Shahroo Izadi, and researcher and Liverpool University lecturer, Dr Suzi Gage, the campaign has launched to tie in with freshers' week, but has been created to benefit students at all stages of university life, as well as University staff.

To find out more about the pledge, visit

Any students wishing to access online peer support and information can visit

For further information about Recovery Connections


For further media information, interviews or imagery, contact Lucy Nichol on / 07771 967032 or Simon Trelfa

Notes to Editors

Additional quotes available for use:

Behavioural Change Specialist and bestselling author, Shahroo Izadi, said: "Having worked with young people in addiction, I know that sufficient understanding and support with ongoing recovery is lacking in higher education settings. 

"That's why I'm so proud to support the pledge to encourage universities to take an informed, compassion-based approach by providing students with visible access to a recovery community."

LBC Presenter and mental health campaigner and researcher, Natasha Devon, MBE said: "My work takes me into an average of three schools and colleges every week and, what has come out of my many focus groups is that many students wish to practice abstinence or moderation when it comes to alcohol consumption.

"But they also have fears around not being able to do that because their perception is that all of the social events at university will involve alcohol. This is why I'm really keen to support the Recovery Friendly pledge -  to find a solution to students feeling this way and support them on their journey."

Dr Suzi Gage said: "Student substance use is often seen as a harm reduction issue, but it's important not to forget those students who are in recovery, with a family history of addiction, or a vulnerability to addiction of some kind. Making recovery visible on campus will fill an important gap and I'm delighted to support it."