A Brief History of Recovery Colleges
In 2000 the Recovery College approach was pioneered in the US to support people to develop their own skills and confidence in order to do the things they value. More recently since 2009 Recovery Colleges have emerged throughout Europe and most notably in the UK. Presently there are five Recovery Colleges either operating throughout Ireland. An important element of Recovery College approach is the principle of Co-production, meaning people with personal experience, including people overcoming distress and supporters (family members and friends) work in respectful partnerships with professionals to co-design, co-deliver and co-evaluate all aspects of the college.
Our beginnings: Establishing the Dublin North, North East Recovery College
Recovery Colleges have been part of the story of mental health services development in Ireland since around 2013 when the Mayo Recovery College was launched. Since then a number of partnerships in each health catchment area have been trying to attract funding and resources to develop recovery colleges around the country, with mixed results. As part of the Advancing Recovery in Ireland (ARI) initiative, establishing a recovery college is a key objective of each site around the country. A core group of researchers and community activists in DCU School of Nursing & Human Sciences became interested in exploring the possibility of establishing a Recovery College in Dublin North, North East. An exploratory partnership with individuals, voluntary organisations, other educational hubs and mental health services in CHO areas 8 & 9(Dublin North, North East) was established.
Having reviewed some of the literature and recovery college governance frameworks nationally and internationally; visited some sites and listened to presentations from a number of UK based Recovery Colleges, the team noted some contradictions in many of the existing college structures. Most colleges were established in mental health services; co-ordinated by health services staff; under health services governance; and much of the course content similar to other clinically focused courses provided in services. Whilst recovery education is being rolled out in mental health services, it does so within an infrastructure governed by health services institutional norms that are by design in contrast to an emancipatory educational philosophy.
Together with partners we developed an alternative vision for a recovery college that was more aligned with an empowering and transformative recovery-based educational experience. Our vision was to place governance outside of mental health services within the community and through community development principles, to grow the college as a collaborative community collective. Each partner would of course have their own governance structures, though the college itself could be governed by the collective partnership itself. Putting the vision into practice the partnership successfully applied for two year seed funding from the Nursing & Midwifery Planning & Development Unit, Dublin North in December 2015. This provided us with a fantastic opportunity to develop a community recovery college in parallel to mental health and other care services. The Dublin North, North East Recovery College (DNNERC) was established in February 2016 with the first full programme of courses delivered from October 2016.