We are featured in the London Drug & Alcohol Network's May/June 2014 bulletin

The NEXT Project, a specialist education, training and employment (ete) service for people with experience of substance misuse problems, is now being delivered under the banner of a new charity, foundation for change.

The directors of Foundation for Change are Bob Bharij and Liz Naylor, who have delivered NEXT since 2005, and previously ran it for Addaction.

NEXT was created to bridge the gap for individuals leaving substance misuse treatment and moving towards employment, and began as a rolling foundation course for people who wanted to become drug and alcohol practitioners.

Since 2010, it has operated as a self- development programme that supports individuals to make radical changes in how they live in all areas of their lives including focusing on employability and the future. It now runs as a twelve-week closed group.

Those engaging with the programme are provided with tools, theory and frameworks to help them understand their lives and behavioural patterns, broken down into three main areas: past, present and future. ‘Past’ focuses on understanding childhood experiences and their relationship to current behavioural patterns; ‘present’ explores current behaviours, including understanding family dynamics; and ‘future’ looks at areas including volunteering and professional conduct, recognising and developing potential, and using solution-focused therapy.

During the programme, participants – who are referred to as ‘trainees’, rather than ‘clients’ or ‘service users’ – attend two days per week, and 1-2-1 tutorials are also provided on a regular basis. Structure is key to the course; so too is active engagement, and sessions focus around practical exercises to help ensure this. Trainees can miss no more than 3.5 days of the course if they are to complete it successfully. They are encouraged to be open and honest about lapsing; if this happens, extra support is provided.

Trainees are required to complete coursework over the duration of the programme, and completion of the course leads to a recognised Open College Network qualification. A reception and presentation event for NEXT graduates is held annually at the House of Lords.

The idea of ‘endings’ is introduced two weeks before the end of the programme, and sessions look at preparing for and managing this. Following the completion of the course, trainees move into six- month voluntary placements. Many NEXT graduates go into paid work, including in the drug and alcohol field and related sectors such as mental health, housing and advocacy; others will go on to work in completely unrelated fields; some will return to a job or area they worked in previously; and others go into higher education.

NEXT’s aspiration for those engaging with the programme is to secure jobs that they want to do, and graduates often tell them that it is through the course that they have found their purpose and voice.

Bob and Liz emphasise that it is crucial to understand the depth of the damage experienced by people with drug and/or alcohol problems, and the time it can take for someone to overcome the barriers that make gaining and maintaining employment likely. The success of their approach speaks for itself: nine out of ten NEXT graduates go on to employment, further education or volunteering, and over 50% of participants in 2008-9 were in paid employment by 2012.

One of the key reasons for the programme’s success, Liz explains, is that “we understand power. We don’t work with people from a position of power; we understand powerlessness”. It is essential, she emphasises, that the programme isn’t ‘done to’ participants: while they may need support to understand themselves better, they are the experts on themselves.

Case study

PF started the course in August 2012 and successfully completed in November 2012. Aged 51, she began drinking alcohol problematically after being left by her husband. She had suffered several years of domestic violence and her self-esteem had literally been knocked out of her.

The NEXT Project provided her with the space, safety and tools to begin to look at her past, and to start laying a new foundation for a better life. As a result of learning about communication dynamics within families, she addressed difficult issues with her daughters, and her home life has improved vastly as a result.

PF is now volunteering as a facilitator of a women’s group in Southwark and has impressed the workers there with her commitment and strength. She wants to study a diploma in health and social care and to gain employment as a women’s worker within the field.