Now into its 6th year we interview The Basement Recovery Project CEO, Michelle Foster.
In her busy schedule, Richard managed to grab five minutes with Michelle to find out how it all started:
The Basement Project started as a service user group in 2006 with Stuart Honor. At the time I was volunteering with Lifeline, SMS and Probation and I was doing it because I was on sabbatical from university. I got involved with Calderdale User Forum at Christmas 2006 because we used to do Christmas dinners and I just thought ‘that’s where I need to be really.
I joined CUF and got on the committee and I could see that there were gaps in the system (from my volunteering) that weren’t being met and I see the Service User Group as kind of trade union of the system, but people weren’t listening.
So I suppose it was about two things happening at the same time; we weren’t being listened to in what was needed and secondly we asked ourselves the question as people in recovery ‘can you get well in the community where you got sick’?, because most people get well by going away and ‘doing a geographical’ and we wanted to treat the soil, our community.
So we set up as a business in 2008 which is now TBRP. We’re a not-for-profit company and we started out by running informal recovery groups; then we formalised and structured it so we had a structured day programme and then over time we decided that some people needed a ‘lived’ experience, so we bought the first house, a couple of years later we bought a second house.
And in terms of meeting our dream that we set out to do, I think we mostly have. There have been some problems along the way (because we’re like agitators), people haven’t always received us very well, and in terms of could pathways be better, could referrals be better and could the way we work with people be better? It could be loads better. Also, we struggle financially, we are not commissioned to all we do so we’ve always had to look outside for money, which is my job, my job is primarily money.
Could we do more? We could do more because we’d evolved by accident rather than design, the only way to test if our model would work elsewhere was by taking it elsewhere. So we had this big experiment of going to Kirklees and seeing if the way we’d helped to grow the community here could help over there.
We were funded in Kirklees with the Big Lottery Fund for five years, that gave us a good grounding over there, and what we’ve found because we’ve learned from our mistakes over here, we’ve been able to grow it a little bit quicker. But at the same time you can’t just ‘magic’ people to be well or magic people into jobs or whatever, all of that takes time. So it’s only going at a pace over there that it can do.
In terms of my personal dream, my personal dream was to have a Basement in every town; I believe that a service and a community like this should be available to everybody, it’s affordable, it’s accessible and I believe, with the feedback from people, that it’s what helps people get well.
There should be one in every town but we are not an empire-builder; the only reason it works here is because it belongs to us and we belong to it, so the only way for it to be in every town is to help others from those towns learn to do it for themselves and empower them to do it and let them grow their own Basement. And it might not look like our Basement because it’ll have its own culture, its own peculiarities and meeting the needs of its own locality and its own population; but there should be one in every town.
So that’s kind of where we’re at, for the next five years – it’s consolidating what we’ve got here, consolidating and improving what we’ve got in Kirklees and sort of stepping out of Calderdale and starting to speak more nationally to agitate for a Basement in every town.
Article featured in RecoveryTimes issue 7