Collegiate Recovery Programmes in the UK: Making Progress

Dr Tom Kimball was the keynote speaker at The University of Sunderland's fourth mental health conference, in November 2022. The university became the first to sign the Recovery Friendly Pledge, at the event, and we caught up with Dr Kimball for a quick interview after the pledge was signed.

As we approached December, The University of Sunderland became the first UK University to put pen to paper and sign the Recovery Friendly Pledge. Informed by university and student focus groups, the pledge has been designed to welcome and support people in recovery, and value the contribution they make in education.

Signed following the university’s fourth, annual mental health conference, at the riverside St. Peter’s Campus, several staff from Recovery Connections were present for the entire event. But it was a notable visitor from Texas, via Recovery Connections, who became the keynote speaker on the day itself. 

Dr Tom Kimball, from Texas Tech University, has been a regular visitor to the North East of England, since first meeting Recovery Connections’ CEO, Dot Smith, in 2015. And having been part of a long-term, successful Collegiate Recovery Programme (CRP) in Texas, he recognised the importance of the event on Wearside. 

“We’ve helped a number of colleges and universities implement recovery programmes on their campus,” he said. “But yesterday was more satisfying, because I understand the work that’s gone in, these last several years, to get to a point where a university in the UK is signing a pledge. And that is monumental, right?” 

“So rarely do you see an event where that becomes a tipping point. And that is going to impact an entire country. I feel humbled to just have been there and be a part of watching the field progress in the UK. And the work that Dot and others have put in to push through the barriers is just astounding.” 

“Each Collegiate Recovery Programme goes through different sets of barriers, depending on the institution. Once you have people that have power to influence the system on board, then [they] can be broken down more quickly. The other barrier is funding. Where is the resource going to come from? And another is space [within the universities], which is so critical to these programmes. Anybody that’s trying, in the UK, to put this kind of support in place for students, is facing these.” 

However, another barrier does exist, certainly in the UK and at this embryonic phase of CRPs. And that is a cultural barrier, which both Tom and Dot Smith reflected on, as the conversation around CRPs expands. 

“It’s emerging,” enthused Dot. “Because it’s not on the (University) Commissioner’s menu of interventions, they are now informed and encouraged to commission Collegiate Recovery. But I think there’s a risk there, and I think that’s something that we’ve been talking about.” 

“Because when you talk about collegiate recovery, or campus recovery, which is sometimes more understandable in UK language, the assumption is that it’s for students who are struggling. So it’s a drug and alcohol support system for people who were still in the active addiction phase – rather than students in recovery. My fear is that it will take on a different realm in the UK, if we don’t inform, educate and raise awareness of what the real mission of a CRP is.”  

However, a system that has proved to be positive in the US, could again be the solution as CRPs hopefully start to spread across the UK. 

“We received funding to write a [CRP] replication curriculum to help other universities do that,” reflects Dr Kimball. “A structured, step-by-step guide that helped to steer people, at least with the general overall idea, and how they might go about developing [a CRP].” 

“And I think that’s an important component that needs to happen in the UJ, because the systems are just very different. Without a structured way that people can move through, that it becomes very difficult, because people need technical assistance to do it. We know, from the US and all the work that’s been done there, that there are core pieces that do translate across the cultures of universities. And we can’t lose these core pieces as this field progresses, here.” 

We of course hope that the Recovery Friendly Pledge is the first piece of this framework, providing any UK University with a guide that helps to shape a CRP on campus. And Sunderland, with support from the local Recovery Connections team, is the first university to discover how this works. 


To find out more about the Recovery Friendly Pledge, visit Recovery Connections online, here: 

To read more about the experience of Dr Kimball and colleagues from Texas Tech University, visit this link on our own website:  


Related articles: 

Simon Lee, Assistant Director of Student Journey and Student Support Services at The University of Sunderland, writes about the Pledge in Times Higher Education: 

Sunderland University marks the signing of the pledge, as part of its fourth, annual Mental Health Conference, on November 16: