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Inside a Recovery Cafe

The Recovery Cafe is a phenomenon started in the US that has been taken up in the UK in the past ten years. The concept is to provide an alcohol-free social environment where people in recovery can socialise without being judged or scrutinised.

In the UK, against a backdrop of a burgeoning drinking culture, recovery cafes are a breath of fresh air.

However, while recovery cafes have the same ultimate goal of aiding people in recovery they vary in the way they do it. All recovery cafes offer something different with the usual coffee and biscuits.

The trailblazer in starting UK’s recovery cafe phenomenon is Liverpool’s The Brink Cafe.

The Brink of Change

Recovery Cafe - The Brink - LiverpoolThe Brink recovery cafe in LiverpoolThe Brink is probably the first of its kind in the UK in the sense that it started from the onset as a full time cafe and restaurant business.

On a first browse of their website The Brink looks more like any trendy venue you would go for a business lunch or to have drink on a Saturday night. The mentions of “recovery” are subtle and not very prominent.

All this was part of the vision of Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, the founder of the venue in Liverpool. She aimed for “something that rivalled the top notch bars around the city. Just because people are in recovery from drugs and alcohol doesn’t mean they are less than others”.

The Brink is aimed at the mainstream public as much as people in recovery, giving them the option of a booze free commercial venue with excellent service and food. It was all about “shifting the alcohol culture in Liverpool”.

In 2007, Liverpool had the highest number of alcohol-induced admissions to hospitals in the UK. Initiatives such as the Brink are aiming to change that.

But the Brink does more than just opt out of alcohol.

When you come in it looks just like a regular bar. However, to the sides, you will see two rooms. One is used for group counselling, and the other is for one to one counselling. Here, anybody can just come in between opening hours and talk to somebody about their problems.

Jacquie says “the idea behind this is that they would go to a non-stigmatised venue. So they wouldn’t have to go straight to their GP to a drug and alcohol center. They could just go into this bar and discreetly speak to someone”.

Counselors later on refer them to the next step of treatment, whether it’s detox or residential treatment. The Brink is probably the only place in town where you can rush in and get some counselling at 10 o’clock in the evening.

A Personal Mission

After studying psychotherapy in Vancouver, Jacquie realised that addiction was ripe in her family and her community. Jacquie herself has gone through treatment for eating disorders, which enabled her to understand addiction better.

It was also a tragedy in the family which made Jacquie understand the importance of dealing with addiction. Her brother was killed in a drink driving accident and that kickstarted her son’s alcohol addiction, ending his career as a footballer at Everton.

Now 8 years into his recovery, her son “PJ” is an active promoter of recovery, helping other young football players at various clubs overcome problematic drinking or substance abuse and start their recovery.

Jacquie has moved on from the Brink project, leaving behind a strong legacy for recovery programs in Liverpool.

The Brink is a great example of enabling recovery and providing an alternative to UK’s binge drinking scene. But for Jacquie-Johnston it’s a way of giving something to the community and spreading the ethos of recovery.

A Recovery Cafe For You

Despite being a growing trend, recovery cafes are still in short supply in the UK. Besides the Brink, other recovery cafes that you can try are available in London (Paper and Cup), Henley (Towards Recovery Cafe in Henley), Blackburn (Cafe Hub), Glasgow (Nerd Cafe) and Edinburgh (Serenity Cafe). These are for now some of the few fully-functioning recovery cafes in the UK, with other being one-off or weekly events under the banner of the “recovery cafe” concept.

If there isn’t one in your area – then why not start your own?

Photo credit: The Brink

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | June 14, 2021