Rebuild and recover 2021: So, what did we learn from all that?

Andrew Misell | September 2021 | 7 minutes

At our annual conference this month, we’ll be trying to work out what Covid-19 and the lockdown have taught us about how to better address alcohol issues.

Some years are remembered for one thing. 1989 was when the Berlin Wall came down. 2012 was all about the London Olympics. 2020 and 2021 will likely be remembered as ‘The COVID-19 Years’. But nothing lasts for ever – even this pandemic – and at our conference on 22 and 23 September, we’ll be turning our attention to the future.

We’ve entitled the event 'Rebuild and recover' because that’s exactly what we need to do after a year and a half in which words like “strange” and “unprecedented” were used more heavily than ever before. During that time, we saw alcohol consumption decrease overall but increase for more than a quarter of people, with those already drinking most heavily most likely to drink even more. We also saw the numbers seeking help for alcohol problems drop sharply for a while as COVID-19 kept so many of us indoors. Mid-2020, things were not looking good from an alcohol harm reduction point of view.

It’s a real credit to local alcohol support services across the country that they adapted so well and so quickly to make remote support so easily available. Online therapy and peer-support that might normally have taken months or years to put in place was up and running in weeks. One north Wales recovery group even built themselves a socially-distanced outdoor meeting room in order to continue supporting each other.

"It’s a real credit to local alcohol support services across the country that they adapted so well and so quickly to make remote support so easily available."

The big question now is, “What next?”. Are the drinking patterns that developed during lockdown just a historical blip, or have some of us changed our habits for the long term (for better or for worse)? Support services underwent a digital revolution in 2020. Is it a revolution that needs to continue and accelerate? Online support has quite literally been a lifesaver; but we also know that many people – for a whole range of reasons – were either unable or unwilling to use it and expressed a clear desire for face-to-face help. “Hybrid” is the word of the moment to describe a mix of online and in-person work. The challenge now is to create a variety of hybrids that meet the needs of the diverse populations we serve.

Looking more broadly, the pandemic has generated many cooperative and collaborative initiatives – from joint working between big statutory agencies to grassroots efforts to look after vulnerable neighbours. But there’s no denying that it’s also atomised us and isolated us in our households. Reducing future alcohol problems, and helping people overcome the issues they already face, relies on good community connections. That’s why we’ve invited asset-based community development (ABCD) expert Cormac Russell to talk about how we can reconnect; as well as Charlotte Waite from Platfform, who’ll be talking about why spending time with people to help them heal is different from trying to “fix” them. And Sohan Sahota from BAC-IN will be challenging us to do much more to meet the alcohol support needs of our minority ethnic communities.

So, if you’re looking for a forum with contributors from across the UK that will really get to grips with the issues, book your places at Rebuild and recover now.