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Chris Sylvester

Chris Sylvester with a bar of Soap with Hope

Leeds Mindful Employer Network Project Coordinator recently met with Chris Sylvester, the founder of local Community Interest Company, Getting Clean CIC. They talked about this businesses’ remarkable journey and the important work they are doing in local communities and how local employers can get involved and support them.

How did Getting Clean CIC start?

Getting Clean started as an unconstituted volunteer group in November 2021. It was found that there was a requirement for something different in Leeds to help those in recovery from addiction to find purpose outside of conventional recovery. From personal experience of overcoming the obsession to use substances and alcohol, I felt a void within myself and a loneliness from lack of connection to my community. I had spent years trapped in isolation brought on by active addiction and I witnessed countless numbers of people come into recovery but leave due to the same factors that I had found during my early stages of recovery.

The idea came to me of organising a group of people who had embraced recovery to help others see that it was possible to find a new way to live, away from the overwhelming obsession to use substances and alcohol. Enabling the opportunity for people to come together to tackle environmental issues and take pride in themselves and where they live was an important factor.

How has Getting Clean CIC evolved?

From the start, our objectives were to tackle environmental issues in our communities, to challenge stigma and change the perception of addiction within society and to focus on our members skills and strengths. Initially our activities were to pick litter and clean up hence the name Getting Clean. We would meet every Saturday morning to carry out tasks. Our numbers started to grow and the therapeutic value of peer to peer support was evident. As the group became larger, we started to learn of the different skills people had. We made a decision to take on more projects such as DIY, decorating, fence repairs and garden makeovers for elderly, disabled and vulnerable citizens that were not able to carry out the work. To fund this work, we understood that an income stream was required and at this point it was necessary to transition into a Community Interest Company. In August 2023 we registered as a CIC. When we had our structure in place, we focused on creating a unique product to raise funds. This product is the life changing Soap with Hope range. Eight bars were created, and the recipes safety assessed to meet standards required to allow online sales. We started to make our soap in therapeutic workshops every Friday afternoon bringing volunteers together to learn how to make our products. This was a great success and made it possible to interact with the public at craft fairs and market stalls. We share our stories, vision and hope changing the perception of addiction. After receiving media attention and featuring on the BBC, we were approached by HMP Wealstun and the Drug & Alcohol Recovery Team to pay a visit to the prison to speak with inmates about what we offer. After a presentation was delivered to a group of prisoners, it was arranged for Getting Clean to deliver Soap making workshops in the establishment. On the 26th of September we facilitated our first Bars from Behind Bars workshop. Our work with the prison service continues to develop and we attend the Regional Drug Strategy meeting every 2 months to offer our support and advice to all prisons in the region of Yorkshire as a Lived Experience Recovery Organisation “LERO”.

Tell our network members about the Soap with Hope workshops you deliver for businesses.

Getting Clean 2We offer businesses an opportunity to host Soap with Hope workshops for their staff to help raise awareness around addiction and also, for them to offer support to the communities of Leeds and local areas. A workshop allows our volunteers to engage with staff members and business owners in a way that is very empowering. The volunteers from Getting Clean teach how soap is made and share the knowledge of their recovery journey too, providing insight and understanding that is relatable and beneficial to those taking part. We find that our volunteers and the staff members find lots of common feelings and experiences that provide real identification and understanding of how solutions can be found to problems faced by many in everyday life. A workshop runs for two hours and is a great team building exercise bringing people together to learn new skills whilst having fun. The workshops are very interactive providing insight into how soap is made and their ingredients such as oils, essential oils and exfoliants and cosmetic clays. All our products are made from natural ingredients and ethical practices allowing our environmental ethos to continue. It’s important that our work benefits the planet, people and communities. The soap that is made during the workshop is donated to local food banks and schools in deprived areas to tackle hygiene poverty and offer support to those struggling to live throughout the cost of living crisis in our communities. Choosing to host a Soap with Hope workshop gives businesses the opportunity to give back and demonstrate corporate social responsibility on many fronts and levels.

What other support can Getting Clean CIC offer local businesses?

Getting Clean CIC can provide support to local businesses in many ways by means of the consultancy that we offer. With our wide range of knowledge of addiction and its various manifestations we are in an excellent position to help provide invaluable advice to businesses that have employees who are struggling with addiction. We can help employers understand the problems faced by staff members who are suffering as a result of their addiction. Our consultancy offers support to both parties and allows mediation to take place and solutions to be found. The therapeutic value of an addict in long term recovery speaking with an addict in active addiction is clearly evident. This is where our lived experience comes into its own. This connection and identification is without parallel and means that confidence can be found in rebuilding relationships and moving forward into a productive future. We have a vast network of partners offering services for treatment and rehabilitation allowing sustainable recovery to become a reality.
Getting Clean can offer a range of team building activities for businesses that benefit communities. Our projects give back to the most vulnerable members of society and ensure that they are supported by carrying work out that is not possible for them to carry out alone. Businesses are welcome to join our activities and offer their services. From community clean ups to garden maintenance, conservation work and wildflower creation, our work allows relationships to blossom and fun is had for all during our activities.

What advice would you give to an employer around how to best support employees struggling with addiction, as well as those who are in recovery?

Getting Clean CIC believes that the best support that an employer could offer an employee who is struggling with addiction is to seek help and to create a pathway for both parties. Addiction is a very complex issue and support is key to success being achieved. Issues relating to the root cause of addiction vary and can take some time to understand and process. Addiction is not one size fits all and many complex factors can be underlying. Simply stopping the active use of a substance, alcohol or behaviour does not mean that the issue of addiction will be resolved and, in many instances, further manifestations are found. It is a journey and with the experience of our members this journey takes time and should not have an expected time of arrival. Expectations around a person’s ability to overcome addiction often lead to resentment and resignation. Patience and understanding alongside empathy allow the ability to overcome addiction and the recovery process to continue. It is best advised that businesses support an employee’s recovery, ensuring that they can take things at a steady pace and for a realistic reintegration to the workplace. Making allowances for employees to attend recovery meetings if they are able is a great way for an employer to support an employee’s recovery.

How can businesses make contact with Getting Clean CIC?

Businesses can make contact with Getting Clean CIC for further advice or to organise an event through the website or direct email. We’d love to hear from you!

Chris will be speaking at the Leeds Mindful Employer Network Conference #LMEC24 on 21st May. Getting Clean CIC will also be exhibiting on the day and you’ll even be able to purchase some Soap with Hope.