At The Living Room we can have a hard time reaching people that don’t fit the typical background of a Hertfordshire resident. This county is 81% white British, the majority religion is Christianity and only around 6% of the population are lesbian, gay or bisexual (according to government estimates).  

We work in a relatively homogenous area and the people who use our service (and our staff) frequently reflect that, but ware not content to just match the county demographics. 

We know there are people out there who need our support but, because of cultural, religious, or other factors, are underserved by treatment and recovery services.  

For example, Black men are reported to have the highest rates of drug use and drug dependency than other groups (1), but Black people overall rarely make up more than 1% of those in treatment (2) 

Meanwhile, members of the LGBT community are more likely to experience drug and alcohol problems (3) and one in seven LGBT people have avoided treatment because of fears around discrimination (4) 

For us, inclusion is about making sure that anyone (regardless of their individual or group characteristics) can get help from us and feel safe and comfortable to be open during group therapy. Trusting the people in your group and your counsellors is crucial if you’re going to be able to dig deep and ultimately live free from addiction, and we know the smallest thing can scare people away from seeking help.  

Back in March 2020, coronavirus changed the way we had to work. Online groups are now a staple of our service and we’re seeing people who never would have asked us for help if we were still running things the old way. One of our commitments this year is to help more people to beat their addictions and change their lives for the better, and we want to make sure that this includes Black people, Asian people, LGBT people, people from other faiths, the gypsy and traveller communities. Everyone.  


Reaching out  

So, how are we going to do this? Our first step has been to ask people who use our services what they think. In January, we spoke with Clara, BrianSumit and others about their experiences at The Living Room, how their ethnic backgrounds and sexuality have influenced their recovery journeys and what we can do to help like-minded people get help. 

We encourage everyone to read their amazing thoughts, but here’s what we’ve learned so far: 

  • Representation is important. Whether it’s knowing there’s similar people in the group with you, having a counsellor with the same background or holding specialist groups, representation helps people feel more comfortable in recovery spaces. 
  • You must go to the places people are. Reaching out to faith groups particularly and offering our support and explaining where addiction stems from can help destigmatise treatment and build relations with tight-knit communities.  
  • Be aware of how family and community can affect how comfortable people feel about opening up in a group setting – dig deeper and ask questions if community shame and denial are a factor in someone’s recovery journey.  
  • We need to know more about chemsex culture  the stigma and secrecy that can surround chemsex can lead gay men to feel judged in recovery settings. To help them feel safe and to open up, we need to talk about it more and understand it better.  


We also held a forum in February with representatives from different community groups and organisations within Hertfordshire to let them know how we can help and to get a broad mix of opinions and ideas on what we can do better.  


What next? 

We now have a good idea of what we need to do this year to make our service more inclusive:  

  • We will continue to share a variety of stories from people who’ve faced their addiction 
  • We will learn more about chemsex and encourage people to talk more openly about it 
  • We will make our website and our literature more reassuring  
  • We will make our faces known in places that have never heard of us before.    


Above all, we will keep asking questions, getting a better understanding of what people struggling with addiction need from us and how their background can affect how they engage with us 

If you have any thoughts or opinions on how we can reach out to underrepresented groups, and if you’d like us to speak with you or a particular group of people, we’d love to hear from you