Dominic Ruffy has been Special Project Director for the Amy Winehouse Foundation since late 2011. Dominic looks after the foundation’s Resilience programme and Amy’s Place whilst raising funds for the foundation itself. Drew CEO Elle Moss interviewed Dominic to learn more about his work, how individuals are changing society for the better and what charities need, in order to succeed.

EM: Tell us a bit about how you got involved with the Foundation, Dominic

DR: I was presenting in the House of Commons, carrying out campaign work, with the goal of obtaining more funding to help addicts and get them through rehab. Mitch Winehouse was there and approached me to ask whether I’d be a part of the foundation.

EM: As Special Project Director, one of your main focuses is the AWF Resilience programme. Can you tell us more about that?

DR: Over the past four years, the AWF Resilience programme has worked with 228 schools and 228,000 students, educating children about their emotional well-being and critically, how to manage their emotional well-being—because negative experiences can potentially lead them into a place of addictive patterns of substance misuse.

The Resilience programme is a place where children can talk freely and access any support they may need. At AWF we feel that we can prevent some of them, who may otherwise have fallen into addiction, take a different path. We work alongside people who are in recovery, talking from their own personal experience, opening up to the children. Peer-to-peer support is tremendously successful.

EM: Sounds great, given that prevention seems to be key. Tell us an AWF success story, Dominic

DR: A young guy, not in contact with his family, street homeless, reached out for help from the AWF. Within 14 months he’s now in recovery and volunteering on the Resilience programme, working with a partner agency.

EM: That’s really inspiring to hear. I want to talk a bit about perceptions around addiction and recovery—why is it so important to challenge them, and how?

DR: The cost of an addict, pre-treatment, the net cost to society—that takes into account doctor visits, hospital visits, police, and unmeasured crime to feed the addiction—works out at about £160,000-180,000 per year [minus housing benefit]. This doesn’t take into account the cost to the family, illness, stress, havoc, and damage caused by addiction. But it’s a cost that can be avoided if the addict can be supported, access help, and take steps to recovery.

The general public mostly still holds a stigma against addicts, and until the addiction and recovery charities come together and stop working independently, we are no closer to changing perceptions in the UK. In comparison, in America, if you acknowledge the twelve-step programme in your job interview, you’re three times more likely to get the job. It’s known that somebody in recovery can manage their emotions better, commit to their work and be a good communicator. We need to work together to challenge and then change the perception around addiction.

EM: Can you outline any strong campaigns that have had an impact?

DR: Campaign work in the addiction field is relatively hidden; it’s happening at a local level. You do have the likes of Russell Brand trying to raise awareness and campaign, but it feels a little like a one-man PR show. The jury is out and whether he actually helps the cause or not; there’s currently no end product like actually changing policies. 

We’ve seen a total success story in Staffordshire. Noreen Oliver has spent ten years fighting her local authority and local residents to build a rehab, and she now has the most successful rehab unit in the country, completely supported by local individuals. Noreen also does a tremendous amount of campaigning in government to try and change policy in this country—it’s such a hot potato with politicians.

And Sonny in Wolverhampton, who recovered from addiction then challenged the NHS about how they did things, set up and runs SUIT (Service User Information Team), a completely user-led social enterprise for the past 10-15 years. Anyone in Wolverhampton with a complex issue goes to Sonny’s team, which is now renowned in the area for helping. It’s undoubtedly saved lives.

And up in Sheffield, you have Karl, who runs the Sheffield Alcohol Service, a co-produced alcohol service for the residents of Sheffield, not commissioned by commissioners, funded himself through various bids.

EM: I love these stories of people starting their own initiatives. I’m interested to know, though, what should be the main focus for a start-up charity or social enterprise target? Is it funding or the end user?

DR: The very fact that you’re thinking of setting up a charity means that you’ve come across a problem that you need a solution to and that demonstrates that you’re worth funding. However, if you’re not engaged with your end users, there is nothing to fund. You need evidence that you’re of benefit to the people you want to help. There are plenty of means to test the need for your charity. For example, the Big Lottery can fund a 3-4 month piece of work to help you justify your charity to future funders.

EM: Dominic, what would be your words of wisdom to anyone setting up a charity or social enterprise?

DR: I think there are three main pieces of advice I’d share. The first one is to ensure you co-produce your funding document with your beneficiaries. The whole industry is full of people that think they know best. It may be true that a drug addict or alcoholic doesn’t know what treatment they require, and they may indeed not want to do elements of the necessary treatments, but you don’t know what makes that person get out of bed in the morning, what gives them a purpose, what their aspirations are and what will give them a fulfilling life. That’s why a co-produced plan is essential for success. Co-produced is about ‘you and me’. Come together to do your best thinking. It should be easy to do—essentially you’re running a business and you have customers, your customers are your beneficiaries.

The second thing I’d say is, partnerships are key, but they are the most difficult thing to manage. Go in with your eyes open and accept that it’s going to require a huge amount of hard work. No charity is an island, but sometimes you get the impression that they would like to be!

And the third is that having a board of trustees can be essential to the success of a charity. There are 10 to 12 people on the AWF board (found through Mitch and Jane’s personal network), including lawyers, investment bankers, governance, and HR. It means we receive top-quality pro-bono support for the Foundation, which is essential for navigating some of the complicated licensing agreements and pre-existing deals in the music industry that we have to deal with.

EM: Measuring Impact is essential for any charity, how does AWF carry out theirs?

DR: The AWF undertook a full round of measuring the impact carried out by Bath and Harvard University, where 10,000 students have been assessed.

We work with external evaluators [So you get the truth, not what you ‘want to’ hear], randomised control trials, and app technology to collect data. The students can input feedback into the app, directly to the University.”

We hope you found this article interesting. Are you setting up a charity or social enterprise? We are passionate about helping and working with third-sector companies and would love to talk to you about your ambitions over a coffee. Please do get in touch. We’re here to help.

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