5 Reasons Why Recovery Cafes Are Becoming Popular in the UK

Already a staple of the coffee scene in the US, recovery cafes are still quite the novelty in the UK. But this seems to be changing; over the last few years these cafes – run by addicts for addicts – have started popping up all over the UK in trendy areas like London’s  buzzing Shoreditch and Hackney areas, while celebrities like Russell Brand are promoting the concept. However it is more than just the absence of alcohol that makes recovery cafes unique. Here are five reasons why recovery cafes are on the verge of becoming a major trend in UK.

Peer support

Recovery Cafes are about more than just taking alcohol off the menu. The most valuable thing they have to offer is free and is not even on the menu.

“Our primary resource is peer support, people learn from each other” says Ruth Blackwell, one of the founders of Edinburgh’s first full time recovery cafe.

Serenity Cafe, like all recovery cafes, is run mostly by people in recovery themselves, from waiters to the people that run the cafe’s day to day operations. This lies at the very core of recovery cafes worldwide.

”There’s usually really good interaction with the staff and other peers, if people need something addressed then and there, there’s no appointment system, no getting in the cue, no referrals”, explained Ruth.

Non stigmatising environment

Socialising can be tough for people in recovery, especially in the UK where drinking is postulated as a prerequisite for socialising.  Having a non-stigmatising environment where they can relax without being scrutinised for not drinking is essential. This was the guiding purpose of UK’s first ever recovery cafe, The Brink in Liverpool.

“ It would be something that rivalled other top notch bars around the city”, said Jacquie Johnston-Lynch, one of the founders of the Brink. “We felt that just because people are in recovery it doesn’t meant they are less than others, therefore they shouldn’t be perceived so”

Designing recovery cafes as trendy places for dining can also enable people to get help for their addiction in a more familiar and less daunting environment. The Brink has two rooms for counselling available constantly during business hours. It is really the only place in town where you get counselling at 11 o’clock in the evening.


Most recovery cafes have started as monthly or weekly one-off events, akin to your usual mixer or networking events, renting a cafe or a community centre for a full day or sometimes only an evening. Most recovery cafes in the UK still function this way.

That is because a recovery cafe mainly comes as a result of a community of people recovery or to service a community that needs a place to gather, share ideas, get support or simply to socialise. Serenity Cafe was started in 2009 as the result of a petition that went viral, with 100 signatures only in the first day since it went live. “ People felt that there was no focal point to meet and talk about and get support for their recovery”, says Ruth.. ”People were going to fellowship meetings but had no place where to socialise”.

Recovery cafes also have different activities and programs to support the community. Ruth details how the team behind Serenity organised activities such as drama, choir or music group even before they started to rent a fixed venue in 2012.

“There’s a range of community led activity groups, so that if somebody comes in with an interest and wants to lead a group, we can facilitate that”.

Open to all

As they are open to the wider public, recovery can well become UK’s main alternative to the shmoozing and boozing of the pub scene. There are few alternatives to a night out that do not include alcohol.

Recovery cafes also enable people to learn about the challenges facing people with addiction and support such initiatives in the future.

“Some members of the public are indifferent as long as they get their coffee “, explains Ruth. “ But there’s a fair number that get to read here about what we’re all about and are really positive about it. They like the atmosphere, they see the benefits people in recovery get from this space and some provide donations for our programs.”

Institutional support

Recovery cafes could also benefit from an increased awareness at government and policy level of the benefits such enterprises have for tackling drug and alcohol addiction. A 2012 review of available research made by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs revealed that the onus in research is that community based programs such as recovery cafes contribute significantly towards recovery

But probably the most important signs of support come from local authorities. Last month, Derbyshire County Council announced it has awarded 9500 GBP worth of funding for the creation of a recovery cafe . Local council already support recovery cafes in Salford, Glasgow and East Dunbartonshire,Scotland. ROC Recovery Cafe has opened a new venue in Devon & Cornwall counting the local police force amongst its partners.