Trialling an open AVP group with people recently out of prison or rehab

AVP participants having completed two newspaper towers as part of the "Masks" exercise.
Alternatives to Violence Project Masks exercise at Recovery Point

Since 2018, the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in Newcastle has been working in partnership with Samaritans’ Recovery Point, which provides support to people who have been in prison and/or alcohol and drug rehabilitation centres. We found that we needed to adapt the traditional format of AVP workshops to meet the needs of people involved with Recovery Point.

Full AVP workshops are traditionally offered as a closed group (meaning that once the workshop starts, new people can’t join the group) of at least 18 hours (usually over 2 or 3 days). Because of other pressures and priorities in people’s lives (including finding housing, medical or legal appointments, anxiety), we found that full-day workshops at Recovery Point were too big a commitment. When we held them weekly over 9 or 10 weeks, however, many of the participants missed two or more sessions meaning that they didn’t complete the required 18 hours. We thus decided to trial weekly 2-hour AVP sessions as an open group (where people could join any week) and, once participants complete 9 weeks (i.e., 18 hours), they receive a Basic-level certificate. (There are three levels of AVP workshops: Basic, Advanced and Training for Facilitators.)

Having completed 35 sessions this year and having 15 people graduate, we are confident in saying the trial has been a success.

A total of 54 people have attended one or more sessions. Usually if people complete more than two sessions, they go on to graduate. Twenty-one people attended only one or two sessions and eight have attended four or five sessions before stopping. There are a range of reasons why this happens: some of them have moved away, for some there has been a crisis or a major change in their circumstances (e.g., they got a job or returned to prison or rehab), and some (if they only attended one or two sessions) found that AVP wasn’t for them. A few people have stopped coming for now, but plan to return (e.g., once they have secured housing or other things in their life settle down). Recovery Point also often support medical and other university or TAFE students on placement and 10 students have attended a few sessions while they have been on placement.

As already mentioned, 15 people have graduated (meaning they have attended at least nine sessions) and a further eight have attended sessions recently and are on their way to graduating. Once they graduate, participants are welcome to keep attending and five people have attended 12 or more sessions (including one who has attended 20 sessions) because they appreciate the ongoing support.

One of the foundations of AVP is “community building” and the main concern we had about trialling AVP as an open group was that we would not be able to build community to the same extent. We now feel the open group builds community as successfully as the traditional group. New people are incorporated into the group quickly; in fact we feel that it happens more quickly than the start of a traditional workshop. We start each session as follows:

  • Brief welcome and acknowledgement of Country
  • A few housekeeping things
  • A stretch to music, where we go around the circle with each person doing a stretch that is copied by the group
  • A grounding and gathering, where we do a quick grounding exercise and then go around the circle, usually twice, with each person, using their affirmation name, (where people add a positive adjective before their name that starts with the same letter or rhymes, e.g., we could be Gentle Graeme, Amazing Annette, Joyful Jake and Marvellous Michael) and stating how they are this morning. We then go around the circle again (with affirmation names) answering another question (this week it was “I feel powerful when…”)
  • An agenda review and agenda preview, where we quickly review what we did last week, go over key aspects of AVP (if there are new people) such as the philosophy and building blocks, and then provide an outline of the day’s session.

There are a few additions to a how our traditional workshops begin: the stretch, the agenda review and the going around the circle twice in the gathering. We find the stretch is particularly helpful in that it is physical but not very threatening, there is often a lot of conversation and banter during it which helps create a positive environment and gives people a chance to settle into the group without having to say much.

When we started thinking about trying the open groups, we were inspired by the way in which many open groups (e.g., 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous) can successfully build a sense of community. We also recognised that successful long-term communities need to have the capacity for people to come and go. The mixture of people in the sessions, from those who have been coming for a while to the new people, means we don’t need to start from the beginning of community building at the start of a workshop. Some of the foundations for community are already in place. For example, we find that participants seem to be OK about using Affirmation Names more quickly than in a traditional workshop. We explain the purpose of Affirmation Names (to practice affirming ourselves and others) and that it can be something they are aiming for and, when they see others using an Affirmation Name without embarrassment, most people are happy to give it a try.

We will be interested in seeing what happens with community building in an open group in another context because we are helped by the fact that many of the participants are already familiar with each other through Recovery Point. This means that we are working in a context where there is already a sense of community. But we have found that even when people come to the sessions without being part of Recovery Point, they still fit in well.

Overall, we are very pleased with how the trial is going and next year we are exploring the possibility of starting a second group and how to provide Advanced and Training for Facilitators workshops.

This is the first in a series of posts:

  1. Trialling an open AVP group with people recently out of prison or rehab
  2. More details of our trial of a weekly, open AVP group
  3. Key activities in our trial of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) open group

This blog post was written by the current facilitation team: Graeme Stuart, Annette Hoffman, Jacob Cummins and Michael Badier. Zoe Griffiths and Gener Lapina were on the facilitation team earlier in the year.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  2. Moving Experiential Peace Workshops Online
  3. The Alternatives to Violence Project: Reflections on a strengths-based approach to nonviolent relationships and conflict resolution
  4. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution
  5. Changing focus of the blog
  6. Power and strengths-based practice

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Facilitation & teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Trialling an open AVP group with people recently out of prison or rehab

  1. Eleanor Novek says:

    Graeme, a big thanks to you for your constant innovation, open-heartedness and willingness to share. You provide a wonderful role model for all of us AVPers. In our local chapter, we have been testing AVP as once-a-week meetings for 10, 12 or however many are needed sessions, first in an academic setting and soon to come at 1) a maximum-security prison and 2) a county parks program. These do not follow the “open” model but present material sequentially; and they involve the same cohort of people over time. The ne schedules are promising. The classic AVP weekend model still has a lot to offer, but we are having difficulty getting people to commit to those hours, so alternate modes of delivery are essential. I am delighted to see you trying the open model and you will inspire us to try it as well, if we can establish a partnership with a community group that can host us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Eleanor. The flexibility of AVP’s approach is one of the things I like. I think it is important that we ensure we keep the essential elements of AVP (e.g., not reduce the number of hours) and there is still a lot of space for adapting to meet the needs of specific populations. It’s great to hear about your approach, and I am inspired by hearing about AVP around the world and how it has worked in such a wide range of contexts.


  2. Valerie Joy says:

    I will ask AVPQ Managment Committee to consider this way forward.


  3. Selene Moonbeams says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog post Graeme. It’s so good to hear about the details of your open sessions, which sound so successful.
    What a fabulous initiative. I’m so inspired by the innovative and flexible way you approach AVP.
    Congratulations to you all. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.