Interview with Clare Kennedy, founder of Kennedy St & Co

Interview with Clare Kennedy, founder of Kennedy St & Co

Robin Lefever’s Interview with Clare Kennedy, founder of Kennedy St & Co


For many of us in recovery, the idea of going out to a bar is a terrifying prospect. Will I be laughed at for ordering an orange juice? Will the shelves stacked with spirit bottles be too tempting to resist?

But Brighton based entrepreneur Clare Kennedy has found a solution in Kennedy St, a meeting point where the message of recovery can be shared over a non-alcoholic drink, as Robin Lefever found out when he visited.

Edited by Laura Cox

ROBIN: Thank you so much for the invitation to your meeting at Kennedy St & Co CiC
Clare. Can you please tell me a bit about how you got it going and what the evenings are like?

CLARE: At Kennedy St we aim to address a variety of needs, whilst also contributing to positively de-stigmatising recovery & impacting our social culture blueprint.

We will offer community, healthy lifestyle information, a safe space to be yourself, involvement, retraining, employment, and self-employment opportunities, showing that recovery and wellbeing are fun, real and attainable. After all, not drinking and using doesn’t stop us living, loving and thriving).

We currently have no funding, bid writing is not my area of expertise, but people achieving their very best, is. So we run our drybar party nights 4 times a year and are so very blessed at the moment to have [Brighton restaurant] Skyfall as our sponsors.

They allow us to run our drybar party nights without charging us a rental, but of course, there are still costs we have to cover, so we are currently looking for sponsors or partners to work with so we can grow our community ideas. Of which we have many.

The idea of dry bars began in the United States where there is a long tradition of sobriety clubhouses and hangouts, often associated with 12-step programs. People gather to share soft drinks, food, play games and enjoy each other’s company.

Dry bars have popped up all over the States, such as The Other Side in Illinois, The Counterfeit Bar in Arizona and The Shine in LA and New York which regularly sells out on alcohol-free events involving live music, meditation and film.

CLARE:  My husband and I have spent a lot of time in the states over my 19 years of sobriety and have been totally inspired by their openness as a society to embrace recovery.

A friend of mine who owns a business in the states said he and many like him are much more prone to giving jobs to those who declare they are in recovery, knowing full well that with recovery comes a commitment to continual personal development, integrity, honesty and an opportunity to have and to grow a recovery core within the organisation.

My husband and I were really inspired when we went to the Florida Keys. We were looking for the meeting address we had written down and we found this amazing shack which, for the life of me I thought it was a rum shack! I nervously approach the big burly bartender to ask him if he knew where this address of the meeting was.

He turned to me with a beaming face and said ‘you’re home, you’ve found us, come in sit down we have another meeting starting in half an hour.’
They ran a rolling program of all recovery groups out the back, in what looked like an aircraft hanger, but the front of house was set up like an old-fashioned rum shack-come-dinner, the only difference being it didn’t sell booze.

This place was a hive of wonderfulness, all the staff were in recovery, so if you were having a bad day, there’s was always someone to talk to, a truly life changing place.

ROBIN: Where else is the recovery movement coming over to the UK?

CLARE: The UK is slowly catching up with the States. There are many forward thinking social enterprises out there, there’s The Brink in Liverpool, the first drybar in the uk, which was set up by an amazing lady called Jackie Johnson-Lynch. She has been such an inspirational mentor to me, always available on the phone to guide and inspire me.

Then there’s the Sober Cafe in Nottingham, again with a very generous, kind charity behind it called Double Impact. Its CEO Graham Miller has been so encouraging and has always been up for a chat when I’ve needed some advice. So last year, we set up Kennedy St & Co CiC

Elsewhere in the country there is also Friends Kitchen, part of Recovery Central in Birmingham, which offers Caribbean and Indian nights as well as live bands and comedy events. And London has two dry gastrobars called Redemption: one in Notting Hill.

However, they remain few and far between, as Robin remembers from his experience of trying to get clean and sober. He said: ‘‘I kept going to all the same social places ( pubs etc )’ he said, ‘and, although I drank orange juice and coca cola, and I was determined not to let it affect me but of course it must have done.’

ROBIN: Have you any plans to open more places like Kennedy Street, perhaps in other parts of the UK?

CLARE: The idea is, to get funding to pilot the idea with a permanent site in Brighton first, establish it as a sustainable business model, open to everyone but with recovery & transformation at its heart. Creating a recognisable high street brand that has recovery at its heart is the only way we will combat stigma, show recovery is real and is attainable.

ROBIN: You mentioned that companies, like the restaurant Skyfall, have a real sense of social care and a desire to help so maybe as a community, we are being too shy of coming forth and asking for these sorts of evenings and activities in our own local towns and cities. Do you have any tips on how people might go about organising these sorts of evenings?

CLARE: Be bold, be brave and be proud. There are a lot of people out there who have really been affected by somebody else’s drinking or drug taking, so the subject matter is often a shunned one. But I truly believe we have been given the gift of sobriety to share with others, to help the lost and the lonely, the heal the wounded.

Nobody I have met in recovery would have ever chosen to be an alcoholic or addict, to destroy their own lives as well as their families. But it happens, addiction is subtle, it tells you you’re not [an addict or alcoholic], that it’s everyone else’s fault, then before you know it, it’s got you. It’s like living with an abusive partner, addiction builds you up to then take great pleasure in taking you down.

But this is all we hear about, addiction. At Kennedy St we want to shout from the rooftops, that actually, recovery is real. It is happening and people not only get better but they go on to do great things in the community, they become the change makers.

As well as the pop-up dry bar at Skyfall, Clare also runs community connection meetings at Kennedy Street They act as to be a meeting point for people in recovery themselves or wanting to support people in recovery, to come together and showcase what they are doing.

ROBIN: What happens at the meetings?

CLARE: I wear two hats, professionally, I work it the corporate setting with high functioning alcoholics and addicts, I deliver wellbeing and recovery intervention training as well as one to one recovery coaching with individuals.

I’ve also volunteered in the community for 19 years helping those from hard to reach communities, who want to get sober. Once committed to sobriety I help them find a job and a clean, safe place to live.

Our community connections groups are about bringing those worlds together, businesses offering to mentor people in recovery, into social entrepreneurialism. I know how much effort it takes to be a full on active alcoholic, how creative we are at finding the funds to fuel our supply.

Once sober and engaging in a recovery process, we have a huge transferable skill set, so our community connection groups are about hearing from transformational speakers who have been on that journey themselves, how they come through and how now they are achieving their greatest potential.

We encourage new attendees to get up, practice their pitch and finish with a call to action, to ask for what help they need, then I, as the coach, match them up with the most appropriate mentor.

I also believe business should really know about routes to recovery within the community, so if and when they have a colleague or staff member in need, they actually know of people and places to send them.

Community is where continuity in care can take place and ultimately, that is what we provide, a community space where people can gather their own personal information, identification and feel empowered by asking for help. The greatest gift I’ve been given in sobriety, it’s ok to ask for help.

At the Kennedy Street meeting Robin attended he was impressed to see that two of the three speakers were women and also women in recovery. He said: ‘It was great to hear these women able to share not only their recovery but also their business success stories.

I had lunch yesterday with my friend Elizabeth who set up one of the first women’s fellowship meetings in London after her experience of similar meetings in New York. She was saying that there had been some resistance from some quarters to the idea that there should be a group, especially for women.’

ROBIN: As you are a woman who coaches and helps women in recovery, how do you think we can improve the help we give women in early recovery or even just in recovery full stop?

CLARE: I believe respect is paramount, for both sexes. We are all bespoke, beautiful human beings who need choice and loving relationships and I think in the early days, learning to have same sex loving relationships is a safe place to start.

I really did not know how to have healthy female friendships, I had to be shown and I think that as people in longer term recovery we have a duty of care to be supportive of our newcomers.

There’s a lot of predatory behaviour from men and women in early recovery, so I believe in being open and honest if I feel someone’s boundaries are being crossed.

Once we have those loving relationships in place, we can then go on to learn about healthy relationships with the opposite sex. It’s all one step at a time, isn’t it?

Clare’s reputation speaks for itself. Robin has heard first hand from the people she has coached how very generous and supportive she has been to them, helping them be successful in their businesses as well as their recoveries. He said: ‘I notice all the time how people seem to lose their confidence in early recovery and it was something I experienced myself.

Now, it’s so painful to observe in others from the outside because I can see so clearly that they are the same successful individuals in there with amazing potential but early recovery so often brings with it this loss of confidence.’

ROBIN: Clare, what have you found to be most helpful for people in that early stages? Is there something especially from your coaching repertoire?

CLARE: Again, respect. I believe as coaches we are light bearers, we don’t do anything for the client, except show them their own gifts within. The power of example is also a great tool, this is why I invite friends who are winning, the ones that are already being the change makers.

ROBIN: I know that you are now really focused on social enterprises. As well as having set up so many of your own, would you be happy to sponsor and encourage others to do the same around the country?

CLARE: We are just in the process of setting up a charitable trust, one that works as a collective. We work with those in the community that are genuinely peer-led and that are building strong community spirit.
Our funders are like-minded community spirited philanthropists.

One of the Kennedy Street social enterprise success stories is its recovery film school. Founded in spring 2016 and funded by the Big Lottery, the academy’s first film, Recovery St, was made by 10 students in recovery from addiction and is now available to purchase.

ROBIN: Can you please tell us how you got the film academy going and what the aims are?

CLARE: The film school was my husband Kevin Kennedy’s brainchild. He is 19 years sober this year and has spent all his professional life in the Arts, starting as a musician in the original line up for the Smiths and then joining the ITV soap Coronation St as Cully Watts – a character he played for the next 20 years.

He then went on to start a career in musical theatre in the West End. For him, creativity has had a huge influence on him professionally and personally. Storytelling and Drama therapy are such powerful tools for healing. So the film school was created.

We got our first £10,000 from the big lottery, invited 10 people from the hard to reach community that were interested in recovery and filmmaking and set about making a documentary.

I worked on set throughout, coaching people when it all became a little overwhelming. From this course, all the candidates were taught about the whole filming process, from storyboarding, script writing, set design and pre-production to production and editing.

As a collective, they made three films, a trailer, and an outtakes trailer. It was so much fun.

All 10 clients remained abstinent throughout the 8-week course – that was the deal. Now one of the candidates, Annie, volunteers for us once a week and we are just supporting her setting up her own editing social enterprise.

We really do want to create a new transformational talks series, think TED talks but a bit more street, but we need funding and sponsorship.

The film is an example of how recovery is becoming more visible in society.

Both Prince Harry and Prince William have taken the unprecedented step of revealing their own need to express their emotions, which Clare described as being ‘the time we have been longing for, where the issues of mental health and recovery can really be publicly expressed’.

Clare was recently involved with the Brighton and Hove UK recovery walk, organised by Anne Marie Ward, which aimed to encourage more public visibility.

ROBIN: I thought the walk was a fantastic idea. It is a great way to show the public that every time they see someone in a mess because of their drink and drugs, they should realise that our potential lies within each and every one of them. Do you agree?

CLARE: Yes, it was a real privilege to be involved with the organising of the walk. We had more than 5000 people, men, women, children, firemen, police, doctors and nurses, all walking together. Anyone’s mental health can be affected throughout their life and our Royals are so brave to come forward.

this is how we break the stigma, we are all in this together, there’s no ‘us and them’. Money or no money, we need to be looking out for one another, caring, sharing, living and growing strong, I believe it is what is strong within our communities which needs to be highlighted, not what’s wrong.

Information about Kennedy Street can be found on its website:

as well as on its Facebook page:

The film is produced by Kennedy St Productions Ltd. To get in contact call Clare Kennedy on 07775737314.

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