A discrete presence

Curriculum vitae
Name: Naomi Lonergan.
Job: Manager of XS, young people’s drugs service,
County Durham.
Qualifications: BA Welfare Studies, DipSW, Diploma
in management studies.
Last Job: Development worker, children and
substance misuse,  County Durham.
First Job: Children and families project worker,
Salvation Army hostel. 

It’s easy to stereotype young drug users as people living on the
edge who don’t care about anything. In reality, many are
well-integrated young people living at home and attending school or
college. Naomi Lonergan, manager of XS, a drugs service for young
people in County Durham explains: “A lot of the young people who
come to us do have multiple problems, but for some this is the
first time they’ve been involved with services.”

Getting young people to engage with treatment can be an uphill
task. Lonergan says: “They have a genuine fear about what will
happen. It’s an illegal activity – will they get kicked out of
school, will someone tell mum and dad? They’ll only come if we’re
seen as credible and if they are confident we won’t pass on
information to every other service.”

When Lonergan was designing XS, she was clear the service had to
have its own identity, discrete from any one of the myriad of
agencies involved in its commissioning and funding. “We wanted to
make sure that young people wouldn’t be put off by stigmatising
labels. We’re a multidisciplinary service commissioned by a
multi-agency group. Young people come from lots of different
referral routes and for some an association with youth offending or
the care system would be unhelpful.”

Lonergan also convinced commissioners of the need for independence,
so she wouldn’t have a dozen different services expecting her to
follow their policies and procedures. The service also has its own
logo and is exempted from using the Durham Council name on its
brochures and letterheads.

She adds: “Having our own identity prevents any one of the major
services dominating. It would be very easy for us to become just
another part of social services or one of the other statutory

Every member of the team is managed by Lonergan, although staff
have different employers. For example, social workers are employed
by social care and health, and nurses by the local primary care
trust. “Agencies wanted to hang onto their own staff but I wanted
people to be able to say they work for XS. It’s important that
staff feel part of a team and don’t feel divided.”

But for Lonergan herself lines of accountability are far from
clear. She observes ruefully: “I have too many managers. I answer
to a multi-agency steering group which is different from the
commissioning group and I also have a manager in social care and
health. It was an oversight at the design stage – we never truly
thought through where to go for that definitive ‘yes’.” As a result
Lonergan is at times hamstrung by delays in decision-making higher
up the chain. “I try to shield the team from all of this, but
occasionally I have to be honest so they can understand why things
are held up. It can be difficult for staff who have previously
worked in hierarchical organisations to grasp that decisions aren’t
taken in the way they are used to.”

Despite these frustrations, Lonergan believes the partnership
approach has many advantages. All too often young people with drug
and alcohol problems are not picked up by services until their
problems are chronic. “There’s a shared sense of ownership and our
close relationship with so many different agencies means we get
referrals at an early stage. We also work assertively, going out to
find young people rather than waiting for them to come to us. I
receive information from education about where clusters of
drug-related referrals are occurring.”

Another benefit is shared use of resources. Lonergan says: “We use
the premises of our partner agencies – Connexions and youth
engagement offices, youth centres and GPs’ services. It means we’re
not tied to particular locations and can provide services where
they are needed.”

Lonergan finds it is important for her to concentrate on her core
business and to avoid getting side-tracked. “Durham is a large
county with six districts, each with its own planning arrangements.
I’d love to be more involved but there’s only one of me. I have to
prioritise competing demands and focus on the young people we’re
supposed to be serving.”


  • Develop a discrete identity so young people can feel confident
    about using your services.
  • Focus on your core business – young people’s needs and
  • Get lines of accountability clear from the outset. 


  • Allow one commissioning agency to dominate.
  • List all your partners on your brochures and letterhead.
  • Think you can keep everyone happy.

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