History of Nacoa

Providing information, advice and support since 1990.

History of Nacoa

Providing information, advice and support since 1990.

Nacoa’s history

Nacoa has grown from the hopes and dreams of five people who wanted children living with parental alcoholism to have the help and support they did not have.

The charity was set up in 1990 in response to work with substance users at St Joseph’s Centre for Addiction in Haslemere, Surrey.

Following detox at Holy Cross Hospital, people would come to the centre for a five-week programme looking at their substance use.

We often saw people come back into treatment, feeling ashamed and full of guilt, telling us that they could not maintain their sobriety at home; they simply did not fit into their families without the drink or drug.

Hilary Henriques, Nacoa Co-founder

Following the introduction of a family programme, families spoke of how their lives had been impacted by their loved one’s drink or drug use. 

And lost in the re-arrangement of family life to accommodate the drink or drug and the denial of any problems, were the children.

When ‘dragged along’ to family days:

  • Some sat quietly afraid to say the wrong thing, being perfect – a shining example of how well their family was doing.
  • Some refused to come, or attended and shouted, kicked and screamed and did all their power to be excluded from the group.
  • Some were simply not seen. They were present but were away in another safer internal world.
  • Others made people laugh and smile, although there was a sadness that was tangible if you just looked beyond the eyes swimming with fun or was it fear?

How strange it must have seemed to them to be suddenly breaking all the old rules and being encouraged to talk about ‘the problem’.

This isn’t what parents want for their children, but when they are struggling with substance abuse, they are often unable to provide consistent nurturing for their children.

The result is years – a childhood’s worth – of accumulated social and psychological problems.

The helpline

The Nacoa helpline was set up to empower these children with a variety of life skills to help them cope with difficult challenges.

Helplines allow children access to help and support without revealing themselves. Their need for privacy and control is respected.

They can talk about whatever is troubling them at that moment. They are heard and believed.

All children need to be given a sense that the world is safe, consistent, capable of providing for their needs and unconditionally accepting of them just as they are.

The Nacoa helpline has developed by listening and taking account of what children and young people tell us they want and need.

They are the true architects of our services and ambassadors to other children, that there is help, there is hope and there is a world different from the one they’ve known.



  • The National Association for Children of Alcoholics established by Hilary Henriques, Valerie McGee, Maya Parker, Diana Samways and David Stafford
  • 0800 Helpline established, funded by John Dane
  • 150 Helpline calls, one Volunteer


  • Constitution written
  • Four broad aims established
  • Vision Statement – to provide information, advice and support for children affected by parental alcoholism or similar addictive problem


  • Charitable status granted
  • Nielsen Consumer Research commissioned to assess the scale of the problem in the UK, finding 2.05 million adult children of alcohol-dependent parents, with 1.26 million reporting experiencing significant problems as children and adults


  • Dr C Gilvarry recruited to lead research
  • 450 Helpline calls, one Volunteer


  • Hilary Henriques employed full time
  • Included in the Home Office Drug Prevention Initiative as only agency concerned with alcohol
  • Funds secured to produce poster and leaflets – Some Mums and Dads Drink Too Much or Use Drugs – it Changes Them … and it Hurts’


  • University of Bristol invite Nacoa to take part in Student Community Action Initiative
  • First training programme delivered for volunteer helpline counsellors
  • 969 Helpline calls, 23 Volunteers


  • The Rt. Hon. Dr Mo Mowlam MP recruited as Patron
  • Moved from home office to pro-bono office at Wyndham Court
  • Publications produced including ‘Information for Children of Alcoholics’ and Annual Report
Nacoa patron Mo Mowlam helping children of alcoholics


  • Leaflet and poster produced ‘Some Mums and Dads Drink Too Much and it’s Frightening’
  • Co-founder and Chair of Trustees, David Stafford dies
  • 2,043 Helpline calls, 32 Volunteers


  • David Stafford Memorial Lecture established
  • Nacoa Membership extended and promoted
  • First website created by IT volunteer


  • First Helpline Evaluation published by volunteer Dr R Huxtable, supervised by Professor D Sharp
  • 4,602 Helpline calls, 35 Volunteers


  • Professor M Callingham commissioned to research the extent, nature and comparison with other problems in UK, finding 2.8 M adult children and 920,000 children of alcohol-dependent parents
  • Study confirms that children affected by parental alcoholism report more problems that children affected by parents with mental health problems
  • Volunteers organise Ball to celebrate Nacoa’s 10th birthday
  • New website created by volunteer webmaster – 1,649 visits to website


  • Consultative Council established
  • 3,500 visits to website
  • 5,547 Helpline calls, 48 Volunteers


  • Foreign correspondent Fergal Keane OBE and footballer Tony Adams MBE recruited as Patrons
  • Foundation Training Programme restructured
  • Researcher Martin Callingham presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture


  • Actress Geraldine James OBE recruited as Patron
  • Fergal Keane presents BBC Radio 4 Appeal
  • Helpline Protocol and Procedures and induction and ongoing training programme established
  • Volunteering Programme extended to all areas of work
  • Journalist and agony aunt Virginia Ironside presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • New poster – ‘I Get So Embarrassed When I See My Dad Drunk’
  • Poster Project – 27,000 packs despatched to Schools, FE and HE Colleges and GP Surgeries
  • 21,088 visits to website
  • 8,780 Helpline calls, 79 Volunteers


  • Poster Project leads to an increase in calls from young children
  • UK Resource Database created
  • Information Files published for Young People, Parents, Teachers and other Professionals
  • Fergal Keane presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • 28,437 visits to website
  • 13,092 Helpline calls, 80 Volunteers


  • Helpline volunteer Dr I Eardley voted THA National Helpline Worker of the Year
  • CEO receives MBE and Bristol Lord Mayor’s Medal
  • Media and Research Panels established


  • Elle Macpherson recruited as Patron
  • Nacoa receives Guardian Charity Award
  • Early Day Motion sponsored by Janet Dean MP
  • Email helpline established
  • 82,231 visits to website
  • 346 Helpline emails, 15,242 Helpline calls, 130 Volunteers


  • Participants recruit and interviewed in study to find those most at risk of developing alcoholism
  • New publication – ‘Making a Difference, How You Can Help’
  • Psychotherapist Don Lavender presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture


  • Certificate of Merit awarded by Mentor UK
  • Lauren Booth recruited as Patron
  • Use of word ‘alcoholic’ reviewed as part of consultancy work funded by Comic Relief
  • Helpline volunteer, S Rawlings voted runner up, THA Helpline Worker of the Year
  • Urban Paint Festival (Upfest) choose Nacoa as their charity partner
  • Lauren Booth presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • 78,783 visits to website
  • 814 Helpline emails, 37,165 Helpline calls, 196 Volunteers


  • Calum Best recruited as Patron
  • First Children of Alcoholics Week 8 to 14 February
  • CEO awarded Outstanding Achievement Award by Women of the Year and chosen for Comic Relief’s publication ‘Inspiring Women’
  • Nacoa’s work featured on BBC Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day broadcast and BBC Children in Need film ‘Brought up by Booze’
  • Nacoa represented at All Party Meetings on Alcohol at House of Commons
  • TV writer Bill Gallagher presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture


  • Excellence in Training Award from Young Bristol
  • CEO Highly Commended in Leadership by Beacon Fellowship
  • Nacoa Facebook page established
  • Calum Best and Elle Macpherson raise money for Nacoa at Travolution Awards
  • Nacoa’s written evidence published in House of Commons Health Committee Report
  • Nacoa chosen by Olly Barkley to benefit from The Olly Barkley Rugby Academy
  • David Stafford Memorial Lecture presented by former Sun editor David Yelland
  • 74,190 visits to the website
  • 1,000 Helpline emails, 20,010 Helpline calls, 293 Volunteers


  • First Nacoa single ‘A change is gonna come’ with Maria McAteer and Bjorn Dahlberg, and video by Sean Caveille featuring Nacoa volunteers released for COA Week
  • Maya Parker speaks at the inaugural meeting of Nacoa Poland in Warsaw, Poland
  • Volunteer helpline counsellor, Louise Radford, organises and recruits 52 people for the Avon Gorge Abseil, raising £11,087
  • David Yelland and Olly Barkley recruited as Patrons
  • Actor Karl Johnson presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • Publish ‘An exploration of resilience among adult children of alcoholics: Impact on relationship satisfaction and desirability of control’
  • Nacoa receives Springboard Award for offering outstanding training and skills development


  • Nacoa awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service
  • Nacoa receives NACoA USA’s Meritorious Service Award
  • Info Pods at Starbucks in Bristol, Norwich and Manchester to promote COA Week
  • Facilitated focus groups for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner Review of Parental Alcohol Misuse and welcomed visit from Children’s Commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson
  • Volunteers board HMS Illustrious to receive funds raised by crew
  • Nacoa exhibit at UKESAD Conference in London
  • Over Christmas and New Year, 8 volunteers contributed 152 hours responding to 289 calls.


  • Cherie Lunghi presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • Geraldine James presents BBC Radio 4 Appeal
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury sends message of support to Nacoa and COA Week
  • Research study produced pro bono by Dr Anne-Marie Barron ‘Nacoa and its Volunteers: The Contribution of the Nacoa Foundation Training Programme’ finds ‘Nacoa has created a community which is greater than the active volunteers delivering its current operational activities. … .Nacoa is indeed impressive for its size, and a model of good practice.’
  • New website launched, designed, created, built and maintained pro bono by Modular Digital
  • 54 volunteers contributed over 750 hours at Upfest raising £5,800
  • Nacoa volunteers take part in research study ‘ Understanding and supporting family members affected by a drug or alcohol-related death’
  • Nacoa Facebook reaches 1,205 followers and Twitter 834
Screenshot of Nacoa website homepage when launched in 2013


  • Fire destroys room and server at Nacoa office. Nacoa Helpline continues to respond to calls with no break in service
  • Schools Campaign launched: Campaign packs to Wales, Scotland and N Ireland
  • New ‘Some mums and dads’ and ‘Information for Teachers’ published
  • Recruited volunteers to participate in new study ‘Life histories, families and alcoholism’
  • Jeremy Irvine completes lone channel swim raising over £10,000
  • Nacoa volunteers win Voscur’s ‘Volunteer team of the year Award’
  • Outreach work includes Alcohol Awareness Day at HMP Send, the Public Policy Exchange event Child and Adolescent Health and Wellbeing: Addressing the Hidden Harm Caused by Parental Alcohol Misuse, and the Young Philanthropists panel ‘highlighting the effect of problem drinking at Christmas on the family, and what needs to be done to stop it’ by +SocialGood, a project of the UN Foundation
  • 2,667 helpline emails, 17,907 helpline calls, 343 Volunteers
Man swimming English Channel in blue Nacoa swim cap raising money for children of alcoholics


  • Calum Best enters Celebrity Big Brother House saying he is famous for being the child of an alcoholic
  • The Right Honourable Liam Byrne MP visits Nacoa office and pledges help and support
  • Liam Byrne sponsors Early Day Motion 750 and addresses Ministers and MPs at Westminster Hall calling for support for children of alcoholics.
  • Media coverage on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, ITV Evening News, ITV Good Morning and in The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Liam Byrne asks us to ‘Forget fighting demons. We must learn how to talk properly about alcoholism’
  • Nacoa celebrates 25 years responding to over 250,000 helpline calls.
  • 25 year Anniversary Gala with special guests, HM Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Bristol Dr Timothy Chambers, The Lord Mayor Councillor Clare Campion-Smith, Liam Byrne MP and Ms Cherie Lunghi
  • Jeremy Irvine and Alderman Peter Main speak at Volunteers Awards Evening
  • 2015 Independent’s Happy List includes Hilary Henriques for her work at Nacoa and for making the world a happier place!
  • 25 hour Yogathons run concurrently in Bristol and London celebrating Nacoa 25 year anniversary
  • Nacoa helpline advertised pro bono by Medical Connections on over 1,000 GP appointment cards


  • Rt Hon Liam Byrne welcomed as a Nacoa Patron at David Stafford Memorial Lecture at Portcullis House 
  • Royal Visit by HRH The Duke of Kent
  • HM Lord Lieutenant Mrs Mary Prior, Rt Hon. Lord Mayor of Bristol, Councillor Jeff Lovell and the Lady Mayoress attend Volunteers Awards Evening with awards presented by Liam Byrne
  • Working closely with Liam Byrne to establish the first ever All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on children of alcoholics with Hilary Henriques presenting on behalf of Nacoa at the first meeting
  • Participated in the National Citizenship Service providing a hundred sessions throughout Norfolk and the South West
  • COAP (Children of Addicted Parents) message board posts incorporated into Nacoa website


  • First ever Manifesto on Children of Alcoholics launches at David Stafford Memorial Lecture at the House of Commons during international COA Week
  • Increased media coverage including front page of the Sunday Express plus Daily Express, Metro, Mail, iNews, Woman’s Hour, Heart Scotland and more. Hilary interviewed by Dr Ranj for BBC Inside Out (West Midlands).
  • Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth runs the London marathon for Nacoa and visits the Nacoa office
  • Nacoa discussed at Labour Party Conference World Transformed Festival hosted by Russell Brand and Jonathon Ashworth
  • Attended APPG Alcohol Harm meeting at the House of Commons
  • Like Sugar for Adults report published highlighting effect of non-dependent parental drinking on children & families
  • Contributed as a reviewer to the Parliamentary office of Science and Technology’s ‘Parental Alcohol Misuse and Children’
  • COAs made a priority for Public Health England
  • In December, Jeremy Hunt pledges £500,000 to helpline
  • Hilary Henriques awarded Helpline Employee of the Year (3rd place) by the Helplines Partnership
  • Gold star Local Hero award to Upfest founder Stephen Hayles from the Evening Post
  • Published Nacoa Helpline Review of 2001-2015 with Dr Anne-Marie Barron and Dr Alan Leigh
  • Moved to new office
  • Responded to 27,406 helpline requests
  • 61,949 visits to Nacoa.org.uk and 19,942 visits to community blog site COAisathing


  • UK government announces first children of alcohol-dependent parents strategy with £6 million for local and national projects. Nacoa volunteers guide local Innovation Fund spending through Public Health England’s lived experience advisory panel.
  • Another bumper year for press coverage and Nacoa’s social media following largest in the world for a service or individual account targeted at children affected by their parent’s drinking
  • Nacoa named in children’s book ‘Will You Catch Me?’ published by author Jane Elson depicting the story of a young girl growing up as a child of an alcohol-dependent parent
  • Calum Best and others climb Mount Blanc in support of Nacoa to show that obstacles can be overcome
  • Political editor Camilla Tominey presents David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • Nacoa website commended at BMA Patient Information Awards
  • Upfest 10th year anniversary
Calum Best standing on snow on top of Mont Blanc mountain with  blue Nacoa charity banner


  • BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘The Monster Downstairs’ sharing stories of young people and adults affected by parent’s drinking, presented by Nacoa patron Camilla Tominey
  • 10th UK COA Week
  • Patrons Tony Adams, Calum Best, The Right Honourable Liam Byrne MP and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth speak at David Stafford Memorial Lecture
  • First Big Nacoa Walk fundraiser with 20 people walking 27 miles in Peak District
  • Jon Ashworth runs London marathon for Nacoa for third year
  • Celebrity ‘My Tribute’ football match with Calum Best and others at The National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast and Tallaght Stadium in Dublin
  • Nacoa publication “Some mum and dads drink too much” shortlisted for BMA Patient Information Award
Walkers in blue Nacoa t-shirts at start of Big Nacoa Walk 2019 raising money for children of alcoholics


  • COA campaigner and associate editor at The Telegraph, Camilla Tominey, and boxing coach and manager, David Coldwell, join as new patrons.
  • COA campaigner and filmmaker Ceri Walker appointed Nacoa Ambassador
  • ‘Jasper’s Wish’ book with audio version (narrated by Cherie Lunghi) launches to help young COAs, dedicated to the memory of long-serving trustee John Fenston. The book was featured in the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families newsletter.
  • Geraldine James, Camilla Tominey, Ceri Walker, David Coldwell and Cherie Lunghi speak at David Stafford Memorial Lecture, House of Commons. Also attended by Patrons Tony Adams, Calum Best, and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP.
  • New publication ‘Information for CAMHs Professionals’ launched
  • Nacoa present workshop at London Association of Directors of Public Health and Sober Parenting panel at the Club Soda Mindful Drinking Festival
  • Alcohol Action Ireland include Nacoa in ‘Manifesto for Silent Voices’
  • Lots of press coverage with highlights including:
    • BBC Radio 5 ‘Hooked’ Podcast – Presenters Melissa Rice and Jade Wye speak with ambassador Josh Connolly about being a child of an addict and the effect it had on him growing up and his own problem drinking
    • Josh Connolly speaks with Hannah Dunleavy on Sarah Millican’s ‘Standard Issue’ Podcast
    • ‘The Phoneline’ documentary with volunteer Jamie Brett and re-created helpline calls featured in BBC Radio 4 Short Cuts ‘Call Me’ episode
    • Camilla Tominey speaking on BBC Question Time of the huge rise in helpline calls and callers getting younger (with Nacoa’s helpline details shown on screen)
    • Times Radio interviews with Nacoa Ambassador Josh Connolly, Nacoa Volunteer Celeste Baker, former Labour MP Caroline Flack, and others about the COA experience on the Gloria De Piero show
    • Josh Connolly talks to Matthew Lewis-Carter presenter based in London for new “UNspoken” series
  • As the pandemic hits, the Nacoa helpline remains open as an essential service throughout the lockdowns.
    • COVID-19 Online Resource Pack published and local Authorities and other agencies notified of additional risks for young COAs in lockdown.
    • ‘Lockdown Nell’ story and audiobook by Jane Elson released for children of alcohol-dependents in lockdown.
    • Nacoa ambassador, Josh Connolly, and helpline counsellor Evie host first ever Facebook Live event answering questions and sharing COA stories.
    • Social media Lunchtime Lives interview series hosted by Josh Connolly with COA influencers launches. Guests include including patrons David Coldwell, Camilla Tominey and Tony Adams, media volunteer Lizzie Fletcher discussing ‘coping with the death of a parent’, and Ceri Walker.
    • ‘U R NOT ALONE’ film created by Ceri Walker, her six-year-old son Jude, and his friends
    • ‘Josh and Tod’s Coronavirus Mental Health Resilience Gathering’ event shedding light on anxiety and isolation during Coronavirus held live on Facebook (also broadcast by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust).
    • David Coldwell launches limited edition designer facemasks, with all profits going to Nacoa.
    • Josh Connolly, interviewed on Sky News with regards to COAs and the current situation.
    • CEO Hilary Henriques publishes ‘Nacoa: Covid So Far, Lockdown and the Lost Children’ report detailing the experiences of children of parents with drinking problems during lockdown, circulated nationally to local authorities
    • Richard Mead and Josh Connolly launch video to support London South Bank University COA students during lockdown
    • With many big fundraising events cancelled, Nacoa supporters and members go the extra mile to raise funds including Tess West with 14 hours of Yoga, Max Wilde running a marathon a week while UK schools are closed, and Euan Graham’s online quizzes.
  • Ceri orchestrates ‘We’re here to listen’ mural and billboard campaign advertising the Nacoa helpline featuring Calum and Elle by Postman Art all around Bristol with signed prints for sale via Upfest to raise funds.
  • 25,419 helpline calls


  • Rock radio and TV presenter, Sophie K becomes patron
  • Online David Stafford Memorial Lecture chaired by Liam Byrne MP, with keynote from Camilla Tominey, ‘in conversation’ round table discussion with Josh Connolly, radio DJ Sophie K, TV star Calum Best, and boxing trainer David Coldwell, and update from Jonathan Ashworth.
  • Duchess of Cambridge, Katie Middleton, delivers speech referencing Nacoa’s work during Taking Action on Addiction campaign led by Forward Trust at BAFTA.
  • Pokerface film by young star film-maker Alexander Kühn released to support teenagers affected by their parent’s drinking
  • ‘We’re here to listen’ Postman Art billboard campaign with Brighton & Hove City Council’s ‘Back on Track’ featuring childhood photos of Nacoa supporters, Ceri Walker and Beckie Burkhill
  • New website launches including 1-2-1 online chat


  • Stafford Ward Memorial Lecture live-streamed from parliament with keynote from Sophie K, joined by Liam Byrne MP, Calum Best, Jane Elson, Josh Connolly, Arabella Byrne and Jonathan Ashworth. Lecture re-named to celebrate the contributions of longstanding trustee Simon Ward who sadly died in 2015.
  • Calum Best hosts ‘My Tribute’ Superstar Sunday match for Nacoa at Premier League’s Bournemouth FC’s Vitality Stadium
  • New leaflet ‘Some British Punjabi and Sikh parents drink too much’ leaflet launched at House of Commons alongside the Sikh Recovery Network’s ‘Impacts of alcohol consumption amongt Sikhs’ report as part of Nacoa’s Widening Access project which includes talks in local temples.
  • Nacoa ambassador Ceri Walker wins Recovery Street Film Festival for the third time with her moving film ‘Understanding the Child in Me’
  • Patron Tony Adams stars on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing
  • Online Members Social+ events launched to hear from guest speakers and provide a space to connect
  • Nacoa reaches 10,000 followers on Instagram
  • 30,486 helpline calls


  • TV star, podcaster and author Vicky Pattison joins as patron. Her channel 4 documentary ‘My dad, alcohol, and me’ is shortlisted for a National Television Award.
  • Vicky Pattison delivers Stafford Ward Memorial Lecture at the House of Commons alongside Hannah Thomas of Dorking Wanderers, Calum Best, Jaz Rai, Hilary Henriques, Camilla Tominey and Jonathan Ashworth.
  • Aaron Willis, Chanita Stephenson, Arabella Byrne, Lorri Haines, and Sarah Drage become Ambassadors
  • 50 walkers take part in the Big Nacoa Walk in the Peak District raising over £20,000
  • 35 abseilers take part in the first Big Nacoa Drop at London’s Olympic Park raising over £12,000
  • Nacoa creates mini-documentary with Calum Best and Quint Boa about finding Nacoa
  • Several fundraising galas including the first Nacoa Northern Gala at Old Trafford and Claritee’s ‘Be the Spirit’ alcohol-free corporate event
  • Online shop created to sell Nacoa merchandise
  • Supporters Amy Dickson and Sarah Drage start Children of Alcoholics podcast
  • Collaborative online event with Cambridge University to better understand the needs of people affected by a parent’s drinking in higher education
  • Nacoa join Monica Lennon MSP at Scottish parliament in #SeeBeyondScotland campaign for families affected by addiction
  • Attend Alcohol Families Alliance Policy Fair at House of Commons
  • Lots of amazing sponsored events including Year 6 student Henry raises over £3k running 52 miles in memory of his uncle
  • Calls made with Adfam and the Alcohol Health Alliance to request the government reinstates funding for children of alcohol-dependent parents


  • Calum Best joined by 100+ supporters at Seven Sisters Cliff in Nacoa’s Biggest Ever Walk

You are not alone

Remember the Six "C"s

I didn’t cause it
I can’t control it
I can’t cure it
I can take care of myself
I can communicate my feelings
I can make healthy choices

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