Survivors History archive of "Scotland the Brave" by Andrew Roberts - Secretary of the Survivors History Group

Originally published in Mental Health Today July/August 2009 (Pavilion Journals (Brighton) Ltd)

Reproduced with permission of Andrew Roberts

Scotland the brave

Scotland pioneered the user movement in the United Kingdom, according to recent research by the Survivor History Group. At least twice in as many decades it was Scottish patients who put their full force on the lever of history. Academic historians have given the credit, for both occasions, to London. But new evidence suggests Scotland led the way.

I was a London participant of the first generation mental patients movement in 1973 and an onlooker from the sidelines of the survivor movement in the mid-1980s, but my personal experience on its own was inadequate to understanding what happened outside London. For this I needed archives as well as memory and in this article I explain how a diary and a video revealed Scotland's pioneering role in the generation of both phases of the movement.

For me, Helen Spandler's Asylum to Action (2006) is one of the most convincing studies of the 1970s origins of the user movement. Helen's argument implies that the development of psychiatry through the therapeutic community provided a context in which a movement of solidarity amongst patients could flourish. This comes so close to the reality that I experienced that I will say something about a therapeutic community in London before getting deeper into Scotland.

I was inspired by my experience of community life in the Ingrebourne Centre in Hornchurch, Essex, in the early 1960s. It was one of a number of NHS therapeutic communities that developed after the Second World War. Under the auspices of an enterprising doctor, Hamish Anderson, it developed various patient-controlled groups, one of which, known as the house committee, ran the day-to-day affairs of the centre. Enterprising patients were able to take the initiative and to establish their own organisations. The Ingrebourne Society was fully flourishing when I arrived. It had its own funds, committee, newsletter and duplicator for printing the newsletter, and it included patients and ex-patients. It also planned (eventually) to establish an independent house for ex-patients. As far as I can tell, there was no staff input into the Ingrebourne Society, apart from tolerating its existence and sometimes writing a letter to the newsletter in response to criticism or suggestions from patients. The centre closed a few years ago.

I saw the human relations at Ingrebourne as a positive contrast to the experiences of other patients who had been in hospital elsewhere. One of those patients was Valerie Argent, who had been confined as mentally defective in a back ward of Essex Hall in Colchester. Valerie and I formed a family that became one of the centres of a network of patients and people with similar experiences that developed in the second half of the 1960s. The experience of this network led to Valerie and I becoming founding members of the Mental Patients Union in 1973. From 1973 to 1976 we were, with Joan Martin (later Hughes), at the centre of the union's housing scheme in east London, living and working with a diversity of fellow patients.

It would be wrong to believe that therapeutic communities always provided an environment that allowed patient power to develop. It would be equally wrong to think that old asylums did not, sometimes, provide such an environment. The history of SUMP, the Scottish Union of Mental Patients, illustrates this point. The archives of this union are one of the small group of listed archives that the Survivors History Group has identified and is now working on.

SUMP, a level below which it is impossible to sink, emerged directly out of the bowels of an old style Scottish asylum: Hartwood Hospital in Lanarkshire. Its founding inspiration was Archie Meek (aged 91), a patient on a geriatric ward who suggested it to Tommie Ritchie, another detained patient, when Tommie was helping Archie shave. This was some time between 1969 and 1971, a few years before the London-based Mental Patients Union formed. Tommie Ritchie was also one of the founding members of the 1973 union and his records of SUMP are part of the union's archive. They include the initiating words of Archie Meek

"Christ yam,", he demanded, "Whit are us auld men tae dae if ye ever leave us - We're a divided frae yin anither. Kin ye no start up a Union afore ye go? Fur divided we fall."

In opposition to the fashionable academic emphasis on conflict and contest, I would argue that the mainspring of any social movement is solidarity. Archie's call was a call to solidarity. Tommie told it as a joke to Flick Harris, who took it seriously. "Why don't you start a union of mental patients, Tommy? There's no reason why you shouldn't."

Tommie had been complaining about his individual grievances for some years and getting nowhere. An asylum with locked wards is no place to call collective meetings, so Tommie used his privilege of moving around wards in his shaving duties to collect other patients' grievances. Thus was compiled the "Petition for the Redress of Grievances put forward by the patients in Hartwood Hospital, Shotts Lanarkshire" dated 18 August 1971, a collection of individual grievances, which Tommie followed by a three page "General Grievances", beginning:

"What is wrong with Hartwood from the patients' point of view? The most concise, succinct and time-saving approach to the answering of this question would be to list exclusively and exhaustively what is right with the place, telling the reader of this approach so that he would know that all matters and what-have-you relevant or connected to Hartwood which did not appear on the list had something or other wrong with them. Well, reader, that's the approach, so read on!"

The founding of the first known mental patients union of the modern era began with this (very short) list of positive points about the regime in a run-down Scottish asylum. The signatories to the petition became the founding members of the union when presentation of the collective action led to an official response to investigate patients' grievances never given to patients who had complained as individuals. Hartwood patients discovered what it was like to assert "the dignity of society's so called mental patients" - the words that the London-based Mental Patients Union inscribed on its collective banner in 1973.

Nick Crossley's Contesting Psychiatry (2005) credits a Mind Conference in Kensington, London, in 1985 entitled "From Patients to People" with being the "crucial spark for the formation" of Survivors Speak Out and the second generation survivors' movement. The conference with this name was held in late November. Mr Crossley conflates this with the World Congress in Brighton held in July 1985. But, whatever the facts, his message is clear: anti-psychiatric allies of the user movement, working in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of south-east England were the spark for the first wave of the mental patients' movement in the 1970s and the second wave of the survivors movement in the 1980s. There is sufficient truth in this to justify much clearer research into the role of "allies" than has yet been undertaken. The psychiatrist Stephen Ticktin and the psychologist Lorraine Bell are just two of the professionals who have come very close to claiming to be the parents of the movement. Others could make similar claims, but mental patients themselves can make a claim to have generated their own movement.

In a Brighton attic in the summer of 2004, Thurstine Basset, an English social worker, came across a video of a presentation by members of Glasgow Link Clubs in 1984. This was about as far away from the cosmopolitan anti- psychiatry network in London's trendy Belsize Park as one could get. Link Clubs are self-support groups of people who have or have had a mental health illness and their carers. Link, or the Glasgow Association for Mental Health, was founded in 1978. Its Link Social Clubs started in the autumn of 1981. Some members of the Link Clubs managed to raise enough money to travel to London for the annual conference of Mind in the autumn of 1983. It was an exciting, but disappointing trip. They were amazed and angry that none of the presentations, seminars or workshops were led by patients. Something had to be done about this, and at the 1984 Annual Conference, Glasgow Link Clubs made their own presentation.

Mind told a House of Commons select committee on social services in May 1984 that its conferences were "directed towards a very large professional audience" and had a topical theme. The theme for 1984 was to be "on the whole range of after care and is there life after mental illness". Notices for the conference, in October, announced a "special feature": the professional audience would be "listening to what former sufferers from mental illness say about what really matters where life after mental illness is concerned".

The six service users who made the presentation were Christine Cowan, Vince Edkins, Thomas "Tam" Graham, John McManus, Elvira Roffey and Charlie Reid. They called themselves the Education and Action in Mental Health Group - Link/Glasgow Association for Mental Health. Their presentation was in the form of a tape-slide programme, which was later made into a video.

Watching this video today, it is easy to see how these six service users electrified the conference. They called the presentation "Life after Mental Illness", but it was, in fact, a prescription for a radical reform of all aspects of the Scottish mental health system. Each of the users spoke of his or her own experiences, and these personal biographies were interspersed with their comments on key issues of mental health policy in Scotland. After the presentation, all of the six service users answered questions from conference delegates.

In the meantime Mr Basset was seeking subjects for a training video, "Speaking from Experience," which would promote the idea that the clients of the mental health services should contribute to mental health policy. Someone told him about the Scottish six and, early in 1985, he travelled to Glasgow with a production team from ESCATA (East Sussex Consultancy and Training Agency) to interview them. He found the group excited about the World Congress for Mental Health Conference due to be held in Brighton in July 1985, and organised by Mind on behalf of the World Federation for Mental Health. But the group was doubtful whether they could raise the money to attend.

"Speaking from Experience" was first shown at this same Brighton conference. It is a 70-minute training video that starts with discussions in the Glasgow Link clubs. The first part has sections on Coventry Crisis Intervention Centre, Libra self-help groups, Link/Glasgow Association for Mental Health, North Derbyshire mental health services project and an overview of advocacy. The second part is on user involvement in Holland, reporting on Patients' Councils, Patient Advocates, Clients' Unions and NUTS housing scheme. There were speakers from the Dutch patients' group at the Brighton conference.

The six themes to the Brighton conference led to a six-point charter at the end. Service users from Holland, Denmark, Scotland, England and the United States took over the workshops on user involvement and wrote its Charter entry. "Our section is pretty radical," Judi Chamberlin, the USA author of "On Our Own", wrote to friends. United Kingdom mental health conferences would never be the same again. Mind's own annual conference that autumn in Kensington was no longer aimed at professionals, it was for users and by users. In the forefront of those users were the delegates from Scotland.

For the second time in as many decades, Scotland had pioneered user action in the United Kingdom. In 1971, SUMP, The Scottish Union of Mental Patients, was the first recorded mental patients' union. By 1974 there was a Federation of Mental Patients Unions. Now Glasgow mental patients lit the fire that became the Survivors Speak Out movement. Two of the service users, Tam Graham and Charlie Reid, became founding members of Survivors Speak Out in 1986. They used the tape-slide programme in group training and education workshops at a number of the early conferences where users started "getting a voice". Charlie Reid died in the early 1990s. He was so well known and respected in Glasgow that he subsequently had a day centre in Glasgow named after him.

The history of the survivor movement is now being researched in Scotland and England. In the Lothians a project called "Oor Mad History" is based at CAPS, the Consultation and Advocacy Promotion Service, which has been working with groups of people who use mental health services since 1991. It has office bases in Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian. The majority of members of its management committee have experience of using mental health services.

In London, Lancashire and Yorkshire groups of survivor historians are working on the history of the survivor movement throughout the United Kingdom. Information about all the groups is available on the survivor history website at


Asylum to Action: Paddington Day Hospital Therapeutic Communities and Beyond by Helen Spandler. Jessica Kingsley Publications, London and Philadelphia, 2006.

Contesting Psychiatry: Social Movements in Mental Health by Nick Crossley. London: Routledge, 2005.

The various history groups can be contacted at the following addresses: Oor Mad History, CAPS Independent Advocacy, 5 Cadzow Place, Edinburgh, EH7 5SN - Survivors History Group, 177 Glenarm Road, London, E50NB - Greater Manchester Survivors History, 15 Shelley Avenue, Middleton, M24 2NT - United Kingdom Advocacy archives, c/o Terry Simpson, UKAN, Volserve House, 14-18 West Bar Green, Sheffield, S12DA.

Top of Page

Andrew Roberts likes to hear from users:
To contact him, please use the Communication Form