AN INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE FOR DEMOCRATIC PSYCHIATRY, PSYCHOLOGY,
EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
INCORPORATING THE NEWSLETTER OF PSYCHOLOGY POLITICS RESISTANCE (PPR)
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The event was, in fact, was launched the evening before, most appropriately, with a social and entertainment hosted by Mad Pride. Conference opened, not so much with an air of expectancy, but rather one of achievement - wonder even. The thoughts of some delegates stretched back to the heady days of the eighties, perhaps to the landmark Edale conference in 1987 of Survivors Speak Out. Who would have guessed, remarked Peter Campbell, where the movement would now be some fifteen years later? Ron Coleman a leader amongst a later generation of activists takes to the floor, heading straight to a disused lectern stacked in the corner, an historical relic of the Trades Union Congress. He addresses veterans and new activists alike. "It is important to remember," he announced, "that this historic event takes place in a historic building." Indeed, these same chambers in the nineteenth century, saw the coming together of trades unions to form the TUC.
That the history of the labour movement and the professional associations is not without blemish with regard to discrimination and betrayals, was not disregarded. That new struggles for civil and human rights were being opened up, was put firmly on the agenda by the opening speakers: David Crepaz-Keay, Deputy Director Mental Health Media; Angela Linton-Abulu, Chair Black Women's Mental Health Project; Rachel Perkins, Clinical Director Pathfinder Trust. Coleman's remarks that we should look forward to the Winter Gardens in Blackpool as the natural venue of the next conference was not however so much open to debate. In fact it brought the house down.
The Mechanics Institute was packed with 200 delegates with 200 more having had to be turned away before the conference subscription could be closed. The vision of the steering group led by Rose Snow has to be credited in achieving what some had predicted was not possible, or at least, too soon. Issues covered in parallel workshops included: management, supervision and support in the workplace; perspectives on discrimination, both personal experience and in structures and systems; trades union representation; unpaid activism and volunteering; status pay and valuing work; promoting inclusion of black and ethnic survivor workers. Delegates included survivors working in the statutory and voluntary sectors, self-employed trainers and consultants and those working in academic institutions on topics related to mental health. Delegates and correspondents with the conference reporting team included survivors working in jobs where their personal experience of distress is relevant to their work - whether or not they are able to be 'out' about it. Trusted allies were to attend by invitation only, but even here the bookings had to stop before the invitations could be sent out.
For those fortunate to be present, the mood in the conference corridors was akin to those rare moments in history when revolutionary forces come together. Under one roof were those activists whose disparate views, analyses and aspirations have been seen by some, in the past, as signs of division. Now difference was both strength and unity. Of course, it was also a time of bumping into old friends and comrades. Alan Leader remembered the party in London, back in the mists of the nineties, which preceded the broadcast of the BBC Horizon documentary Hearing Voices. It was then that we savoured how, despite frantic lobbying of the establishment by Marjorie Wallace, for once, the reactionary lady was put in the shade. Leader laughed uneasily, "Ten years ago we were all fighting the system. Now we are all in it." Indeed, looking around, it felt like we had come over the barricades, the fortress was crumbling and we were standing inside. A new phase in the struggle had begun.
conference report is being prepared by Rose Snow and Viv Lindow and
be available in the summer. Correspondence with the conference
is available by visiting the website:
The first National Survivor Worker conference provided a unique meeting place for those of us who have used mental health services who now work to promote positive change in (or out of) the mental health system to share knowledge and ideas. As someone who has worked in mental health services for the past six years with personal experience of being a psychiatric patient this conference was very welcome.
The conference was a 2 day event packed into one. There was a celebratory atmosphere, a blend of cautious optimism, solidarity and familiarity. At the same time it was acknowledged that serious business lies ahead, and the the very real barriers that exist to genuine partnership style user-involvement in services. For me the event was something I would have liked to slow down a bit. This is credit to the organisers who were clearly dedicated to covering a broad range of valid topics. For example, there were discussions of barriers of racism, accounts of the success of work initiatives, and political mobilisation (unionisation) to counter discriminatory employment practices all taking place in the same introductory half hour slot. It was refreshing to see a range of power issues discussed so openly. It set the tempo for the day where diverse views were exchanged. This event was definitely a positive sign of things to come in the future. As Rachel Perkins said "there may be a million miles to go but we've come along ten."
Of The Beast
© Asylum Magazine 2002