‘What do we do now?’ – Mental health, user leadership and communities

One in Four conference 16th May 2011 at the UCLH Education Centre, 250 Euston Road, Euston, London, NW1 2PG.

This all-day conference brought together some of the exciting current thinking about ways in which people with mental health difficulties can be involved in services, how people with mental health difficulties can bring about changes in the way that services are delivered and how people with mental health difficulties can create services and projects for ourselves.

Watch video from the conference here (photos to follow):

One in Four Conference from Joon Creative (Voluntary) on Vimeo.

Topics included co-production, peer service, Big Society and the current climate for mental health innovation and development.

The conference was designed for those who want to lead activism and change and for those who want to take part in it.

It brought together people who use services, people who provide services and people who would like to provide services

Part of the impetus behind the conference was that the situation for mental health organisations and those that use them has altered significantly since the general election in 2010.  A wave of change has been sweeping through the lives of many people with mental health difficulties; cuts, changes to funding, uncertainty about benefits, NHS changes – All have made for a time where it feel like there is a state of constant upheaval.  Organisations too have been experiencing similar feeling of uncertainty and worry.

As regular readers will know, One in Four finds hopeful ways of looking at situations and pragmatic ways of making things better.  The conference took one day to examine the current situation for people with mental health difficulties and asked whether there were positive ways forward.

Speakers were drawn from inside of mental health related organisations and also from a broader range of backgrounds and experiences.  They were unified, in the main, by experience of carrying out work that might be useful for people wanting to explore how services for people with mental health difficulties might change and grow during this difficult time.  All of the speakers in some way had ideas that might answer the question ‘Just what do we do now?’

New ways of thinking and doing

After opening remarks from Raza Griffiths of PowerUp!, chair for the conference, Dr Rachel Perkins OBE and Mind Champion of the Year 2010 opened the conference with a barnstorming speech outlining just how far the way in which mental health is regarded has come since the establishment of the NHS and Welfare State. As someone who has both worked within the NHS herself at a high level and also experiences mental health difficulties, Rachel outlined the possibilities that might be taken by people with mental health difficulties to redefine services into things that better suit us. Rachel saw it that the next logical step for mental health was people with mental health difficulties themselves becoming far more involved in creating, designing and delivering services that help and support others. This she suggested was moving away from the idea that ‘professionals’ always know best and opening up new ways of thinking and doing. She also suggested that this was about more than services just asking people what they thought and more about services helping people to do things for themselves.

Andy Gibson (follow Andy on twitter) outlined his project MindApples and the broader opportunities that are presented for taking mental health and wellbeing messages away from being purely medical ideas and out into the community and people’s lives. A very simple idea, MindApples grew from the idea that everyone should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to help their overall health. MindApples ask people to think about five things they do to look after their mental health and finds ways to share them, promoting the idea that you can look after your mental health in the same way that you look after your physical health. Andy stated that mental health is something that we all have and that we can all find better ways to look after it.

Big Society?

Mark Brown (follow Mark on Twitter), editor of One in Four outlined some of the areas where the government’s current Big Society initiative crossed over with ideas and wishes that people with mental health difficulties have had for years such as the wish to have greater say in the ways in which services are delivered and a greater choices of how, where and from who to receive those services. Part of the Big Society idea is that it is people that have most idea about how they want the services they use to work, not governments or other large organisations. This presents an opportunity under the heading of Big Society for people with mental health difficulties to press for greater involvement and more flexible and responsive services.

The Big Society idea is that people and communities can find their own solutions to problems.  He argued that this represents an opportunity for charities and community groups to make the case for their work being far closer to what people with mental health difficulties actually want than more impersonal care and support delivered by large organisations. Mark also told the room that he thought that the Big Society represents an opportunity for people with mental health difficulties can set up and run their own projects without having to ask for the permission of larger organisations. These sorts of organisations are referred to as User-Led Organisations. When people with experienced of a particular situation or condition deliver services to others who are going through similar these are called Peer Led Services.

Mark said that he wasn’t talking about the idea that it isn’t the job of organisations to provide services, but posing the question ‘what would services and projects look like if people with mental health difficulties set up and ran them?’

Co-production and getting things done

A number of speakers explored the idea of co-production, a current buzzword for people looking to find new ways of designing and delivering services. Very simply, co-production is the practice of working with the people who might use a particular service or project to design, develop and otherwise shape what that project or service is and how it works.

Rich Watts (Follow Rich on Twitter) of Essex Coalition of Disabled People, an organisation with 1700 individual members providing services for 3300 people, explained that co-production was something that his organisation has already been doing successfully. They had worked with their local authority to develop a contract specification based on what members wanted. ECDP works with members to develop their own support plans brings together funding from across funding streams.

Adil Abrar (Follow Adil on Twitter) of Sidekick Studios talked about his company’s work on Buddy – a digital tool designed to help people to manage their mental health difficulties. The project provides a way that people can note their mod each day via their mobile phone or the internet and then review how they’ve been doing over the week, enabling people to make the connection between what they are doing in their everyday life and the way that they feel. Buddy was co-produced with people with mental health difficulties in south London. Adil found that Buddy was most effective when used outside NHS settings and that the more people using the Buddy tool could see it as theirs and not as part of NHS medical treatment, the more effective it became.

Alisdair Cameron (Follow Alisdair on Twitter) of Launchpad Newcastle outlined the ways in which the North East has developed ways of working together to get things done. Alisdair called this ‘networking for tasks’, where different groups and organisations come together to do specific things. This involves finding ways of working across boundaries: organisations led people with mental health difficulties working with organisations that aren’t, the public sector working with the voluntary sector and organisations from across the region working together. Alisdair shared the golden rules of this kind of working including: Don’t piggy-back or claim credit for work you’ve neither done nor funded; realise that how people feel about your service or project affects how well it can work; park organisational and personal egos and work on sharing resources and sharing the fruits of your work

Question Time

The middle of the day saw an hour long panel discussion in classic BBC Question Time style, chaired by Tom Neumark (Follow Tom on Twitter) from the Royal Social of Arts (RSA). The panel was made up of Andy Bell (Deputy chief executive Centre For Mental Health), Sarah Yiannallou (National Survivor User Network), Ceri Jones (Head of Policy and Research at Social Enterprise Coalition) and Dr Samantha Callan (Centre for Social Justice).

The questions and contributions from the floor touched on a wide range issues connected to mental health and the Big Society. These ranged from the question of whether organisations run entirely by volunteers were doomed to failure to the question of whether the new funding climate would prevent the funding of organisations delivering culturally specific services. Concerns were raised about the danger of creating a group of ‘super-users’, while the panel were asked to make clear what they meant when they said when they supported service that ‘worked’ and who decides when a service ‘works’: Its users, its managers, its funders or someone else?

An NHS view

Miles Rinaldi spoke about the Recovery College set up by South West and St Georges NHS Foundation Trust. Based on the idea of using co-production as a way to develop education around mental health, the College is a collaboration between educationalists, mental health professionals and people with mental health difficulties to develop a place where people can learn useful information about living with mental health difficulties and where mental health professionals can learn from people with mental health difficulties about ways to do their jobs better. Courses are delivered by a mixture of people who experience mental health difficulties and those who do not. Miles talked about the way in which it had been difficult to get NHS staff to understand that the college wasn’t a therapeutic project that was about treating people’s conditions but an educational one that was about helping people to develop their skills and knowledge. He stated firmly that he didn’t see the College as a piece of NHS innovation but an example of what the NHS should always being doing: working with people with mental health difficulties to provide things that they want in ways that work for them.

Challenges and Opportunities

A number of different ideas and concerns emerged across the day. Notable was the question of where the money was going to come from to actually deliver projects and services. Many of those attending spoke of the increasing financial pressures on organisations and of the impact of cuts on what organisations could do. Many people were keen to make the point that any discussion of what we might do to take things forwards was happening against a back drop of significant hardship for many people with mental health difficulties and that regardless of how good any project or service is, the people who use it will often be contending with uncertainty over benefits and their immediate future wellbeing. A third idea expressed by some was a scepticism about the interaction between the government’s Big Society idea and the wider program of cuts and a broader question about whether people with mental health difficulties taking over the running or delivery of services would lead to greater inequalities.

Judging from the amount of debate on the day and the physical volume of the discussion during coffee breaks and lunch the conference was successful in getting people thinking about what might come next for mental health. Despite some of the challenges acknowledged there was still a huge sense of potential and enthusiasm to get out there and make things happen.

One in Four is grateful to the support from Mind and the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) who sponsored this conference.

Logo for the charity MindLogo for national Survivor User Network


If you have any questions about the conference or want to find out, please email: conference@socialspider.com

Time Session Speakers Outline
09.30 Registration, tea & coffee
10.00 Welcome & introductions
10.10 Keynote speaker 


Dr Rachel Perkins OBE “Mental health – How far have we come?”
10.30 Mental Health & Big Society Andy Gibson – Mindapples 

Mark Brown – One in Four

Just what does Big Society mean for mental health?
11.00 Tea & coffee break
11.15 Panel discussion 

Mental health – where are we now and where are we going?

Chair: Tom Neumark – RSA 


Sarah Yiannoullou – National Survivor User Network

Ceri Jones – Social Enterprise Coalition

Andy Bell – Centre for Mental Health

Dr Samantha Callan -

The Centre for Social Justice

An opportunity to ask the panel about where they think mental health might fit into wider policy and what they think are the challenges and opportunities
12.30 Lunch
13.30 Co-production asd getting stuff done Richard Watts – Essex Coalition of Disabled People 

Adil Abrar – Sidekick Studios

Alistair Cameron – Launchpad, Newcastle

Hear about co-production and explore how people with mental health difficulties can get things done within existing structures
14.30 Breakout groups and report back Group discussion sessions – “How can take these ideas forward?”
15.30 Tea & coffee break
16.00 Q&A – NHS innovations Miles Rinaldi – Recovery College 


Hear the latest ways NHS has been supporting people with mental health difficulties to make projects happen
16.45 Closing remarks
16.50 End
deputy chief executive of Centre for Mental Health

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