Fighting back from the grassroots
Posted Thursday 17 January 2013
Last year in March, I was heading into yet another meeting at the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss welfare reform and mental health, and experiencing the feelings of foreboding and frustration which often accompany such trips. The meeting largely fulfilled these expectations but it did lead to me meeting Phil Binding from the Derbyshire Mental Health Action Group (MHAG).
MHAG is a service user led campaigns group, facilitated by Phil and his colleague Niki, who are employed by Derbyshire Mind. I was thinking a lot at the time about how Mind could do more to support grassroots campaigning, so it was a happy coincidence that I now had the opportunity to discuss this with Phil. I was really impressed with how MHAG was set up and the campaigning they had done.
A few weeks later I attended a meeting of one of their sub-groups which focuses on benefits and welfare issues. It was inspiring to see a group of people with mental health problems getting together to fight back against the changes and cuts to benefits. Even more remarkable was that, in doing so, they were improving their own mental health by getting out, meeting others, and channelling their fears and frustrations into something positive. This also reflected my own experience of finding purpose in campaigning, which helps me stay well.
I was keen to see if this model could be replicated elsewhere, not just because it seemed so beneficial for those involved but also because it could dramatically strengthen the capacity of the mental health ‘movement’ to push for change. There are lots of things the national office of Mind does really well, but our campaigning work is much more effective when people are speaking up locally to ensure that change really happens in their communities.
We started designing a programme we could deliver through local Minds to help people who use their services to form their own campaigns groups. Rather than making this a training course, we wanted to create a process that would encourage the participants to get to know each other, explore the idea of campaigning together, and work as a group to come up with a plan of action.
We pulled together a range of activities which we thought would help them to achieve this, adopting some of the techniques and resources from groups like Common Cause and the New Organising Institute. I also recorded an interview with Phil and one of the members of MHAG to help inspire the campaigners-to-be, parts of which can be viewed by visiting: http://youtu.be/6-UJCh8fU4w
We found a group of people at Southwark Mind who were keen to take part, and we ran three sessions with them during October and November. It was really enjoyable to work with the group and try and support them towards forming an effective and sustainable campaigns group.
A couple of weeks after the final session, I was really proud and excited to attend their first proper meeting as a campaigns group. They are thinking about focusing their first campaign around trying to save and improve a local drop-in centre. Although it is inevitable that the group will be fragile during its first few months, I am confident that they have the passion to keep it going and make a real difference.
The question now is what we at Mind can learn from this process and how we might go about helping more people to campaign locally. We’ll thinking about this over the coming months, but it would be great to hear your thoughts.
Would you like to be involved in campaigning? Would you like to link up with other local people to do this? What support from us would help you?
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