A café for calm in Sandwell: Community Places of Safety Ideas Festival

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West Bromwich Town Hall welcomed 50 delegates to an Ideas Festival on the 27th January. The Idea’s Festival, an approach utilized by the People’s Parliament, aimed to bring members of the local community together to explore how community places of safety can be developed across the area. The Festival was opened by James Morris, MP for Halesowen & Rowley Regis, who outlined his support for the development of a community place of safety in Sandwell. He has previously discussed his feelings surrounding mental health provision in conversation with Melissa Newell, which is described on this blog post. Speaking at the Festival, James highlighted the raised profile of mental health and the government’s current commitment:

‘Public debate about mental health is at the highest it’s been for 40 or 50 years. There have been huge strides made in tacking stigma and mental health is now one of the top priorities for the government. In Prime Minister May’s speech a couple of weeks ago, she outlined a commitment to social reform and she majored on mental health, calling it a ‘burning injustice’. She also talked about the importance of community places of safety. However, we recognize there is still a lot more to be done, especially around the need to shift the system towards prevention.’

Following James’ opening remarks, Leon Blake MP in the People’s Parliament explained the history and the aims of the Mental Health People’s Parliament in Sandwell, articulating very clearly the importance of lived experience: ‘My lived experience coupled with my leadership qualities enables me to be an MP in the People’s Parliament. Power needs to be given to people with lived experience so we can be in the driving seat making a difference.’  Leon also spoke about the recovery journey: ‘We can all get well, it’s the staying well that’s difficult. Recovery may not come to an end for the individual but this does not mean they are not well.’

Mareesha Morris, an MP in the People’s Parliament went on to speak about how mental health should be considered by the community. Dr. Rosalind Frampton, who has visited five community places of safety around the country, portrayed the pros and cons of the various approaches, and outlined the best practice that she had seen. The Parliament wanted to hear from local best practice examples, so they invited Lisa Done to talk about the Sherpa Service and Sarah Cresswell to speak about Pause in Birmingham, that was co-designed by young people.  Speaking about the Sherpa service and the origins of its name, Lisa told the Parliament: ‘My father was a sculptor and working on a sculpture one day he showed me a picture of Mount Everest and the 1953 expedition. I asked him who the men were in the photo and when he got to the last man he said he was Sherpa Tenzig. He said to me, ‘he’s the man who got them up the mountain.’ That’s what Sherpa is all about; it’s about supporting people in their lives when they are in difficulty. The service is all about ‘normalising’ recovery and offering pathways of opportunity, de-stigmatizing and de-ghettoising so we can all access any part of the community.’

After hearing about good practice, the entire room then worked in small groups to design their own community place of safety and outline the skills and knowledge that need to be tapped in the process. This led to a lively discussion and different ideas about where a community place of safety could be based – from a pub, to a bus, to existing places. Mary Hannibal from Kaleidoscope asked whether there are empty council-owned shops that could be used free of charge, and Cllr Shackleton agreed that this would put empty buildings to good use.

The festival ended with delegates giving pledges of what they could offer in the development of the places of safety. A working group will be brought together in March to start organizing and developing community places of safety in Sandwell.

Read our first Mental Health People’s Parliament newsletter!

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