Lily Aarons of LJY-Netzer & Leeds University Union blogs on her experience of action with Leeds Citizens to improve mental health in Leeds:
Over 30 people gathered at Moortown Baptist Church yesterday, on the 29th July 2015, for a collective action to improve mental health in Leeds. Our aim was to initiate a relationship Leeds North Clinical Commissioning Group - the body responsible for commissioning mental health services in the city. This was the first action I have attended as a member of Leeds Citizens and I was blown away by how powerful it can be when all different types of people come together for a common cause that they are passionate about.
The day started off with relationship building between those attending. I am not usually one to go and speak confidently with strangers but I felt right at home amongst the friendly faces who I knew I would have so much in common with. To be in a room full of social justice activists, especially ones older and more experienced that I, was an amazing opportunity. I enjoyed getting to know the people I spoke to and finding out about the community initiatives they were involved in – as a student in Leeds I had no idea that so much went on in the wider community!
After getting to know one another it was down to business! All 30 of us were going to the Board meeting of the Clinical Commissioning Group to address the chair directly.
We knew we had a 10 minute slot in which to present ourselves and our asks. We split off into groups to most efficiently plan how we would do this. It was clear from this exercise that everyone was really passionate about what we were doing but also keen to build relationships and cooperate. The competing opinions came together to form a very coherent presentation in the end!
The aim of our action was to get the Clinical Commissioning Group to meet with Leeds Citizens to improve mental healthcare in Leeds, specifically by providing “navigators” to be a human point of contact to help people through the labyrinthine system.
When the floor was opened to us Bishop Tony Parry from New Testament Church of God began by introducing Leeds Citizens. He was followed by Adrian Strain, who presented his compelling testimony about how a lack of support and funding in NHS mental health services in Leeds contributed to his sons tragic suicide last year. People like Adrian are such an integral part of what makes Leeds Citizens the powerful group that it is – people who have used their experience to create positive change and believe in the power that they have as a member of a community.
After presenting the asks we heard from the Board. They did agree to meet with us and to help us build relationships with the other CCGs in Leeds - a great success. However, I left feeling that the CCG is already confident that they have a suitable plan in place and they were offering us the opportunity to support them, rather than the other way around. We all came away with a feeling that even more needed to be done, and immediately agreed to have a second meeting to plan further action, which I’m greatly looking forward to. I really believe that with enough empowered people we can make mental health navigators a reality and I can’t wait until the next action!