Building an emancipatory mental health approach

Building an emancipatory mental health approach Workshop, Unitarian Chapel, Cross Street, Manchester, Friday, 15th July 2022

Outside Cross Street Chapel

An evaluation report for CHARM Members and supporters and those who were present at the day


About 35 people attended over the full day. The participants were from diverse backgrounds. Attendees included experts by experience, family members, workers from GMMH Trust (Transformation managers, Carer and Service User lead, Care coordinators etc) and voluntary & community organisations including FikaWelie, Manchester Mind, Europia, Mental Health Charter Alliance. 

Sessions and Issues

Racism was covered as an issue through out the day it permeated all discussions and was a concept discussed by many speakers and workshop participants.

Introductions were powerful and emotional. Angela Youngs focus on the challenges facing people living in Central Manchester accessing crisis services (no local provision since closure of acute wars at MRI) gave the context for why we need to do something different here.

Session lead by Jess Pons and Paul Baker was received positively and the importance of working relationally was acknowledged. Particularly addressing empowerment and the need to deconstruct services from the value of “Nothing About the Person without the Person”for instance by enabling partnership approaches where the service user chooses who they want to work with. 

Jess made the important point that relational work can also be carried out in Secure Units, wards and prisons, although there are constraints. There was support for the Hearing Voices Approach to be embedded into services through training and implementation of structured ways of working with people who hear voices (Hearing Voices Support Groups/ Voice Dialogue as trialed by the GMMH funded Psychosis Research Unit/Trining in using the Hearing Voices Structures Interview/ Support for reestablishing a Hearing Voices Network for Manchester and Greater Manchester.

The importance of enabling peers to establish their own spaces and to create their own culture rather than being incorporated into services was seen to essential to the development of peer led approaches. 

Doing something differently for people with long term contact with acute and community based services (People with “Serious Mental Illness (SMI’s)) in Central Manchester was supported 

In the Anti-racism/racial trauma session led by Earl and Dorethee a strong case was made for the development of services outside of existing statutory providers because of trust deficits. However commissioners need to ensure these new responses are funded and seen as part of the whole system.

There was a discussion around whether we can change services from within or without (or both at the same time) – no consensus on this however key issues included:

  • White Institutions are inevitably racist and we can’t wait for them to solve the issues of racism within their services.
  • However sometimes we have no choice but to engage with these institutions nor do the communities effected by the racism due to vulnerability and coercion.
  • There was a strong call for the continuation of CHARM’s campaigning work and this needed to be supported and grown. 
  • Working with and acknowledging uncertainty was also a key theme.
With thanks to Jess Pns


The venue was accessible (ground floor) and the circular chapel allowed us to arrange the seating in a circle that encouraged participation and interaction. As a result the meeting was respectful and inclusive. 

The acoustics were OK though we used roaming mikes for discussions and for some presenters.

The main meeting room was spacious with high ceiling and very well lit. We also had access to second room used for coffee, lunch and breakout sessions.

The assistance and support from Janet (who managed the space, provided coffee and let people in to the building) was excellent.


Feedback so far has been very positive. 

There was a fine balance between participants feeling despair at the many overwhelming challenges facing people who use mental health services and their families – and  – hope from the learning and discussions that arose from the presentations.

At the beginning of the workshop we had a mindfulness session led by Sita and throughout day used a bell to bring people back into the space. Feedback about using the mindfulness session/ bell was mostly positive and the bell worked very well to bring people attention to the commencement of sessions. Needed to clarify that it was not religious/faith based but that Sita was introduced as Buddhist Chaplin in acknowledgment of the trining and experience she had. 

Jessica Pons emphasised at the beginning of the first session on relational approaches the need for us all to to be courageous and to speak our truth.

GMMH representatives said they found the event to be very creative and valuable, not what colleagues had expected before they attended. Clair Watson said she would take issues of concern raised at the workshop back to GMMH. 

Some deep listening to the new perspectives offered by the presenters. 

The following discussions as a large group did lead to some dominant voices and we may have lost some views and perspectives from people not comfortable to talk in large groups. In the afternoon we held break out groups, of about 6 people, that hopefully addressed this concern. Also people did raise issues during coffee and lunch breaks.

Some concern that we may have sacrificed a deeper understanding of the approaches that were shared by the presenters in favour of discussion and interaction.

Individual feedback so far

Lisa Crowther, Assistant Manager, Connect Support
“The conference was really valuable and needed.  The open circular setting of the venue was ideal for this kind of workshop and exchanging of ideas, as it led to more open and inclusive discussions around the room from everyone.   It felt very relaxed. There was a good mix of carers, service users, statutory bodies and voluntary organisations attending, and especially staff from GMMH which was great to see. It was so good to hear contributions from everyone and be part of the discussions. 

All the speakers were very knowledgeable and engaging, I personally was very interested in the Open Dialogue speaker, hearing how this method has been used very successfully in Lapland gave me hope that this approach could be incorporated in some way with our own mental health services here in Manchester.

After sitting in so many meetings over the years with GMMH, hospitals and psychiatrists around my own daughter’s mental health care, and seeing nothing working and nothing changing,  and the establishment so resistant and incapable of looking outside of the NHS fixed treatment model, this event gave me hope that there could be alternative ways to approach treating people with severe mental illness.” 

Elaine Okoro

“My footnote for Charms Mental health conference. Really enjoyed the day, the setting in a beautiful environment.The exciting and inspiring thought provoking insights from speakers.The calm inviting approach lent itself to open frank discussion. I as a carer felt I could contribute and be listen to as they were no airs or graces of  professionals or/ interested participants – we were all there to absorb and think differently. It was refreshed and important to have racial perspective on the table. It has to be included to change the mindset and treatment of lack of cultural awareness in mental health. Only scratch the surface on that topic …but so glad it was aired! Look forward to more open discussions.”

Published by CHARM Greater Manchester

CHARM, the Community for Holistic, Accessible, Rights Based Mental Health was launched by The Organic Recovery Learning Community in September 2020.

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