On becoming Platfform

Red banner with the words system change

About two years ago I had a phone call from Brigid Bowen of Compassionate Mental Health. I didn’t know her at the time, I’m happy to say we’re good pals now. The call was about a conference she was organising. Being an arrogant Chief Exec I assumed she wanted me to speak.  Her response was perfect – I might be applying some poetic license but it was along the lines of ‘why would I want you to speak, you don’t have anything useful to contribute, I just want your money’. A slight slap to my ego but hugely refreshing.

Within a couple of days we were drinking coffee together getting very excited about the first Compassionate Gathering at which I wasn’t speaking but I had committed some cash! She is a very persuasive woman and I am very happy that we have supported the gatherings ever since enabling bursary places to be offered at the gatherings meaning people on low or no incomes are able to attend.   If you haven’t been to one yet you really should.  Brigid’s vision is to use the gatherings to shift the debate in mental health beyond diagnosis and towards a more trauma informed and spiritual approach to understanding our distress driven by compassion.  She is certainly succeeding.

I hadn’t anticipated the impact of attending the first gathering. Brigid and her team create such an amazing safe space for people to be themselves, to share stories of trauma but also to offer up different ways of changing the narrative.  I was profoundly impacted and truly inspired. My mojo rekindled and reconnected both with what is so deeply wrong and damaging about our current mental health system, but also to hope, aspiration and determination that there is a better way. I wanted to be part of that. We have to stop pathologising people’s pain.

At around the same time I began to realise that I wasn’t enjoying my job any more. I loved the people I worked with but something was missing.  I wasn’t jumping out of bed in the morning looking forward to the day. I am a relentless optimist so this wasn’t like me.  To outside eyes Gofal looked like it was doing very well, growing, round the table influencing national policy and legislation, on the telly.  But the compassion, love and joy that we used to feel was running thin.  We, or I, had taken us down the road of tendering too hard for work, beating the competition, growth and winning.  It doesn’t do anyone any good, it doesn’t lead to a healthy happy compassion filled organisation, it certainly doesn’t give people what they want or deserve and I wanted out.  You can read more about my thoughts on this in my last blog.

So, a quick recap – I met Brigid, attended my first gathering, took us down the wrong path for a while, lost a couple of contracts and had a particularly prickly experience with one local authority. We weren’t a happy ship, we had a strategy focused on growth – I had lost my way and I thought I wanted out.  All this happened pretty much at the same time, and to top it all off I had two days away with my Board to talk strategy.

An accumulation of catalysts colliding.

Guess what they said?

Let’s pause, reflect, stop doing the stuff we know is not working, stop colluding in toxic broken systems – and let’s re-imagine ourselves.  What is out purpose? Where do we see our place in the world? Not in five years’ time, but in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time – what do we want to see change?  If we were setting up a new charity now what would our vision, mission and purpose be?

I bloody love our Trustees!

The past two years have seen us thinking together, connecting with others within Gofal and beyond, making new friends, putting a few noses out of joint, getting out of work we can no longer justify doing and having new adventures. Making mistakes and learning all the way.

We could see that despite years of influencing policy things weren’t changing on the ground. Too often our public services, that are intended to help do the opposite.  Our system is built on a deficit model: “Are you sick and desperate enough to deserve our help”?  If not go away and get sicker and more desperate! Continual re-traumatising  and shaming of people at their lowest ebb, and if you do get a service and do well we will whip that help away so quickly is it any wonder things crumble.  That coupled with our obsession for thinking we can fix people, that we are the expert professionals. How much more evidence do we need to truly accept none of this works or is in anyway desirable? We don’t need policy tweaks or shifts. We need large scale transformation of mind-set and system.

And so here we are: Platfform – the mental health and social change charity.

  • A mission driven charity – a Platfform for connection, transformation and social change.
  • A value driven charity with connectedness, compassion, bravery and courage in our hearts.
  • A part of a growing social movement for change working to achieve a paradigm shift not only in how we understand and respond to emotional distress, but in how the system is designed to support sustainable wellbeing for all.
  • A credible alternative to the status quo.
We’ll carry on running projects and services – but they are changing.  We’re not there yet but over the coming months everything we do will become strengths based, trauma informed and healing focused.  We are appointing a new team to help lead this transformation.  We know it will be hard work but we also know it is right.

We’ve gotten a bit more punk, the continual rhetoric about change is no longer good enough for us. We are on a mission and if what we are saying resonates with you we would love you to join us.

We will be collaborating on transformation and system change projects with partners in the public, private and third sectors.  There’s a few things bubbling which we will be able to tell you about soon.  If you are interested in talking about transformation drop us a line.

And we will be convening and campaigning. To truly be part of a social movement for change we will be active in bringing people together to think, learn, plan debate and do. We will support others in their work, people like  BrigidA Disorder for Everyone Mayday Trust and Camerados. And we will run campaigns aimed at shifting the debate towards the world we want to see – all working towards a world that supports sustainable wellbeing for all.

So that’s it, we’ve arrived!  It’s been an experience with a few bumps along the road but I am immensely proud of who we have become, the work we are going to do and the people we am doing it with.  Go team Platfform. My mojo is definitely back.
I wanted to just take a minute to remember Stewart Greenwell, a valued and much loved Trustee and all round amazing man.  He started the journey with us but sadly passed away before Platfform came to fruition.  I wanted to thank you Stewart for everything you gave not just Gofal, but mental health services and broader public services in wales over the years – we miss you.