Friday 30 April 2010

Ministry of Injustice

A disappointing letter this morning from the Ministry of Justice in response to Hafal’s call for an end to disqualification of people receiving treatment for their mental health from serving on juries even though the vast majority are perfectly competent to perform this basic civic duty. Our sister charity Rethink has proposed a simple test based on the Mental Capacity Act but the Ministry has not acted on its promise to reform the system and proposes to go on insulting about 9,000 people a year by excluding them. The Ministry tries to evade the accusation of discrimination telling me that jury service is “foremost a duty not a civil right”: this intriguing argument could be used to exclude all sorts of “inconvenient” people from serving their community. Come on, Mr Straw, this is an old-fashioned, nasty little rule which is offensive to a lot of citizens and sets a rotten example to everybody else. If you are saying people can’t serve on a jury just because they are receiving some kind of treatment for their mental health then you are effectively telling employers that they should not employ such people in any job requiring a modicum of reliability and judgement . . . but of course that would be against the law . . . which your Ministry is there to enforce . . . er . . . work it out, Jack!

Thursday 29 April 2010


I enjoy a productive training session today with senior managers responsible for our local services. Chief Executives have a duty to project a rounded, corporate mission comprising services, campaigns, information, etc but we all know that if you have a significant service-delivery arm then it is that which will keep you awake at night if things are getting difficult and give you the sleep of the righteous if matters are going smoothly. I’m mainly sleeping pretty well at the moment and the more so I suspect following today’s session. We have a very focused and grounded team with a mix of long experience and new promotions to manage that critical interface between projects and Head Office. They know they will need to be ready when the elephant in the room (the massive public spending deficit) is finally confronted after the election. We will have to work hard to avoid nibbles and even big bites as commissioners look for savings. Will mental health’s “priority status” count for anything when the axe is wielded? Will commissioners be honourable with the Third Sector or just cut us first rather than their own statutory services? We will of course work cooperatively with commissioners looking for fair efficiencies but we are ready to fight our corner alongside other voluntary organisations if we have to.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Newsflash - Shakespeare was Welsh

Fellow Shakespeare enthusiast John Gilheany, a tireless denizen of Hafal’s own Grub Street - I mean our industrious media and publications department - presently working on a Young People’s Information Hub (see the fruits of his labour in the Autumn via Hafal’s website), draws my attention to a new book Shakespeare and Wales exploring Welsh connections in the life and works of the Bard of Avon (there are two anglicised Welsh words for starters). Apparently he may have had a Welsh granny, thus qualifying to play for God's Own Country under WRU rules, and it’s certainly true that there is quite a lot about the Welsh in the plays. But I’m not at all sure that Shakespeare had a respectful view of the Welsh. I have a personal insight having once played the “Welsh Captain” in Richard II, appearing in one brief scene where I refuse to assist the embattled king because the star signs aren’t right (my acting career was mainly downhill after that but for the record I dragged up to play Mrs Drudge in Stoppard’s “Real Inspector Hound” and dragged up again to play the Archbishop of Canterbury in Gordon Daviot’s “Richard of Bordeaux” – that’s Richard II again coincidentally). Superstition and unreliability also characterise Owen Glendower in Henry IVi so a worrying theme may be detected though Fluellen in Henry V is valiant enough. Sir Hugh Evans in Merry Wives of Windsor is a risible parson with a silly Welsh accent. All these Welsh characters are sent up for their excessively colourful turns of phrase. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that WS saw the Welsh about town in Tudor London as objects of derision not least for their odd use of English. But nobody should get too upset about that: there is a tradition of Celts using flamboyant English with a relish which the English themselves would not characteristically employ – James Joyce and Dylan Thomas come to mind, both extraordinarily respected but also often sent up for their unrestrained (unenglish?) use of words.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Back to School

Last week we recruited two Expert Patient Trainers (assisted by funding from Comic Relief - thank you) to join Hafal's Learning Centre: this exciting project is a major step forward for Hafal's pioneering work in delivering high level training from the perpective of our mass membership - people with experience of serious mental illness. The expansion has prompted planning of a new phase in the Centre's development and today we decided to recruit a Centre Coordinator to organise our whole programme of training and to support our excellent Principal Irene Hogan (picture). That brings to five our staff dedicated to training supplemented by many sessional inputs by staff from other departments and freelances. We seem inexplicably but delightfully to attract teachers to work for us in all sorts of capacities: they may try to keep it a secret but Irene always finds out in the end.

The Centre has grown from strength to strength and is now able to assess and award City and Guilds, Institute of Leadership and Management, and Agored (Open College Network) qualifications. Customers include the Assembly Government, NHS, local authorities, and private sector hospitals. Hafal's services also experience the great mutual benefit of large numbers of nursing and social work placements in our projects, supervised and assessed by our qualified teachers with personal experience of illness. It will be great to expand this so that we can influence decisively the culture of mental health services in the future.

I have also rather rashly decided to manage Irene directly myself to give a little more independence to the Centre from our service management - I say "rashly" as I have so far managed to keep my head down in the face of Irene's (quite proper of course) "training for all grades" mission but will now I suspect be exposed as lacking some basic IT or similar skill and be sent back to school...unless of course I can keep her too busy to notice my shortcomings: if you would like to give Irene some work contact her at

Saturday 24 April 2010

On Your Bike

Got the bike out, dusted it down and pumped up the tyres for my first ride this year. Thinking it best to start slowly I cycled around Swansea Bay in warm sun with just a little haze. Quite as good as the Bay of Naples but without the slums and gangsters (cynical Jacks tell me Swansea has some form too but Wales' second city is like leafy Surrey in comparison with the scary Neapolitan suburbs straggling along the coast). The reward for cycling past the unremarkable cafes and ice-cream shops in Mumbles and all the way to Bracelet Bay is a "Get real, Nick" Trident-missile-sized bacon and egg roll at 1950s throw-back Forte's with a large, strong tea overlooking the small beach and watching the boats sail past. Nirvana.

Back in Swansea I visit Waterstones to see what to order from Amazon and succumb to an offer of chocolate cake with jam filling in St Mary's (not much to look at since the Luftwaffe called but worth a visit for the refreshments). A meat pie on the way back to the car means calories expended on gym, swim, and cycle are all "cancelled out" by snacking - ho hum.

Friday 23 April 2010

Up North

The end of a long but very satisfactory week. Following the big launch on Tuesday off to meet staff and Trustees on Thursday at our N Wales Centre in Colwyn Bay. Before the meeting took a phone call from Sue Barnes who had just finished giving evidence to the Legislation Committee: she feels she and Lee McCabe had got the key messages across and this is confirmed enthusiastically by many who saw it streamed on-line.

My meeting went very well - fantastic plans for "Road to Recovery" events when the bus tours N Wales from mid June. Trustee Ceinwen Rowlands gives me a microbus key-ring (picture) with the legend "Happy Hippie" (does she mean me?) which I will cherish. In the evening motor up to Llandudno for a stroll on the prom with Chair Elin Jones and then fish supper at Enoch's in Llandudno Junction (recommended for food, service, and price).

On Friday visit our base in Porthmadog including the prospective new "Recovery Centre", currently a bit of a wreck but plans are in hand for 9 en-suite bedrooms. This unique new project, inspired by Trustees with personal experience of illness, will provide therapeutic short stays where patients from all parts of Wales can methodically plan their path to recovery. Watch this space next Spring.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

We're Off

Warm sunshine and warm words of support from Edwina Hart at the excellent launch of our "Road to Recovery" campaign. The Minister gave an up-beat speech praising Hafal for our work on the LCO and Measure and wishing bon voyage to the microbus and all who sail in her. A big crowd attended including many AMs curious to see the fusion of 1960s German engineering with 21st century touch-screen technology.

Jonathan Morgan, who kindly sponsored the event, welcomed the campaign in a short speech and privately tells me he's fortunate that his better half wasn't with him as he would have come under pressure to make an offer for the bus - might see if we can flog it to him next year. Jane Hutt is looking forward to seeing the bus again when it reaches the Vale on 14 May: I introduce her to Hafal's Vale organiser Rikki Withers who is planning a Caribbean picnic - sounds like one for the diary. Lib Dem Peter Black seems very happy for some reason - he says it is the sunshine while chatting to our North Wales contingent on the videolink. Mark Isherwood remembers a time when there was more public engagement in election campaigns - posters in the windows and so on: he is right I think - is it because people are more wary of displaying their allegiances? I get Dai Lloyd to chat with Sue Barnes (see blog on the Measure below): he is looking forward to hearing her evidence on Thursday. Good to see Phil Chick and we agree we must chat soon as we are co-presenting at the Science of Care conference in June. The two Andrews Mulholland and Macintosh, who will be on tour looking after the bus and its technology, look justifiably pleased with the ensemble they set up earlier in the day. Fresh from giving radio interviews Hafal Chair Elin Jones and Trustee Collette Dawkin are on form networking with the legislators, as are Valleys Trustee Jazz and Vicechair Chris Eastwood who motored down from Gwynedd to check out the bus and press the flesh.

Apocalypse Now?

These are strange times...

- Iceland unleashes a volcanic cloud which reduces air traffic to 1910 levels

- The Royal Navy stands by to rescue massed ranks of British from the coast of northern France

-Pollsters predict that the party which comes third in the popular vote may win the most seats

-Cambridge rowers petition the Queen to authorise the execution of a swan called Mr Asbo

I will only comment on the most important issue: rather than go to the Queen the angry oarsmen and women should just pop into St John's College which, apart from Her Maj, is the only body in the realm permitted to consume swan. I gatecrashed their 1978 May Ball (they only sold double tickets and unaccountably I couldn't find a girl to go with me) where swan was served - a bit like chicken but rather coarse and dry.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Launch Today!

Hafal's "Road to Recovery" campaign (details here) starts today with the Minister of Health Edwina Hart AM presiding over the departure of our 1964 VW microbus from the National Assembly on its 22 event tour of Wales (dates here). A large crowd including AMs of all parties, users and carers are attending with a videolink to North Wales. If you are in the area pop over to the Pierhead building next to the Senedd from 11am and see the formal launch 12.30 until 1.00pm. Must dash to get set up...

Monday 19 April 2010

The Measure

Key meeting today with Sue Barnes (see picture) to discuss her evidence session at the National Assembly this coming Thursday. Sue and Lee McCabe will be trying to persuade the Stalinist-sounding (but I am sure really quite friendly) Legislation Committee No 3 to beef up the Proposed Mental Health (Wales) Measure, including putting in timelimits for patients to get an assessment and holistic care plan. You can see our written submission here.

Sue has experienced serious mental illness herself and has worked with Hafal delivering services to clients and more recently teaching social workers in our Learning Centre – she’s a qualified Social Work Practice Teacher and was previously a senior practitioner in Child and Adolescent Social Services. Lee likewise has experience of serious mental illness, works at Hafal Merthyr Tydfil, and has a great record of delivering evidence on this legislative process to both Parliament and the Assembly: Jonathan Morgan AM said of his Legislative Competence Order (which brought the power to legislate on mental health from Westminster to Cardiff) "For me, the most compelling piece of evidence for why reform is so long overdue came from a service user from Hafal, Lee McCabe". Nothing ambiguous about that.

It must be right for Hafal’s 1,000 Members to be represented by the likes of Sue and Lee. This also illustrates one of the reasons for this blog: people with experience of serious mental illness should speak for us where it matters while I can have my say in the side-show of Bill’s Blog.

Sunday 18 April 2010


Just finished reading Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain , the late Roger Deakin's story of wild swimming in rivers, lakes and the sea around the UK. It's a soothing and philosophical work rather like Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler as well as a polemic against municipal hostility towards traditional community swimming areas. Until recently many or most communities had places in rivers or local ponds maintained for swimming, many with platforms and changing areas. Nearly all of them have fallen into neglect or been closed down in these risk-averse times. I swim in a lot of wild places in good weather including pools in the higher reaches of the Towy (bitterly cold close to Llyn Brianne, the reservoir in the headwaters) as well as sea swimming from May to October in Swansea and around the West Wales coast. I can testify with Deakin that swimming is a natural, primeval activity superior to other physical exercise for its therapeutic effect on mental wellbeing. In fact I swim year round in the open air (including this morning in spite of a nasty sore throat) but that's in my sports club's pool - heated, not quite so exhilarating, and clearly cheating.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Revving Up...

Mounting excitement as the VW “Microbus” revs her throaty engine in anticipation of her journey around Wales commencing at the Assembly next Tuesday 20 April. Follow the animated VW link from our main site here to find out more about Hafal’s “Road to Recovery” campaign. We hope the sun will shine on the Minister of Health as we wave the bus off but brollies will be available; we are also video-linking to a small crowd in our North Wales centre – the bus will reach North Wales in mid June. See the full 22 event itinerary here.

We will publish more in due course about the bus but for the enthusiasts out there she is a 1964 Samba-type de luxe “splittie” (split-screen) imported from Colorado and reconditioned under the supervision of Hafal’s Housing Manager Tracy Lee. Tracy has driven the right deals so that the bus is now valued some 10% over what we have paid to buy and do her up - so, if we can bear to part with her, we should more than recover our costs in the Autumn. Meanwhile I must embark on a diet in order to squeeze into the driver’s seat – sadly not possible on my first attempt.

One of the key purposes of the campaign is to achieve radical legislation which can change the lives of people with serious mental illness. To illustrate the importance and timeliness of our campaign just two days after the launch two of Hafal’s staff with personal experience of serious mental illness, Sue Barnes and Lee McCabe, will be giving evidence at the Assembly on the Proposed Mental Health (Wales) Measure – more on this shortly.

Monday 12 April 2010

Vote for Mental Health

Hafal has always given a high priority to encouraging its Members and others to participate in local, Assembly, European and general elections (we also have a very respectable turn-out for our own elections of Trustees). The Mental Health Wales “election special” has been published on-line here and the hard-copy magazine will be sent out very soon. The slogan “Vote for Mental Health” conveys the importance of considering the choice of candidates in terms of obtaining the best result for mental health and related services: in a general election that means particularly considering undevolved matters like benefits, employment, and criminal justice.

“Vote for Mental Health” also suggests that the act of voting is good for the voter's own mental health. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the scant majority of us who vote in general elections (61% last time) are doing ourselves some good by feeling empowered in making the collective choice of those who govern us, perhaps thereby seeing them as our servants rather than our masters. By contrast those who cannot make a choice (in the many undemocratic countries of the world) can be unsettled psychologically by the sense of having limited control over their livelihoods and by repressed rage at that injustice. So do yourself a favour and cast your vote.


Weekend weather you would not complain about in August! Took the opportunity to picnic at the source of the river Loughor above Trap (picture). The extensive cave system here was first explored in 1841 by local carpenter Thomas Jenkins who devised a collapsible coracle which he and friends squeezed into the narrow entrance and then reassembled in order to paddle through the caverns. I did not attempt to enter being no expert (health and safety tip - only go pot-holing with expert supervision) and recollecting my brother Tom's experience of being persuaded reluctantly to try caving and promptly getting his 6'5" frame stuck, fortunately right at the entrance like Pooh bear.

Friday 9 April 2010

Here we go...

Welcome to my Blog which I propose to sustain through the Summer of 2010 alongside Hafal’s “Road to Recovery” campaign – you can access all the information about the campaign here.

We are gearing up for the launch of Road to Recovery on Tuesday 20 April when health minister Edwina Hart AM will inspect our 1964 VW Microbus (see picture) at the National Assembly before we send it off on its journey around Wales. The bus will stop at 22 events – one a week from May to September covering every county in Wales (details here).

Of course we will aim to have a lot of fun with the campaign and plans are in hand for beach parties, barbeques, and the like up and down Wales. The serious background to the campaign is to make sure we get a first-class new mental health Measure (Welsh law) in the coming months and make some real headway in achieving personal choice and control for people with a serious mental illness on their plans for treatment, care, and recovery.

More next week when I’ll report further on plans for the launch.