Thursday 25 April 2013

High Hopes

Colwyn Bay viewed from Rhos-on-Sea early this morning

I have stumbled on the most luxurious room in the Colwyn Bay Travelodge. The architects, having crammed in numerous tiny and minimalist cells each with a bleak telly and spartan desk firmly nailed to the walls like a prison, must have ended up with an odd-shaped space not quite big enough for two rooms so they shrugged their shoulders and made it into mine.

A good meeting today with our North Wales managers and Trustees. They are very well prepared for the summer campaign and aiming to sustain their reputation for cleverly-designed events.

They are also rising to the challenge - and it's a steep learning curve for most of us - of producing video blogs by users and carers plus a variety of documentary and creative films in furtherance of the campaign.

For details of Lights! Camera! ACTION! follow this link.

On to Porthmadog tomorrow to plan the marketing of our residential recovery centre there: the pilot sessions have gone really well so we have high hopes.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Here Comes The Sun

Richie Havens at Woodstock

Take a look at the resources available from our friends in the Mental Health Foundation for their Mental Health Awareness week in May here. The theme this year is the link between physical and mental health and they have lots of advice about taking exercise.

Good timing as we have had such a horrid winter and rubbish early spring that it feels like we are emerging into the sunlight after a sort of climatic Armageddon - I've never seen so many happy faces as the warm sunshine broke through sporadically over the last few days. I even wore shorts to work in an optimistic attempt to move the summer forward. Definitely time to get out and I'm looking forward to going up to North Wales later this week.

I read of the death yesterday of Richie Havens, most famous for his song "Freedom" and for playing Woodstock for three hours (because the other bands were stuck in the traffic). He also did a famous cover of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun", George Harrison's slight but memorable and evocative paean to spring written in Eric Clapton's garden in 1969 (which was the last time we had a March as cold as the miserable one just gone). The lyrics are limited but particularly apposite right now...

Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
[he saw what we see this week]
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here...

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear...

Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right
It's all right

See George doing it here and Richie Havens here (not as good if you ask me but different).

Perhaps George Harrison had Horace's famous Ode 4.7 in mind when he knocked out his song...

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
Arboribusque comae

("The snow dissolv'd no more is seen,
The fields, and woods, behold, are green" - Samuel Johnson's translation)

Highly likely that he would have read Horace as he passed his 11 Plus and went to grammar school in the 1950s - though he flunked his exams (and spring is a universal trope).

Incidentally my clearest memory of 1969 was seeing the live pictures of the first moon landing, quite impressive but even more significant because it got us out of double maths. As a sort of celebration of that I later built a massive Airfix model of the Apollo 11 Saturn Five rocket with detachable fuel sections and a tiny landing capsule. Yes, readers, I was too young to relish the more florid (floral?) aspects of the Sixties.

Friday 19 April 2013

Dancing In The Streets

Sir Paul Williams - a champion for consumers of Welsh public services?

You could be forgiven for not noticing but the Welsh Government has just announced a major review into how public services are run. First Minister Carwyn Jones quietly announced a "Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery" yesterday in a written statement.

He explains: "The establishment of this Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery provides an opportunity for those who are involved in delivering services, those who are politically accountable for them and users of them to examine how public services are governed.

"Since public sector budgets are likely to continue to tighten, and demand pressures grow, there is a clear need to examine how services can be sustained and standards of performance raised, so that people in Wales can continue to receive and influence the public services they need and value."

Let's hope that there will be a real change of approach. The whole Devolution project got a bad name when the first government in Wales set up 22 Local Health Boards with their panoply of exec and non-exec "jobs for the boyos" as it was rudely but I'm afraid universally perceived in saloon bars from Chepstow to Holyhead, a horrible mistake only recently put right by that exceptional consumer champion Edwina Hart. Incidentally Hafal opposed that terrible NHS structure in our formal submission on the plan all those years ago and we went on saying so right up to abolition - few others have that honourable track record.

The Commission will be chaired by the former Welsh NHS Chief Executive, Sir Paul Williams. A good choice: I sat on the review of mental health services with him a few years ago when he was an NHS Trust Chief Exec: Sir Paul is definitely an insider but I can assure you that he isn't one of those "provider interest" merchants looking out to protect senior colleagues. He can be tough and he might well come up with something radical.

Everybody thinks that the main issue is the number of local authorities in Wales. But I hope Sir Paul is smarter than that and looks at the big picture. It would be easy just to suggest that there should be seven or eight single-tier mega-councils. On the face of it this would mean cost-savings and, yes, many Welsh citizens would welcome a reduction in the number of paid politicians and multiple senior officers running tiny councils.

But actually such councils (like the old pre-1996 County Councils) would be very distant from the electorate - literally. It would mean, for example, a councillor from Llanelli making a decision about people in Fishguard or Borth. Might as well be in Cardiff for all the difference it would make.

And THAT would be my point. Mega-councils are neither one thing or the other - you might just as well centralise. Wales is a tiny country of just 3 million, small enough to run many things successfully on an all-Wales level - quite different from England which is seventeen times bigger.

So do I mean have no Councils at all? No indeed: I suggest keeping the present councils but radically reducing their functions by centralising education and merging social services into the NHS. The Councils would then be local, much smaller, more or less like the old district and borough authorities of yesteryear, and would not need professional politicians running them.

Radical? Yes. Controversial? Only to those few politicians and senior managers with vested interests. The rest of the Welsh public wouldn't shed a tear for the LEAs or "locally accountable" social care with its infuriating disconnection from health (which has fragmented and held back mental health services for years). They might even be dancing in the streets.

Go on, Sir Paul, be bold and drag Welsh public services into the 21st century!

The dog's breakfast aka Welsh local government...

Wednesday 17 April 2013


TUC poster 1982

Hafal Chair Elin Jones is in London today to commentate for S4C on Mrs T's not-quite-a-state-funeral - I'm sure she will pick her words as carefully as she did for the last Royal Wedding!

Supporters and opponents of Margaret Thatcher alike have been reminiscing about those days and I will offer you a vignette about how I played a minuscule part in the heady politics of over 30 years ago...

In 1982 I found myself working for a project managed jointly by the CAB and Swansea Sound - broadcasting sage and worthy advice to the bemused citizenry of South Wales. For obscure reasons I was elected the trade union rep: we were in the white-collar section of the TGWU. At the time Norman Tebbit was steering the Employment Act 1982 into law in the teeth of union opposition - this was the main plank of the new Government's strategy to restrain organised labour.

At the same time there was a hue and cry - or witch-hunt depending on your point of view - with the Government trying to root out left-wing bias in non-political institutions, one of the results of which was a gleeful discovery of Trotskyist subversion in the CAB - this got widespread national publicity and emboldened the Government's supporters in their determination to change the face of British public life.

Actually I can now reveal that the CAB was blameless but the whole scandal had originated with a Socialist Worker "Stop Tebbit's Law!" sticker which somebody affixed staff-side notice board! I didn't put it there myself and it's worth saying that the notice board was not in a public place and anyway it was the responsibility of staff and not the CAB. So in other words it was a lot of fuss about nothing but a useful lesson in how mountains can be constructed out of molehills.

Incidentally, in case you think I was a revolutionary firebrand, along with virtually every other trade union member in the UK (and in spite of my modest representative position in the biggest trade union) I refused to strike in the September 1982 "Day of Action" called by Arthur Scargill. Things were changing and the rest is history as they say.

Friday 12 April 2013

Perfect 10

Hafal's first day in 2003

So Hafal is 10 years old.

I could bang on here about all the successes, exponential increase in size, numbers of staff, blah, blah but I'll leave that to the official Hafal media machine (they are doing a piece in the next Mental Health Wales journal) and instead share a few pictures to illustrate how things have changed - or haven't changed...

A bit severe? You don't want to get on the wrong side of this one - then or now...

Can you spot the ex-Guardsman hiding behind a bush...

That coiffure remains precision-perfect, nothing out of place...

And what about this sour-faced exercise-dodger (with hair)...

Thursday 11 April 2013

"Lights!" Launches

So here we go - our summer campaign Lights! Camera! ACTION! is on the way and advance publicity has virally infested the internet and crashed into the in-boxes of the great and the good, humble and not so humble supporters of Hafal and our partners, and anybody who is anybody in mental health in Wales. The formal launch is in May about which more later.

The emphasis this year is on delivery - that's delivery of the Mental Health Measure and of the new strategy "Together for Mental Health".

During the campaign service users and carers across Wales are producing their own film blogs which point local services and national policy makers to good practice in mental health service delivery across Wales – and flag up local deficits. We'll talk to camera about what changes we want to see in services as a result of the exciting new law and policy.

Specifically we are calling for:

• High quality Care and Treatment Plans for everyone receiving secondary mental health services

• Full choice and control for service users on the content of Care and Treatment Plans

• Prompt delivery of quality mental health services in response to those Plans and to the needs of people with a
serious mental illness using primary care services

• Further reform of services which increases service user and carer control over the choice and commissioning of

• A longer-term move towards full equality in Welsh society for service users and carers including equal access to
health and social care, housing, income, education, and employment.

Hafal is joining forces with Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation to support users and carers to deliver the campaign - and this year we are delighted that Diverse Cymru has agreed to join us, helping to make sure we reach out to minority and disadvantaged communities.

See more details here and follow the action on our Facebook page here.


Of course sometimes you want to escape the limelight: here's a snap I took last weekend from a slippery vantage point under a bridge on the Black Mountain (Y Mynydd Du) - the best kept secret at the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The Black Mountain is remote, spooky and rarely visited, its lakes and rivers subjects of pre-Christian legend in contrast to the Christian history which dominates the Gospel Pass in the Black Mountains (note plural - not to be confused) at the eastern end of the Park. I have no doubt some watery pagan nymph inhabits this stream...

Friday 5 April 2013

Lights! Camera! ACTION!

New Facebook image for the summer campaign

Watch out next week for the advance publicity for our fantastic new film-based summer campaign Lights! Camera! ACTION! delivered by users and carers with help from Hafal and our friends in the Mental Health Foundation and Bipolar UK (and supported for the first time by Diverse Cymru - helping us to reach out to everybody in Wales) - coming to you in 22 locations from May until September!

This is a sneak preview for privileged Blog readers of some of the imagery but you'll have to wait for the links on Monday to get all the details.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Easy Target

HM Prison Shepton Mallet, est. 1610, a Grade II listed building

There is unlikely to be a storm of protest about the announcement that legal aid for prisoners to challenge the conditions under which they are held is to be slashed - see the story here.

The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling asserts that taxpayers' money was being used for "unnecessary legal cases".

He explains further: "I have been appalled that taxpayers pay millions of pounds every year supplying lawyers for prisoners to bring unnecessary legal cases. After years spiralling out of control, the amount spent on legal aid for prisoners is being tackled. The vast majority of these types of complaint can and should be dealt with by the prison service's complaints system.

"Legal aid must be preserved for those most in need and where a lawyer's services are genuinely needed."

The cut would affect issues such as the category of prison or which section of a prison an inmate was being held in, and levels of visits and correspondence.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform says: "The government's proposals to further curtail legal aid for prisoners are profoundly unfair and will have negative consequences for society as a whole. You do need safeguards to ensure that our prison system is fair, decent and open to legitimate challenge."

And Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, says: "While no-one would support vexatious use of the law, when it comes to people deprived of their liberty and held by the State you do need safeguards to ensure that our prison system is fair, decent and open to legitimate challenge."

Well, quite, and you could add that the prison system does not have a good record of sorting out problems through its internal complaints arrangements.

I worked with a few prisons when I was with NACRO and got to know many prisoners and staff. One key thing often not understood by the public is the huge variety of types of people in prison.

True, there are some smart, street-wise and well-grounded chancers whose risk-taking didn't pay off. But there are many more people with very poor education and with severe mental health problems - I mean very vulnerable people - who are really there because they haven't worked out how to rub along with life in the community. Prison is bad for everybody but for these people it is damaging, inhumane, and downright cruel.

Taking away these people's opportunity to get independent legal help to challenge their conditions (which we know from endless independent reports to range from scarcely adequate to appalling) is an indictment on all of us, not just this Minister. That he should feel confident that there won't be an outcry shows how little we appear to care.


I was interested to see the closure last week of HMP Shepton Mallet. I visited the prison over twenty years ago and took a good look around as well as chatting to prisoners. It was like stepping back in time.

This is - was - the oldest working prison dating from 1610 and many of its buildings were truly ancient if well-constructed. On the day I went it was extremely hot and prisoners were lying around on the ground of the claustrophobic internal yard while the stone walls reflected the fierce sun down on them.

You may think that Mr Grayling is doing some good by closing it but the prisoners might not agree. It was a small prison with shabby and limited facilities but good relationships between prisoners and staff, something evidenced strongly by recent inspections which saw a useful future for it in spite of its age.

Of course it was closed for economic reasons, to be replaced by massive, industrial-scale gaols. I know where I'd rather go.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Elysian Fields

John Mackay - a humorous Richard III

Just back from Bristol for an enjoyable weekend, no less so for encountering a series of Memento Mori moments...

(1) The most dramatic of these was the Tobacco Factory's excellent production of Richard III in which the wily Plantagenet sees no less than eleven ghosts calling on him to "Despair and die!" on the night before Bosworth - so not the best night's sleep he might have hoped for.

Up until that point the king had played for laughs through much of the play. I knew it had funny bits but John Mackay's brilliant performance had the audience laughing along with his cruel sarcasm and playful brutality - somehow you could identify with an anarchic Elizabethan audience enjoying the discomfort of their superiors - even the Princes in the Tower - as they get the chop.

Incidentally this Blog's favourite King Henry VII is quite two-dimensional - if not a little priggish - in this play which entirely belongs to the Yorkist usurper.

After the performance I go to fetch the car and get back to find Mrs Blog chatting to Richard III in the bar about him being found under a car-park in Leicester: it appears that the recent discovery of his bones, complete with the evidence of his twisted back and the blow from Rhys ap Thomas' pole-axe, has done ticket sales no harm.

(2) A barber's shop in a back street (click on the picture for a better view)...

(3) Who or what is this sad and pensive mummy wrapped in bandages perched atop the porch of the house where the poet Thomas Chatterton was born? Is it the melancholy poet himself - or, as I suspect, a bit of pointless and unconnected urban art? Poor Chatterton took his own life aged just 17 while literally starving in a garret, his fake mediaeval verses as yet unrecognised (personally I still find them unreadable but apparently they have a following).

(4) Walking in Clifton we feed the squirrels among the 18c and 19c graves of St Andrew's Churchyard which are lined up either side of a picturesque bird-cage walk, a bit like the Roman necropolis in Arles famous for Vincent van Gogh's pictures. And where is the Church? Blame the Luftwaffe who flattened it in November 1940.

St Andrew's Churchyard, Clifton, Bristol

Vincent's picture of the necropolis in Arles known as the "Alyscamps" - Proven├žal for the "Elysian Fields"