Electrician by day, Craig Spillane set up Men Unite one morning in 2019, sat on the toilet before work. He wanted to give some friends of his an outlet to speak and not be judged. Men Unite is a closed private group on Facebook to help men deal with any issues they face; suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety, stress, PTSD, addiction issues, debt, bereavement, or any associated issues. They now have over 12,000 members in 78 countries. They have a team of volunteer admin from around the world so there’s a real person available to chat 24 hours a day.
84 men per week die from suicide in the UK, thats one man every two hours. Craig is passionate about lowering that harrowing statistic. The Coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on people’s mental health – with triggers ranging from being in lockdown isolation to struggling with money due to job losses. Although there are no figures yet from lockdown, Craig personally knows four men who’ve lost the battle to their own demons during this time. In this talk he’ll describe the impact of lockdown on men’s mental health and how online support networks like Men Unite are providing a vital connection for men around the world.
Seven year old Nylah Abitimo-Jones was born in Gulu, Uganda and now lives in Cheltenham with her mum, dad and sisters Amito and Akele. Nylah has had a very memorable experience of ‘lockdown’! On 8th June Nylah performed her poem ‘Black’ in front of over 5000 people at the Black Lives Matter protest in Cheltenham. Inspired by rapper Dave’s song ‘Black’, Nylah’s poem centres around self-love and explores her own experience of being Black with pride. Nylah finished off her performance by asking that we ‘learn Black History in schools’ and added that ‘Africa is Not A Country!’ Since then, videos of her performance have been watched across the world by millions, reposted and shared by celebrities like Missy Elliott and platforms like NAACP, NowThis, BBC, Al-Jazeera across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
Black Lives Matter: What it means to be Young, Gifted & Black in 2020
Nylah’s performance caught the attention of Blue Peter producers who asked Nylah to write a poem for their Silver Badge week. She wrote ‘Shine’, a poem that encourages people to believe in themselves and try something new and performed it live in the Blue Peter studio in July. Nylah loves to sing, rap and recite lyrics as poetry wherever she is, with her family and friends. She dreams of being a singer, dancer, actor and rapper when she grows up. Nylah’s will perform some of her poetry, including a brand new poem called ‘UG’, a playful celebration of culture – from the food she loves, her Ugandan Acholi ancestry and hair.
Angela Frazer-Wicks is a founding member of the Family Rights Group parents panel, one of their expert panels of family members with direct lived experience of the Child Welfare and Family Justice System. Her eldest two children were adopted in 2004 after a very long and fraught battle with her Local Authority due to domestic violence and mental health issues. She is now married with a young daughter who has had no Local Authority involvement whatsoever. She regularly speaks about her experiences of the Child Welfare and Family Justice system in an attempt to highlight issues facing families in the hope of facilitating positive change. She has campaigned for many years to have the voices of families heard within the system. Angela sits on many Boards, Panels and Steering Groups across the country representing the voices of families.
Saying Goodbye in Lockdown
In 2004 Angela was forced to say goodbye to her two eldest children as they were being adopted. Social Services had decided she was not capable of keeping them safe from her abusive partner. Angela’s memories of that day have always been negative, focussing on how awful the whole experience was. During lockdown she began to hear of families being made to say goodbye remotely, or in some cases not getting to say goodbye at all, and it made her appreciate how lucky she was to get to say a proper goodbye. Angela is working to raise awareness of the issues facing families involved with social services during lockdown. She believe the system can and must do better.
A self-declared feminist from the age of seven, Onjali specialised in Women’s Studies at Oxford University before working in a number of human rights charities. Onjali is the Founder of Making Herstory, working with agencies large and small, it works to mobilise people from all walks of life to support women’s shelters, lobby for women’s rights and join anti-trafficking movements. Onjali is now an award-winning children’s author; her debut children’s book The Boy At the Back of the Class highlighting the refugee crisis from a child’s perspective won the Blue Peter’s Children’s Book of the Year 2019 and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. Her second book published in October 2019, The Star Outside My Window, focuses on the tragic impacts of domestic violence on the lives of children.
The Nightbus Hero
As the eviction ban is lifted, and furlough schemes end there are fears of a new wave of homelessness in the UK. In London, over 4000 individuals were sleeping rough as of 2019, 28% more than in 2018. At least 8,900 people are estimated to be sleeping in tents, cars and on public transport in the UK. Something needs to change. Told from the perspective of a bully, Onjali’s latest book The Nightbus Hero explores themes of bullying and homelessness, while celebrating kindness, friendship and the potential everyone has to change for the good.
Alex Rush is a 15 year old from Rochdale. He believes the media negatively stereotypes young working class lads like him but he’s passionate about making positive change in his community. Alex has spent the last two years being a young activist with Manchester-based Reclaim, a youth leadership and social change organisation that supports working-class young people. He is passionate about reducing the amount of homelessness in Rochdale, reducing racism and bringing the community together and allowing young people to be heard within politics. He would love for the voting age to be lowered! Alex is extremely creative and loves music, especially bands like Oasis and rappers like Dave and 2pac. Alex loves to change negatives into positives and spread awareness about making change through his love of music, rapping and delivering speeches.
The Indispensables- working class heroes of the pandemic
Alex will share what it means to be working class to him. The pandemic affected people in different ways, and Alex will describe how it has impacted him as a working class young person. Alex’s parents are both key workers, working on the frontline. His dad worked in a wholesale supermarket while the rest of the country locked down. But has enough been done to ensure that key workers, like Alex’s parents, are seen as the indispensable workforce they are?
Clare Patey is an award winning artist and curator who creates participatory art projects and social spaces. Her work combines cross-disciplinary enquiry and a collaborative process with a sense of play and creative agency. Commissions include: London International Festival of Theatre, Channel 4 (winner of RTS award), Southbank Centre and The National Theatre. She was the creator of the critically acclaimed Museum Of, The Ministry of Trying to Do Something About It, and annually curated Feast on the Bridge. She is currently director of Empathy Museum, where her award winning immersive project A Mile in My Shoes tours internationally. Their immersive exhibit explores how empathy can not only transform our personal relationships but also help tackle global challenges and open up the public conversation around empathy at a time of increasing conflict. She is part of the Edible Utopia collective.
Travon Steadman works with Drive Forward Foundation, a London-based charity that supports care-experienced young people into employment, training and education. Before joining the team, he was a “service-user” and is a committed Ambassador and member of the charity’s Policy Forum. He is a strong believer in the power of lived experience to drive change and progress; highlighting the struggles young people face under government protection. His own journey has made him so much more aware of the struggle and pain of others, but also of how society looks at care-experienced people. A word that’s often used in conjunction with the care-experienced is “resilience”. But Travon refuses to accept this term, as he believes that it adds to the many misconceptions attached to the tag “care experienced”. He recently participated in a BBC3 production “Things Not to Say ”on the topic of homelessness.
In 2007, Tracey Ford’s life stopped in its tracks when she heard the news that her son had been shot while at his friend’s ice-skating party. Andre died from his injuries; he was 17 years old. He was one of 27 teenagers in London who lost their lives to gun and knife crime that year. To help prevent similar tragic loss of life, she decided to do something to stop the culture of gangs and youth violence by speaking out on the issue.
This led Tracey to found the JAGS Foundation in 2010, an acronym of her son’s full name, James Andre Godfrey Smartt-Ford. JAGS raises awareness of the consequences of youth murder and addresses the problems affecting young people today. It offers peer mentoring in schools and also works with agencies that help vulnerable young women. Women supported by the project have gone on to volunteer, using their lived experience to help others move away from youth crime. Tracey says “The real insight into the after-effects of any lived experience is what helps to direct, change and influence policies and services, and helps to address unmet need.”
Simeon Moore is a writer, musician and advocate for young people. He was a member of a notorious Birmingham gang and now works to tackle what he sees as the glamorisation of gang culture, which gives young people aspirations to live negatively. He brings vision, creativity and influence to positively impact on their lives. Moore and co-founder Dylan Duffus created DatsTV, a new YouTube channel aiming to challenge, and provide an alternative to those channels and music videos that glamorise gun and knife-culture and to encourage young people to walk away from gang violence.
Simeon has been featured on Channel 4 News and the Huffington Post and in 2018 presented the BBC Radio 4 documentary Spitting Blades exploring the supposed relationship between urban art forms and knife violence. More recently, DatsTV was named one of Creative England’s CE50 for 2019, a list that highlights exceptional talent that will be central to the UK’s creative economy.
Darren is chief exec of Expert Citizens CIC, an independent group of people who have all experienced multiple needs – combinations of mental ill health, homelessness, addiction and offending behaviour. They give their ideas to services of Stoke-on-Trent and nationally to help guide and shape them to improve the care of multiple needs citizens.
Darren is also a trustee of the Lankelly Chase Foundation and adviser for The National Lottery Community Fund board. Darren has been working with local and national media outlets such as BBC Radio Stoke, BBC radio Hereford and Worcester, BBC Radio four listening project, Victoria Derbyshire show, the Guardian and the Huffington Post. Darren is a national facilitator working with organisations like MEAM, Homeless Link, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Virgin Money Foundation and many more. Darren is also a national speaker, using his own experience of severe and multiple disadvantage to challenge stereotypes and the traditional narrative, dispelling the myth that people experiencing some of the toughest social issues of our time are making a ‘lifestyle choice’.