How to combine starchy, boring business with rock and roll...During my revolving door time when I was in an out of asylums about a dozen times between 1974 and 1991, I accumulated a total of seven years experience working as an accounts clerk. I also took a basic business course. So I was no stranger to keeping records, writing stuff up, checking bank statements, doing wages, and so on. Also I knew the basic requirements to set up a company; memorandum of association, articles of association, having directors, and also I know it's neccessary to submit annual reports and accounts, and to make arrangements for tax. When I did my MA in Social Policy at Brighton University I became aware of how business methods have entered into the world of social care. This has various aspects, and after my time at Brighton I was up to speed with things like accountability, being accurate on costs, and other ways in which statutory service provision has deviated from the pure service model.
I've always had an interest in music and art, and take advantage of any opportunities to participate in creative activities. I consider contributing to this archive as a creative activity. So in the early 2000's I somehow took on an organising role for art exhibitions at 73a Centre, the day centre I attended in Bexhill. I was encouraged by the art facilitator, Phil Flockhart, to do the arranging with Bexhill Museum, to put on art shows around World Mental Health Day every October 10th. An early kind of user led activity. This went well and in 2008 I joined with Debbie Rimmer of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust to organise music events, often promoting The Referrals, a band then linked to the day centre in St Leonards. This was encouraged by Ian Watling of SPNHSFT. So after a few years of such activity, I was awarded a personal budget by East Sussex County Council. This included a sum to set up a social enterprise - the company registration fee being a princely £35 included in the budget. It wasn't the money, it was the confidence of Kenny Mackay at ESCC that I could do it. There were three directors: me, Debbie, and Su Barnicoat from third sector Activ8 in Hastings, when we registered CreativeBexhill Community Interest Company #07333230 on August 2nd 2010. Knowing what was needed to get the registration done, from my previous work experience, I approached Sue Heath of Decoda and she did all the (mainly online) form filling, and we were up and running with a bank account too.
As at Spring 2013 we had successfully submitted returns for two years, with Chris Whelan doing the clever stuff of preparing accounts, balance sheets etc. This was done from the records I kept every week. Our model is to hire community venues, such as halls, and put on creative activities without labels or formal referral. So since 2010 we have reached out to 20 or 30 people each week. We have done this with the aid of major subsidy from ESCC and elsewhere, and ask for a small contribution from attenders. To date we have put on music, yoga, exercise to music, book and play reading, and drama therapy. We have also put on concerts and are well supported by good people on Rother District Council, including several past and the present Mayor.
Catchup...It's early May 2013 and austerity has bitten us. Our essential funding via East Sussex County Council and their partners is no longer available. I've been put straight on how we can continue. It's a stakeholding model. This means that CB CIC becomes self-sufficient. So we need to raise charges for attending our sessions to a commercial rate. (This when we have situations where one person who likes to spend money in the local pubs refuses to pay £2 to attend the music group - this includes refreshments, hall hire, facilitator fee - and has to be turned away). Also, and most crucially, the facilitators of groups will no longer be paid their fees...Wait a minute:- they will be paid a proportion of the attendance fees after our fixed costs of hall hire, tea and coffee etc have been covered. This is the two pronged effect of stakeholding; raise fees which will deter people from attending and then ask the facilitators to accept pocket money. In an ideal world, we would be so popular and effective that the model would work. It would be great if it did. Indeed should people not be paying a premium for activities that they acknowledge improves their wellbeing, rather than the activities being subsidised? However, of course, this is all against a backdrop of spending cuts, let's not kid ourselves. As more and more expenditure cuts are announced in rounds, so that is filtering down to us.
So we have had to make an orderly retreat. I was aware of some of these issues around Christmas time, and it would have been great if some of the groups could have been floated off to preserve the good work done and the help they have been to people. However, with some missed meetings and other factors, there was no time to discuss this with my fellow directors fully. I realised that we should not be presiding over an insolvency. So as we took on more financial costs, some of which were thrust on CB CIC at extrememly short notice, we could not carry on. We needed to have an orderly run down and to give some notice. This I have manged to do and we have all, I hope, parted on good terms. That's the attenders and the facilitators. The social enterprise has still some funds to take care of its statutory obligations like filing accounts and reports to Companies House. Those requirements have legal consequences if not fulfilled. I've avoided that by a comfortable margin. We are mothballing the company and are keeping open the registration and the bank account, which I will put onto a tarriff where there are no recurring fees. I was complimented when our accountant approved of the manner in which I have done this. The circumstances have been unavoidable. However, we remain in a position to take up any opportunities that may come our way. We may be a conduit for some other activities. But right now I see our successful model as a subsidised one, that's the way we have done three or so years of activities. It would be great of other models worked, and of course I always have an open mind on anything new. But wouldn't it be great to get a large cheque from a corporate donor and we could re-engage the workshop leaders and get folks back to places they have liked. That would be terrific.
My creative instincts are helped by CB CIC and I am a regular particpant with the music. I have had the ideas including the chords and lyrics for several songs. We also write songs collectively at some of our weekly music sessions. My tracks include 'At Least I'm Not A Schizophrenic' (about the media profile), 'Help Me Nurse, I Love You', and 'Jesus Has Left The Asylum'. These are all slightly satirical, slightly comic. We've also written and played songs after the anti-stigma campaigns, these are 'Time To Change' and 'Time To Talk'. I am very pleased with all of these efforts. We played some of the songs at the launch of my graphic book 'Side Effects' in London in February 2013. We also record the songs we write and hope to get a full set of MP3's of our tracks. I got the chords for 'Time To Change' when I lived in my own house for the only time, before it was repossessed. That was in 1986, so it's good that the music is now where it belongs, and I am not being antisocial and annoying the neighbours with an electric guitar like I did in my house in the 1980's.
Music has always been important to me, it's a form of group belonging. One of the demoralising effects of asylum life in the 1970's and 1980's was that I missed out on youth subculture. I could not even hear the music of punk or heavy metal. The teddy boys who ran the Industrial Therapy unit insisted on the radio playing Steve Wright In The Afternoon on the unit loudspeakers. So I was obliged to hear Rod Stewart and Sailing, not God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols. It was Paul McCartney and Wings and Mull Of Kintyre, not Lemmy and Motorhead. Mick Jagger singing Angie with a full orchestra, definitely not rock and roll. High pitched whining voices like the Bee Gees and the Temptations complete with string section, not an exploration of Whitesnake and heavy metal - I never heard any of that until long after it was relevant. Going back in time in the sound of the nation to the 1960's: here's Thunderclap Newman screeching and whining that the Revolution is here - who's he kidding? And now for some Monkeys and Daydream Believer, something your Mum and Aunty will like so much more than that nasty 'My Generation' by The Who, they're definitely never going to be heard with that on the radio. That still persists today in waiting rooms and day centres, you have no choice over what you hear, that's very important to me. Absolutely no talent except to find the 'on' switch and select Radio 2. Making our own music at our church hall sessions has involved talent, sometimes a lot of it.
It's not all been plain sailing with the social enterprise. I've been able to combine skills I learned at work as a white-collar worker, and some basic education around the law, accounting, and practice of business. These I have been able to direct towards some of the themes mentioned elsewhere in my contribution to this archive. We have used our talents to make music from existing songs and to write our own lyrics and chords. Also there are the other things we have brought about; drama therapy, dancing for exercise, literature, and yoga.
Why can't statutory services provide this? Why has it lurched from Industrial Therapy with enforced Steve Wright In The Afternoon on the unit stereos, to signs erected in 2013 pointing to a centre for 'mental health' where nothing deeply socially relevant is available? CreativeBexhill Community Interest Company provided meaningful activities with no labels.
There remain some quite reactionary influences in adult social care, and these have not taken our social enterprise kindly. For example, at one time there was a dour Scotsman who smoked roll-ups in charge of the whole area for the national charity that oversaw the day centre where I live. This chap had done over 10 years as a nurse in the British Army, so maybe can be forgiven for not being an original thinker. But he announced that our social enterprise was competition for the national charity. So we had no collaboration from the charity while he was there. As I said above, we provided no activities that the charity provided, we were competition in no way, and in any case the way to make more from less in today's information age is to network and collaborate, to form partnerships. But we were not liked by this guy. So not only is it disappointing that the progress of the social enterprise was impeded by this individual, but this individual was also in some way responsible for the care I needed as a mental health service user. I have had had very little support from day services to make my recovery through social enterprise work. It's as if any independence through self employment or through being a company director precludes you from having mental health support. To go to the day centre from day to day and to have the social enterprise ignored is a bit weird. Why should this be? It may be blind jealousy over what are percieved to be the activities of CreativeBexhill CIC. It may be that: If you're well enough to form a company, you don't need support. Whatever, it's a very benighted situation. There is no recognition of what could come of a successful enterprise, of the approval and beneficial effect on mental health. There may also be Political considerations with a capital P. That is to say that business is not socialist, it's not Labour. These things are never said out loud, but people generate their own prejudices on what they percieve as a fair society. Included in this is the attitude to recommissioning of day care. The only way that provision of day care could proceed in 2008 was if it was not provided by the county council. People took this to mean that the service was going to be privatised. This in turn means that these people think privatisation is wrong, a Political opinion, something to be resisted. So maybe the social enterprise and the attitude of influential caregivers needs to be seen in this light.