SPN The Early Days 2001 – 2005
Sowing the seeds:
In May 2000 I was asked to develop training standards for the mental health workforce. Quite a challenge on 3 days a week! Then life really hotted up when mental health became a national priority for the NHS that autumn. Major changes like the setting up of the National Institute of Mental Health England (NIMHE); multi-disciplinary specialist teams to deliver services in the community to benefit users and a de facto ending of local authority mental health social work were suddenly announced.
Exciting but worrying – where were the important social aspects of someone’s life outside their illness in this new world? Was this what service users wanted? On the contrary, research showed* a preference for social work support to that from a CPN. Andrew Cooper, my doctoral supervisor at the Tavistock, suggested setting up a national debate on the issue. Maria Duggan wrote a discussion document on social models in mental health services (SPN Paper 1) and we managed to get 30 or so people from around the country to come to a couple of lively debates in the summer of 2001.
Growing the seeds:
Now we had the seeds: an enthusiastic group of interested academics, social workers, trainers and service users, a logo (Social Perspectives Network – for modern mental health), and many ideas on what needed doing eg expand the knowledge base – but how to get them to grow? We had generous help from three of the new organisations:
Topss England formally launched SPN at their national conference In February 2002 and let me spend some time on its development.
NIMHE and then Andy Nash provided substantial funding for several years in return for SPN running a national network in partnership with users to facilitate inter-professional working and service user dialogue.
The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) supplied a desk, computer access, accounting facilities, support for our research group and a great working environment in their new Hays Wharf office.
So, thus nurtured, SPN began to grow and develop with its first formal Study Day in Birmingham in November 2002. It went so well – maybe only 40 participants but several of them were happy to be co-opted onto our national committee which provided the central structure for the following 4 or 5 years. Members often made major contributions to the field as local users, carers and as social spokespeople.
The Study days and subsequent free papers gained an excellent reputation amongst users, academic colleagues, front line workers and training consultants. Our website consistently shone – colleagues always checked it before meetings for fast reliable news on the field – what an endorsement! Jerry chivvied and inspired contributors to ‘Social Perspectives in Mental Health’ published in 2005. Little did we know that this would be a 5 star winner (courtesy Amazon) still used for AMHP training 8 years later. Delighted when Vicky Coppock’s ‘Understanding social work and mental health’ joined it in 2010.
We seized the day, let a thousand flowers bloom – and it was fantastic!
But things don’t go on at that peak for ever. Terry and Alleyn managed the subsequent required transition to a charity and a more virtual organisation most skilfully as does Jean in keeping the web site going. Wonderful people continue to be chairs, trustees and linked workers. It’s also lovely to read of continued support from so many former colleagues and have confirmation that our values still matter in this pressured world.
*MacDonald, G., & Sheldon, B., 1997. Community care services for the mentally ill: consumers’ views. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 43 (1) p35-55.
SPN Co Founder Dr Judy Foster