28 March 2013
CoolTan Arts film project let participants explore the process any individual needs to go through to access a personal budget, by expressing their experiences of the personalisation process through their own words, filmmaking and animation. Richard Downes attended a screening at NFT2, British Film Institute on 25 March
Did you know Independent Living is 70 years old. The process was started in the USA by black war veterans seizing their rights to citizenship and refusing to let the battle for freedom remain in Europe. Googling for an image to fit in with this learning I conclude that the second world war was a white man’s war such is the level of invisibility.
Remarkably this exclusion saga continues for mental health service users today as they are discouraged from dreaming of a better life by local authorities. Five years on from the start of independent living in the UK it is clear they just don’t get personalisation. They don’t understand it, cannot deliver it, and systematically use organisational barriers of a) eligibility criteria, b) financial restraints and c) redundancy and re-organisation to stop our people getting what we want. Thus the real story of personalisation unravels.
Personalised Mental Health Services and Individual Budgets is a good idea. It would be. It’s ours. It gives choice, control and enables you to start building the life you desire. For one of the main characters in the animation this is an escape from noisy, confusing, discriminatory environments to a more peaceful place where learning and enjoyment becomes the preferred reality. For another it’s about staying active, interested in life, removed from isolation, an opportunity to improve, get and keep well, use peer support and give something back to his community.
Failure to enable us to engage with personalisation equals perpetuation of the same old shamed circle of exclusion, hospitalisation, self-harm and suicide – an expensive cycle that continually constrains freedom. This is best demonstrated in the documentary where Cooltan Arts leader, Michelle Baharier, promotes the importance of Cooltan, and by extension other third sector groups, who provide activities, resources and support as deliverers of a choice where control can be exercised. This is researched and presented well, although this section moves away from individuals stories and slows the film down. Michelle’s best contribution is in making the case that the financial cost of health care far outstrips the costs of personalisation.
Subsequent to the screening a film-makers panel convenes and collects together all of the political points made above with passion and conviction, encapsulating them through lived and shared experience, whilst articulating them with anger and frustration. This suggests that the start of the personalisation process, whilst relatively fresh in the UK has already gone stale. That the real story of personalisation is only just beginning as we devise campaigns, take action to take what is ours and battle for our lives yet again. It’s like a thriller. I am on the edge of my seat. What will happen next? Whatever it is I want these film-makers to be there, covering it, documenting our struggle.