In 2006, The Afiya Trust, a national charity addressing racial inequalities in health, set up Catch-a-Fiya, a national network of mental health service users and survivors from racialised and marginalised communities.

Catch-a-Fiya served as a platform for user/survivors from racialised groups to come together to ‘learn, teach and grow’ by sharing experiences and knowledge.

By 2012, both the Afiya Trust and Catch-a-Fiya had ceased functioning due to funding cuts and lack or resources, as had many of the local BME user groups.

In fact, as early as 2010 and at the beginning of the economic downturn, the Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO) had calculated that 45 per cent of all BME voluntary sector groups had faced funding cuts from local authorities,in addition to 61 per cent who faced cuts in government funding, other grant making trusts and the Big Lottery.

Despite these setbacks, people from racialised groups have continued to work within our communities and local areas, often in isolation and without access to sustainable resources.

What has been difficult to achieve is a national forum to facilitate networking, information sharing and collaboration between groups, and to sustain a collective political voice.

A group of BME user/survivors, including some of the original steering group members of Catch-a-Fiya, have been working in collaboration with NSUN to recreate a national platform. We are happy to announce that the Lankelly Chase Foundation has funded this work – tentatively titled ‘Reigniting the Space’.

This project will start with mapping the current work mental health service users and survivors from racialised groups are involved in around the country. Through this process, we aim to:

  1. Make available a clear picture of the current work and activities undertaken by BME mental health service users and survivors and their groups in addressing multiple and intersecting disadvantages.
  2. Identify specific needs for capacity building and infrastructure for national collaboration and mutual support.
  3. Document the work led by BME user/survivors, acknowledging achievements and sharing ways of working.
  4. Document theories and practices of user activism and involvement in mental health which truly reflect the diversity of viewpoints and ways of working.

The project has completed the first phase of recruiting steering group members to lead this work and regional researchers for the mapping of work in the East Midlands and London. 

Creating a forum for our collective political voice is all the more important now. The focus on race equality is, for all practical purposes, off the policy agenda.Institutional racism in mental health services continues to impact our communities and our health.

While welfare cuts and the changes to the benefits system have affected mental health service users across the board, people from racialised groups have been doubly hit by its effects. We hope that this project will reignite the space for our collective action, advocacy and influence.

Contact NSUN ([email protected]) or Dominic Makuvachuma ([email protected]) for further information about the project and how to get involved.