Tributes: Peter Campbell

As part of early survivor action groups and a founding member of user-led campaigning and advocacy group Survivors Speak Out in 1986, as well as the still-active Survivors’ Poetry group, Peter Campbell (1949-2022) was a pioneering survivor activist, writer, and poet who spent decades dedicated to collective action. He was a part of the Survivors History Group (formed in 2005), which aimed to celebrate and document the contributions of mental health service users and survivors to history. The studymore website that documents the history of the survivor movement was adopted by this group in 2007.

Peter was also part of the User Survey Steering Group behind On Our Own Terms (2003), the result of 2001-02 service user-led research coordinated by Jan Wallcraft. The report, among other recommendations, urged the formation of a national user-led network to bring groups together, encourage good practice, and to build capacity within the sector. This idea was solidified at the 2006 ‘Doing It For Ourselves’ survivor and service user conference, where a steering group was set up that went on to secure funding for the launch of NSUN.

We have collected some contributions for this tribute page, below, from people who knew Peter. Please contact us if you would like to add a contribution.

“I met Peter when I had no experience of campaigning but burned for our rights as people who used  services, the services we had to survive,  along with an unjust system. Myself and some Capital members had the privilege of meeting Peter many times while we set up our organisation and specifically worked with him in the Survivor history group. We learnt from him beyond measure… he will be sorely missed and we must redouble our efforts to carry on listening to his work as founder, pioneer thinker and leader, so we remain ‘connected’ to our truth.”

– Anne Beales

“I first met Peter in the late 1980s after I spent months in hospital as a detained patient. A hospital visitor had recommended I connect with Survivors Speak Out, a small national organisation run by and for people who have used/survived mental health services. Peter, Survivors Speak Out and a handful of other dedicated folk, changed my life – though it would probably be more accurate to say they gave me my life back.

The first thing I remember about Peter was his welcoming kindness that felt like an introduction to a project that was going to achieve something, and that I could be a part of it. This came as a notable contrast to my experiences elsewhere – where my diagnoses were seen as either a barrier to doing anything productive or an indicator of my suffering and dependence (still not sure which of those was worse).

The more time I spent with Peter the more I become captivated by his determination to make the world a better place for those of us who were at best not well served, and at worst crushed, by a society and psychiatry that saw its priority as protecting the public from us. That was a time when someone with my diagnoses could have spent most of their life in a psychiatric hospital; when seclusion and restraint were everyday experiences; and information leaflets about the side effects of drug treatments were confiscated by staff as seditious contraband.

Peter had such a strong understanding of the culture and history that shaped us and he was so skilled at articulating and sharing that understanding. The Testimony project which recorded the life stories of people who spent much of their lives in the Victorian asylum system, and which to this day forms part of the British Library’s Oral History collection, was guided by his expert hand.

His poetry was remarkable, his cartoons were funny and moving, he was an informative and entertaining speaker and author, he trained countless nurses, social workers and other professionals and influenced secretaries of state and ministers – all in a calm and compassionate way. For me though, it was Survivors Speak Out, and Peter’s leadership within and beyond the survivor movement, that underpinned the social change he enabled.

We will all have concerns about PPI, engagement, co-production, shared decision-making and the tokenism, discrimination and human rights abuses that are still widespread in mental health. But without Peter Campbell, I wouldn’t be here to talk about them, many of the people I hold dearest wouldn’t be around and even NSUN itself would probably not have been possible. Peter DID make the world a much better place and for that we should all thank and remember him.”

– David Crepaz-Keay (Former chair, Survivors Speak Out, and founder member, NSUN)

“I first came across Peter in the early noughties when he spoke at a conference in Gatwick. My experience of him then was as a considered speaker, thought provoking and intelligent.

It was a few years later that our acquaintance deepened, when we worked together as part of the Survivor History Group. Peter had a keen interest in the history of our movement as well as playing a key role in it since Survivor’s Speak Out in the mid 80s. His deafness meant he would come to meetings with a hearing loop even then, he sometimes struggled to hear everything. Despite this his contributions were always valuable.

More than this he was a sensitive caring man, and an absolute delight to know. In his lifetime he overcame many things and made an amazing contribution to the survivor movement. He will leave a big gap to fill but even more important he will leave a huge gap in the hearts of those who knew him.”

– Clare Ockwell

“I first met Peter whilst I was helping out with Survivors Speak Out many years ago. It was my first real venture into being an activist for mental health so I wasn’t really sure what empowerment meant, but I needn’t have worried. Peter was an inspiration, very kind, compassionate and incredibly supportive, in his usual quiet humble, modest demeanour, but I soon learnt how dedicated and committed he was to significantly improve the voice and effectiveness of user empowerment and influence making mental health care much better.

Without doubt, in every aspect, Peter was one of the best people I’ve ever met and his sad passing is a huge loss, not only to mental health but also to life. I know Peter had to endure a number of personal difficulties, which he faced, adapted to and overcame, and I always thought “Why do bad things happen to a really nice person”?

Over the following years, Peter and I didn’t manage to meet that often, but whenever we did it was literally like meeting a good friend who I’d met last week. I had the pleasure of listening to Peter give a talk many times and every time both I and his audience were captivated and inspired by him. I remember one particular occasion when I’d invited Peter to give a talk to service users and ‘professionals’, and I introduced Peter as ‘my inspiration’. In his humble way he played this down, and I’m not sure Peter ever realised what a powerhouse he was to others, and what a massive inspiration he was to many, many people.

Peter Campbell – One of the best!”

– Chris Wright

“I first saw Peter at an event in the mid-1990s; I think it was at a Mind conference. It was around that time that I became a member of Survivors Speak Out which I learned Peter had co-founded several years previously. He was at the heart of everything along with a group of survivors who had all been active from the 1970s and 80s.  I was quite new to the user/survivor movement and was impressed by Peter’s democratic organising skills and I was delighted when I was elected to represent Survivors Speak Out in Mindlink (Mind’s mental health service user forum).

I became a member of the Patient and Carers’ Liaison Committee at the Royal College of Psychiatrists shortly after Peter left it in around 1997. Peter’s influence remained at the Royal College and he was often mentioned. He had campaigned passionately for service users to be involved in the training of all psychiatrists which back then was opposed but eventually became accepted as essential.

I last met with Peter at a Survivor History meeting a few years ago. He was inspiring and passionate about documenting and recording the history of the survivor movement for future generations. Peter will be greatly missed but his memory and legacy will live on for the benefit of survivors everywhere.”

– Christina Young

“I have a lot of thoughts as he was so important in my patient to survivor journey. He was charming and gracious and made an instant impact on me at the Survivors Speak Out gathering in Edale youth hostel. I feel how I got there as a passive patient and turned into thinking of myself as a survivor was truly amazing.”

– Mary Nettle

Appreciation for Peter Campbell 10th May 2022 – Peter Beresford

“War, fear, uncertainty, insecurity, inequality are the characteristics of our age, where even the planet is no longer safe. I believe we live in an increasingly maddening world. Peter Campbell, our friend, our colleague, our inspiration, our support, was one of the pioneers with a vision to challenge this. His visionary work alongside and encouraging others, has helped bring new understandings, new responses and new hope to the madness and distress that still damage many lives and still are so often neglected, exacerbated and misunderstood.

I knew Peter from the late 1980s. I saw him face the trial of deafness, about which our society is almost as careless as it is about distress, yet we know that he continued, in spite of the barriers, to act and offer incisive and constructive analysis and suggest ways forward for the future even in these difficult days we are living through.

At the same time what I find interesting are the words that keep cropping up about Peter from many others who knew and valued him. Words like warm, kind, inspiring, helpful. And, of course, people loved him. It is very difficult for a leader to be loveable and too many people seem to want to be leaders. But Peter was a leader whether he wanted to or not, but also a leader with all those valuable qualities less often associated with leadership, but key for a movement concerned with our emotions, feelings and personal difficulties. He was gentle, encouraging, humble, approachable, honest, open, friendly, interested and behaved in equal ways. It’s one thing to preach such values, but to live them as a leader, now that is the real trick, something very special.

That brings me to something very important I want to say about Peter. One of the great lessons we have begun to learn in modern times is the importance of valuing our diversity and recognizing the connections between the personal and the political. Of course, I am not using the term political in a party political sense here but to highlight the political and ideological origins of how we are in a society, how we treat and act towards each other. By doing this we have challenged inequalities along lines of gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity and so on. And also, in relation to identity and experience as disabled people, people experiencing distress and so on.

It is helpful and important to be clear about the relation of the two, the personal and political, in our lives. But also, to be clear about it in doing something about them. If we feel prevailing politics are too often harsh, alienating and anti-personal, we are unlikely to succeed to challenging them if we behave in the same way. We need movements and campaigns that are the antithesis of anti-personal or impersonal, merely mirroring what they oppose.

And it is this creative alternative that Peter has epitomized. Peter’s life is a marker and a beacon for this. This is how we will make real change, which I believe Peter’s life was part of achieving. This is what distinguished the survivor movement he was part of creating and building. As someone in Survivors Speak Out first said to me when I first became involved, we have to be kind and gentle with each other after what we’ve been through.

That was the thinking, insight and inspiration of Peter. And it was reflected in his leadership, his campaigning, his training, as a survivor historian, in his writing, his spirit and of course his poetry and it was immensely practical too.

I can’t do justice to all the people close to Peter who were part of his life, forgive me. Let me just mention Louise Pembroke, who I believe has a particular claim for mention. She wrote to me of Peter, ‘We were activist soul mates… He was a great facilitator because his activism was never about personal gain or self-aggrandisement. His kind compassionate acceptance of people touched me deeply.

Me too. I think we could all say that, in a world not necessarily good at accepting those experiencing distress or using mental health services. Peter offered a different future – for example in his poem The Mental Marching Band:

We’ll not be taking prisoners
Under blood red skies
We’ve had too much confinement
In our lives.
We’re getting our own World War out
That everyone survives
Thanks to the Mental Marching Band.
Let’s hear it.

Thanks Peter
We love you Peter”

– Peter Beresford

See also: tribute to Peter Campbell via Recovery In The Bin.