The evening of Friday 30th March 2012, I felt like a child on Christmas Eve who has gone to bed early just so that Christmas will come quicker; because the next day was the Time to Change Village, and I simply couldn’t wait.
It’s an ingenious idea really, so simple and yet so brilliant. The Time to Change Village contains everything you would find in a traditional village and a bit more; a tea shop, a cinema, a surgery, a newsagent, a post office, a human library (where the public can borrow a human “book” and discuss mental health in-depth), a Vision4Arts studio (where people can make a videogame around mental health and play it later) and a village green. It came out of the Time to Change Roadshows, except the concept is that it “pops up” in a totally unexpected place; the perfect way to bring people with experience of mental illness and those without experience of mental illness together.
So I woke up in the morning dizzy with excitement because I knew it would be a great day…but I had no idea just how great it would be, in spite of the bitter cold! As I walked onto the site, I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the set and how fantastic it looked; the cinema, the human library, the newsagents… it looked like an actual village! It was easy to see just how much work had gone into this event, to make something like this happen; making the set, recruiting and training volunteers, organising the entertainment…it takes months of planning and unwavering dedication.
Throughout the day, there was a steady stream of people passing by the set, which is precisely why the South Bank was chosen for this event; there were a variety of people, including tourists, families, couples and the elderly, as well as a diverse range of cultures. I had many conversations throughout the day, some more intense than others, but all provided me with a sense of purpose; every single conversation reminded me just why I am doing this, how important it is to encourage people to talk about mental health.
I wandered over to a family to give the toddler in the pram a postcard, and his father asked me what we were doing here. As I explained our campaign, he called his daughters over to listen, and I must admit I was surprised at the family’s interest as the conversation went on; he is a teacher and his wife is a nurse, and they regularly come across people with depression and he asked me about my story and how I overcame depression, and how I thought they could help his students and her patients. And as we talked, his daughters also asked me questions; their genuine interest gave me a sense of hope because they were teenagers, only 13 and 14 years old, but they had already taken the first step and talked openly about their concerns for themselves and their friends. And that is what Time to Change is all about.
As I watched the conversations taking place, the children (and adults!) getting their faces painted, the smiles and laughter all around, I realised that the Village highlighted one of the things I love most about Time to Change – the increasingly innovative ways it finds to get the message out. I mean, who can say they’ve hula-hooped whilst wearing a postbox costume to encourage conversations about mental health? Well, now I can…and there are pictures to prove it! I sincerely hope that this was the first of many Villages all over the country, as being part of this day was a joy, an honour and a privilege.
I would like to take a moment to thank the “bosses” of the Village, for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful day, as well for their hard work and dedication which inspires me every day. And to all the volunteers who spared a few hours to join us and everyone who took part at the Village; thank you so, so very much for your hard work, and for being brave enough to speak out. I was so glad to meet and work with each and every one of you, and I look forward to seeing you all again very soon – keep up the good work!