Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Law of Attraction

Simply put, the Law of Attraction is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on

I like the basic idea of the Law of Attraction. I think it kind of works, sometimes at least. If you’re focused on what you want and open to opportunities you’re more likely to achieve what you’re after.

By way of an example, I used to have nobody to meet up with locally for coffee or a drink or to go to events with, and didn’t know how to change that. Then I started finding myself in situations where in the past I’d probably have thought oh that’s not for me, but decided to give it a try.

I’m thinking of the Literary Salon which is on once a month here in Newcastle. I haven’t been in a while — it no longer quite fits what I want to be doing — but I got a lot out of going over the past year or two, including the confidence to stand up and speak in front of an audience. I met some great people too. Something similar happened with other local events and groups, and these days I have several people to meet up with and do things with.

Another example would be how I’m looking to expand the mental health work I’m doing in the workplace. I don’t really know how to do that, but I’m staying focused and I’m finding opportunities popping up that I’m keen to take advantage of. They might not all lead in the direction I want to go, but maybe they will take me somewhere interesting I would not otherwise have gone.

I note that same kind of approach to opportunity in several of the people I know and respect, although maybe they wouldn’t call it the Law of Attraction.

There can be a darker side to all this, though, that can lead people to think Things aren’t working out for me, I must be doing the Law of Attraction wrong, or I’m not good enough. I don’t like that side of it at all. So maybe I don’t think of it as a Law. More an idea that can be helpful.


Thursday, 4 July 2019

Innovative Mental Health Portal The Mind Map Launches

Press Release

A new mental health portal launched 3 July 2019. This innovative new platform focuses on providing young people, predominantly aged between 16 – 30 access to subsidised counselling, the ability to find and book free mental health services and resources as well as access to a magazine that shares articles and interviews with well-known musicians and sports athletes regarding mental health, all in one place.

Launched by Liverpool-based mental health organisation The Mind Map, the platform is the result of a three-year research project carried out between The Mind Map and leading organisations with Mental Health at the centre of their agenda with contributions from Liverpool John Moores University, Imperial College London and the NHS amongst others.

Founder Phil Bridges, a Youth Mental Health First Aid instructor and Adolescent Mental Health university lecturer said:

We all have mental health — good or bad. But our research uncovered what we suspected — that young people don’t feel they have access to the support they need, in a format that is accessible and relevant to their everyday lives.

Our latest quantitative study into online mental health provisions showed a staggering 88.5% of students at Liverpool John Moores University felt that there were not enough online provisions available.

To also help us uncover the mental health needs of young people we ran workshops at organisations including the NHS, Merseyside Youth Association, Edge Hill University and the National Citizens Service. Out of that was born our ‘World of Wellbeing’ concept. A holistic offer where exercise, nutrition, employment and money support are provided alongside a map with all the free mental health services available to young people.

We have also brought together our first wave of BACP accredited therapists who specialise in adolescent mental health. From August, we will be recycling the economy by reinvesting our profits back into our community, supporting those who have the most need and making therapy available for free to those who can’t afford it. Ultimately this is something that we will roll out nationwide.

The Mind Map are aligning action with awareness and promoting a New Normal where people can talk as openly about their emotions, as they’d talk about last night’s game or the latest TV series. Browsing their immersive magazine section leads you to international musicians and Premier League footballers talking about everything from anxiety to grief and how they have dealt with their respective life challenges and mental health issues. This creates dialogue, reduces stigma and helps put Mental Health front-and-centre as an important issue to the young adults of the UK and their welfare.

Web: | Twitter: @themindmapco | Facebook: themindmapco


Wednesday, 3 July 2019

For the Win! Celebrate Your Successes in Your Own Way

As I wrote recently one of the things I’ve learned from fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson is to celebrate every achievement and make the most of each moment because you don’t necessarily know what’s coming up next.

I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve realised there’s more to celebrating our successes than I’d ever imagined.

A Thing Worth Celebrating

It might seem obvious that we tend to celebrate good, happy, positive things. We celebrate things that are special, infrequent, or unusual; and we celebrate big things more than we celebrate little things.

What’s perhaps less obvious is that there’s an unofficial list of “good, special, big” things which are deemed successes worth celebrating. The list includes:

  • Graduating from school or college
  • Becoming engaged or married
  • Becoming pregnant
  • The birth of a child
  • A new job or promotion
  • Moving into a new home

This is fine if it fits with our aspirations, desires, and abilities but what if it doesn’t? If we are not ticking those boxes, by choice or otherwise, we can be left feeling outside the norm. Worse, we can end up feeling a failure for not succeeding in the right ways. As a friend put it to me, “the Western world puts a lot of emphasis on accomplishments.” Maybe there’s a different way to think about what success means and how we go about celebrating it.

Marking the Waypoints

Most of the things on the list are big enough to stand as destinations on our journey through life, but we rarely arrive at them in a single bound. We’ve usually been working towards them for some time, often with considerable sacrifice or effort.

We can lighten the journey by acknowledging waypoints or stopping places along the road. These may not be things others would consider worth celebrating, but that’s no reason not to!

Surprised by Joy

Life sometimes surprises us with things we were never looking for or could not have anticipated. Maybe we meet someone who becomes a close friend or partner, or we learn something that moves or delights us. Maybe it’s a song we hear for the first time, or a joke shared with a friend. Sometimes it is joy, pure and simple. These might not count as successes because we have not worked towards them or “earned” them, but are moments worthy of celebrating!

Celebrate Your Failures

It might seem perverse to suggest celebrating failure but learning to reframe our “failures” as successes (lessons) can lead us to new ways of thinking about and doing things. It’s that reframing that’s worth celebrating. We generally experience more “failures” than “successes” too, so there’s plenty of opportunity to give it a try!

Do It Your Way

But how exactly are we to celebrate? By convention, celebrations are fun, loud, and social — think office and family parties, organised events, meals or evenings out with friends. They can be expensive and often involve eating or drinking to excess.

That might work for us but it might not. With a little imagination we can find ways to celebrate that are meaningful to us. They are our achievements, after all!

I prefer to celebrate quietly on my own or with one or two friends; although Fran and I marked the cover reveal and official launch of our first book with live online events. For our book launch Fran also hosted a house party for friends.

How do you like to celebrate your achievements? Big? Little? Quiet? Loud? Leave a comment, we’d love to know!

“I Did This!”

To celebrate is to take ownership of your successes and say “Look, I did this!” It’s no small thing to take pride in ourselves, not least because there’s often resistance from people determined to rain on our parade. It is easy to become disillusioned but it’s important — and healthy — to celebrate our wins.

I was proud to speak at a recent corporate event at which our CEO was presented with the Time to Change Employer Pledge on behalf of the company. It was a team success but as Pledge Lead I gave myself permission to own it as a personal achievement too. I celebrated with a drink and a meal out on my own before heading home.

“You Did This!”

I’ve been unable to trace the author but this quotation says a lot to me about friendship, support, and celebration:

It is important to have friends who are proud of you when you get a new job or learn to bake or do big things but it is also important to have friends who are proud of you when you get out of bed and take a shower.

Having someone who understands your achievements and what they mean to you can certainly make a world of difference, as my friend Aimee posted recently on social media:

After almost every blog post, Martin is there telling me how much they meant to him. After every achievement, he is there telling me how proud he is.

Well, now it’s my turn! I’m a very proud bestie after all of his recent achievements at work!

So proud that I designed a meme for him!

Thank you, Aimee! I’ve never had a meme designed for me before!

Keep an Achievements List

It is easy to lose track of our successes when life is hectic or we are feeling low or overwhelmed. Consider keeping a list to look back on when you need reminding, or when you feel like treating yourself and want a valid reason! If you write one, a diary is an ideal place to explore what your successes mean to you, but keep a separate summary list or you will lose them in amongst the rest of your journaling.

Here are a few success suggestions. Perhaps some of them are relevant to you. What would you add to the list?

  • Asking for help
  • Taking your medication as prescribed
  • Attending appointments
  • Speaking up for yourself
  • Being there for someone in need of help or kindness
  • Taking time for self-care
  • Saying no to something that doesn’t feel right to you
  • Moving forward when you’ve been stuck
  • Recognising you’re not ready to move forward yet and being okay with that

If you know someone who finds it hard to recognise their achievements, consider asking if you might keep a list on their behalf. I have done this for Fran on several occasions, most notably when she was traveling in Europe during the summer of 2013. Positives were few and far between but I kept a list of “Happy Moments” and emailed them to her every few weeks to remind her things were not quite as bleak as they appeared to her. I’ve done this for other friends on occasion.

Over to You

I asked a few people what success means to them.

Jen Evans:

As to the small wins I’d need to think about it. I do think about it daily ... for me right now, the small wins are walking my dog despite how I feel. Getting clothes washed ... things like that ... just routine stuff. A day when I write is a good day. But on a day like today ... getting anything done is a big deal. My high school buddy is in town so I will see her in the next two days. Oh and I cleaned the bathroom!! Win!! My buddy asked if she could use my shower ... so a very quick clean ... but still a win!


I find it hard to get up and dressed. I find it hard to clean my teeth, to shower, to wash my dishes and do my laundry. I push through to achieve these as often as I can. Sometimes I achieve it. Sometimes I don’t.

I celebrate those times I do, because those times I do are testament to the fact that I am still here, still alive and still going despite my body and mind doing their best to make this no longer the case.

Karen Manton:

Success to me is something that gives me that happy feeling of satisfaction. It is knowing I am doing the very best I can but most importantly I’m making a difference to the lives of others. I’m preparing to work with students very shortly at my local university and I am confident that will be a huge success to me. This will be celebrated by sharing my achievement with my loved ones.

Paul Saunders-Priem:

Success to me means getting the job done no matter whatever it is. I celebrate through first laughter, then food, walks and things like that.

Aimee Wilson:

For so long I blamed myself for everything bad in my life – I thought I had deserved all of it. So, moving into recovery with my mental health, I knew that had to change; I had to be able to treat myself well and allow myself to revel in my achievements and be happy about my successes in life. With that in mind, I was eager to contribute to this piece of Martin’s to take it as an opportunity to recognize my recent successes. There’s two I really wanted to talk about; the first seems small but is just as important as the second, bigger one!

Last year (2018) I began hearing a voice that told me to stop taking my medication with the belief that it was poisoned. Stopping my medication suddenly and without the knowledge of my support team ended up being hugely detrimental to my life and I put myself, and others, in danger a number of times until one time, I scared myself so much that I knew I had to take my meds again. So every day I go to my dosette box and peel back the little sticker to reveal the tablets that need to be taken, pour a glass of water, and swallow them? Well that’s an accomplishment. Some people might look on that and think that I shouldn’t be praised for doing what is expected of me but those people mustn’t comprehend how challenging fulfilling that expectation can be.

My second achievement recently has been getting my Digital Marketing Internship with Docere (an education recruitment company). I told everyone that I thought it was just what I needed to help me take my recovery a step further and some people were hesitant and worried that it’d be overwhelming for me but those people were soon silenced when I got the job and began working! Learning new things and doing something I love (such as marketing and publicity and all things social media) has been a huge motivation in my efforts to resist urges to self-harm.

What does success mean to you? How do you like to celebrate your wins? Leave a comment below — we’d love to hear from you!


Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Weepy, Angry, Catatonic: Three Kinds of Depression and How You Can Help

By Julie A. Fast

Depression has many modes. I divide it into a few categories: weepy, angry and catatonic. Knowing what kind of depression your friend experiences is a good place to start when it comes to offering help. Fran and Marty’s book High Tide, Low Tide covers this topic well.

The following examples show what people go through during each of these three kinds of depression. If you are unsure what your friend experiences, I suggest you read this blog together when they are stable. Ask them, “Do you experience what is in this blog? I would like to know more how to help when this happens. We can talk about it now while you are feeling better and I will then know what to do when I see the depression show up!”

I would LOVE a friend to do this for me, so please know that you are needed when we are depressed.

Weepy Depression

If I’m talking with you about things in a weepy, sad way and this is different from how I normally express myself there is a good chance the depression has a hold on me. When I’m sick, the news is simply overwhelming. I will start to talk about how the world is a bad place and how scary everything is now. I will cry over relationships and work and will be unable to hold myself together watching sad movies or when I see any kind of situation where someone is being harmed.

When I’m stable, I have a filter for these things. I hardly ever cry and when I do, it will have a good reason behind it. When the weepy depression hits me, I cry like a baby at everything. The tears are different too. They are like waterfalls. There are no tear drops like with regular crying. Instead, I have waterworks coming out of my eyes! The crying is endless!

If you see me tearing up, turning my head away so you don’t see me cry or I simply cry in front of you because I am so depressed, I can’t hide it, I DO want you to say something. I want you to say, “I can see the nasty depression has a hold of you. You told me the tears come really easily when the depression is around. Let’s talk about your plan and how I can help you get out of this downswing.”

Angry Depression

I’m a right nasty bitch when the irritated depression hits me. No one is safe from my rotten thinking. Everything upsets me! You will notice that while I am normally a pretty good listener, you will say things that piss me off more. I might even snap at you and say something unkind. I want you to know that this is not the real me.

It doesn’t mean that it’s ok. It’s not and I am working on it, but if you notice that I am much more irritated, upset, nasty and downright mean, don’t just take it or walk off or fight with me! Instead, I want you to say this, “You told me that you have depression that makes you really irritated. I see signs of this right now. It is hard on me, but I’m willing to work through it with you. We can focus on getting you out of this downswing. I don’t want depression to affect our relationship. I want to work together on this.”

I know that many of my past relationships would have been saved if my friends just knew what to say. Yes, I am responsible for what I say and I’m working on that. I want to let you know that sometimes the depression is stronger than I am and I do need help sometimes. Let’s work on this together.

Catatonic Depression

When I’m really depressed, you will not know it by looking at me. I simply won’t show it to you. My face will be a mask when we meet. I will do everything possible to hide what I am going through. It’s as though I’m a puzzle I want someone to solve, but I simply won’t give them the pieces! I can’t. The depression is so violating! It gives me thoughts that no one loves me, so how on earth do I break through that and tell you that I am hurting with this illness? It would be like saying I love you to someone I know will never love me back. I can’t feel or see that you care about me when I’m depressed.

For this reason, I need you to look for the other signs of my depression as you won’t be able to read it in my face. Am I talking less? Do I hang back or say no in situations where I would normally participate? Does my phone go to voice mail? Do my text replies get shorter or are all emojis? These are signs I am not doing well. I do want your help, but the kind of depression I have makes me silent. You can always ask me, is the depression rough right now? I will tell you the truth. Then, we can get out and do something together. Something active. This is what I need when I’m catatonic. I need the reminder that my body can still move.

Being friends with someone who has depression takes patience and a willingness to help when the depression is controlling how your friend thinks and behaves. As someone with depression, I wish that I were more able to control how it affects my brain, but I simply can’t. Instead, I need people in my life who will help me get through the down times so that we can go back to enjoying the good times.


About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a board member of The International Bipolar Foundation, a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going. You can find more about her work at and


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Don't Be a Jerk: How to Respond Responsibly on Social Media

We’ve all been there. Someone you follow on social media shares something that concerns or alarms you. You wonder if they’re safe. You want to respond. Reach out. Check everything’s OK. We’ve all been there because we all care.

Ironically, that’s how Fran and I met. I say ironically because we never would have connected if I’d not got it so spectacularly wrong. I posted a ridiculously inept comment (“Flooding light and love into your world”) on the Facebook wall of someone who was in acute distress. Quite rightly, Fran — who I’d never met until that moment — called me out on it. I don’t believe my comment added to the young woman’s distress, but it might have done. At best it was naïve and unhelpful.

What might I have done instead? I might have kept silent. I might have found better words. I might have messaged the woman privately, as Fran did, rather than post my words on her wall for all to see.

Here are my top tips for responding responsibly on social media.

If It’s Personal Keep It Private

If you only take one point away from this article let this be the one. Yes, social media is meant to be social. Yes, it’s tempting for a whole heap of reasons to share our thoughts, advice and suggestions with the wider online community. HOWEVER, it’s not always appropriate to do so. If what you want to say is personal, it’s better to go private.

Whatever the social media platform there will be ways to contact the other person privately if they wish to be contacted. Facebook has PMs (private messages), Twitter and Instagram have DMs (direct messages). If you have the person’s contact details there’s also e-mail, text (SMS), or a phone call.

Respect Other People’s Privacy

It might not be possible to contact the person privately. You might not be friended or following one another. They may have a private account. They may even have blocked you. It’s frustrating, but going public or taking steps to circumvent the other person’s preferences or privacy settings is neither cool nor clever. It’s actually pretty low. Just don’t.

Watch Your Words

Words are powerful things. Consider the impact yours might have on the person you’re addressing and anyone else who might see them, especially if you don’t know them personally. What seems obvious or reasonable to you may not be viewed by others in the same light.

Check Your Ego in at the Door

Take a moment to ask yourself why you want to comment or respond at all. Are you adding something positive to the online community, debate, or conversation, or is it more about you? Will it help someone or is it about boosting your ego as an expert, helper, advocate, or fixer? Are your intentions kind in heart and mind? It’s not always about you.

Respect Yourself and Your Reputation

Disagreements and misunderstandings can escalate quickly on social media. People tend to take sides to support those they know and care about, while others like to fan the flames for their own reasons. A stray remark or inappropriate act on your part might badly affect your credibility, reputation, and standing in the online community.

Thanks but No Thanks

Sharing is part of the social media landscape but don’t assume you’re doing the other person a favour by sharing their content more widely than they intended or are comfortable with. This is especially relevant if you have a significantly wider following than they do. It’s unlikely to be an issue if you simply pass on a link they have shared, but might be if you broadcast something personal they’ve chosen to share to a particular audience.

Sometimes the Past Is Best Left in the Past

It’s not only current things we need to think about. Facebook’s Memories feature reminds us of things we shared in years gone by, or that other people shared if we were tagged in them. Take a moment before reposting historic items. You may cherish the memory but others may have reasons for wanting to not remember. If you have the slightest doubt, ask first.

If You Mess Up, Fess Up

There’s a great quote by American-Mexican comedian Louis Székely (a.k.a. Louis C.K.):

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.

If you get it wrong — and we all do from time to time — apologise sincerely and immediately. Delete your tweet, post, or comment if asked to or if you feel it might limit the damage. Don’t make things worse by trying to justify what you did or why you did it, or (worst of all) denying you caused harm or upset. It may be unintentional but you don’t get to tell someone they shouldn’t be upset by what you chose to do.

We Are Not Amused

If you’re a fan of The Simpsons you might recall Krusty the Clown attempting to excuse an offensive remark:

When you look at me like that, it’s a joke.

If your comment or contribution misfired don’t try and pass it off as a joke, even if you intended it to be amusing. Accusing other people of being thin-skinned or having no sense of humour won’t win you any favours. “You know it was just a joke, right?” is crass and ignorant. You can do better.

A Gift Freely Given

It is nice to be thanked, but offer your contribution as a gift without strings and with no expectation of reward. The other person doesn’t owe you a “thank you” or an explanation if they’d rather not follow your suggestions, especially if they didn’t expressly ask for help or guidance.

Stay Safe

It’s one thing to respond responsibly, but what do you do when others fail to behave well? If you come across inappropriate or irresponsible behaviour there are steps you can take to hide or report the content or the person posting it. Options vary from platform to platform but are likely to include muting, reporting, unfollowing / unfriending, and blocking.

Facebook: What should I do if I see something I don’t like on Facebook?

Twitter: Safety and Security

Instagram: Privacy and Security (includes Reporting Content You Don’t Like)

LinkedIn: Safety Centre (includes What do I do if I see abuse?)

You might want to take it up with the person directly, of course, but whatever you do keep yourself safe.

Keep Caring

The online community can be an amazing and incredibly supportive place to hang out, and we all have a responsibility to keep it that way. Think before you post or respond, but don’t let a healthy caution stop you reaching out to someone in need.

Bear in mind that there are no absolute rules. What might be right or acceptable to one person in a particular situation could evoke distress or harm in another. Honest mistakes are always going to happen because we are human. But with a little forethought we can reduce the risk of causing upset or doing harm.

I find it helpful to remember that behind every social media account there is a real person doing their best.


Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East

Photo: Peter Fannen

Aimee Wilson of I’m NOT Disordered and I recently attended Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East as official bloggers.

Aimee has written about the day here. Our social media posts before, during, and after the event can be found on the #hiddenhistories hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Official photography by Peter Fannen (PJFimages)

Shakespeare Hall, Durham

The venue was Shakespeare Hall, home of the Durham Community Association which hosts a range of groups, classes, and clubs. The modest entrance on North Road belies the building’s impressive architecture and facilities.

A Bit of Background

Organised by Sophie Hopkins and Eliza Colin Hodges, Hidden Histories featured speakers from Beamish Museum, the Auckland Project, and GMB Trade Union.

In Hidden Histories we aim to bring together different generations and different demographics of the North East to break down barriers of stigma that could be caused by a lack of understanding of historic and present conditions.

By learning about the importance of mining in the area, we will address a complex and an often untold piece of British history and what it means today, and how these different geographies have been affected by it in both positive and negative ways. We want to create discussion and document breakthroughs as people connect to the place they are in.

The Idea Behind Hidden Histories: A Bit of Background

Opening Speech

Photo: Martin Baker

Sophie and Eliza shared how they first connected on a residential run by Jack Drum Arts, how the idea for Hidden Histories came about, and their aims and hopes for the event.

Their talk was described as “most inspiring” by Laura Emerson Roberts, Lead Arts and Music Worker at Jack Drum.

They also showed a short video called Wallace the Pit Pony created by Jack Drum as part of Film Encounters; a heritage education film project for primary school children.

Partners Introduction

Photo: Martin Baker

Laura Emerson Roberts and Helen Ward — respectively Lead Arts and Music Worker, and Managing Director at Jack Drum CIC — spoke next. Jack Drum CIC is a community arts organisation producing theatre, music, film, and arts events.

Sophie and Eliza met at a six day residential run by Jack Drum as part of the British Council’s Active Citizens social leadership program. Participants developed skills to design and implement social action projects to affect positive and lasting change in their communities.

Mining in the North East

Photo: Peter Fannen

The event proper opened with a talk covering 500 years of mining in the region by Jonathan Kindleysides, Head of Industry at Beamish Museum. History was never my favourite subject at school, but Jonathan’s passion and knowledge brought the subject to life.

There was a lot to cover in a relatively short time but Jonathan gave a good account of the broad sweep of history and the lives of the miners, their families, and wider communities through to the forced pit closures of the 1980s.

I was particularly struck by the account of miners being lowered into the mines on chains long before the development of proper lifts, and the role of the “sinkers,” specialist workers who traveled from coal field to coal field sinking the initial mine shafts.

Agree / Disagree Activity

Photo: Peter Fannen

After a break for coffee and mingling there was a group activity led by Eliza and Sophie. We each had red (no), green (yes), and yellow (unsure/maybe) cards to hold aloft in response to a series of questions.

  • Do you change how you talk depending on the situation?
  • Do you feel safe with everyone in this room?
  • Should local history be taught in universities and schools?
  • Is mining history still relevant?
  • Should the mines still be open today?

The exercise led to the sharing of some very interesting stories and opinions.

Panel Discussion

Photo: Martin Baker

Next was a panel discussion with Sophie, Eliza, Neve Ovenden, and Hannah Ruddick. Neve is president of the Durham University Working Class Students Association (DUWCSA) and a founding member of the Durham Student–Worker Solidarity Group. Hannah is Branch A61 Youth Officer, LGBT+ Officer, and LGBT+ Regional Equality Forum Delegate for the GMB Trade Union.

I found this section the most personally challenging (which is to say rewarding) as I have little in the way of lived experience or family history comparable to what was being discussed. I am not of working class stock and was sufficiently privileged to not realise the extent of my privilege for decades. One of the speakers, I think it was Sophie, commented that everyone has a close attachment to their region of origin. I seem to be missing that gene. As I’ve written elsewhere, I have little sense of rootedness. It is something I am sure I will return to.

Lunch and Music

Photo: Martin Baker

An excellent cold buffet lunch was served in an adjacent room while Brendan Hoar (aka Mr Pelican) provided musical entertainment in the main hall.

Brendan is currently working on a project called Music for the Mind, focusing on mental health awareness.

Follow him on Bandcamp, Facebook, and Youtube.

A Life Worth Living?

Photo: Peter Fannen

After lunch there was a talk by Sylvie Donna. Sylvie is a lecturer at Durham University and founder-director of Fresh Heart Publishing.

The talk centred on the book A Life Worth Living? the Life of a Miner in the North East of England in the Late 20th Century by Ned Cowen. Originally self-published in the 1970s, the book was re-edited and expanded by Sylvie in collaboration with the original author’s family.

Published in 2012 under Fresh Hearth’s Another World imprint, A Life Worth Living? is available from Amazon.


Photo: Peter Fannen

Next on the programme were four workshops which took place simultaneously in the main hall.

  • Making a Mark: Boot Polish, Charcoal and Printing, led by Carys Funnell from The Auckland Project
  • I Remember... Durham, led by poet Tony Gadd
  • The Miners’ Experience, Campaigns and Legacy, led by Sylvie Donna
  • Discussion group led by Neve Ovenden and Hannah Ruddick

Aimee took part in Making a Mark [video] while I chose Tony Gadd’s poetry workshop. I first met Tony at the Newcastle Literary Salon and was interested to learn more about him and his work. He introduced himself to the group with an “elevator pitch” poem. I thought we’d be asked to compose a similar piece of our own but in keeping with the day’s theme Tony invited us to write a poem that shared some aspect of our own hidden histories. Here is mine:

I remember a faded black and white
photograph, square, white-bordered,
taken on my father’s Kodak Brownie
that sits now on a high shelf in my home
awaiting a roll of film and some attention
to bring it to life.

A photograph taken by my mother
I suppose. Who else?
A photograph of me, a child of six or seven,
younger maybe, beside my father. The
only photograph I recall of him standing,
bent in later years by arthritis and crippling pain.

The two of us, father and son, at the docks in Bootle.
In the background, huge, some ship or other.
One moment frozen in time ...

Coal to Canvas: Mining Art in Bishop Auckland

Photo: Martin Baker

The final talk was by Carys Funnell, Learning Officer at The Auckland Project. According to its website,

The Auckland Project is like nothing you’ve come across before. It’s a project that spans over a thousand years, seven venues in one beautiful setting. We’re all about Bishop Auckland, a small town but one with a big history and big ambitions.

Carys spoke passionately about the Mining Art Gallery and the history of creativity in mining communities throughout the region.

Wrap Up and Evaluation

The event closed with a look back on the day by Sophie and Eliza. All too soon it was time for me and Aimee to head back to Newcastle taking with us some good memories, a few new friends, and lots to think about.

In Other Words

I asked a couple of people to share their thoughts of the event.

The preparation for the event was very thorough. Volunteers were briefed and deployed effectively, information packs for participants were of a high quality and useful, the space was transformed brilliantly, refreshments were well presented, and the venue was well-chosen.

The selection of speakers was diverse and interesting, reflecting very well the aims of the event — to inform people able the mining heritage of the North East and to prompt discussion and interaction between generations and between locals and students. The technical set-up was well-thought out and well executed, with projection capabilities and PA system to ensure that all presentations were accessible.

Most inspiring was the opening speech given by Sophie and Eliza themselves. They spoke thoughtfully and articulately about the project and about their personal journey developing the skills to change and unite their communities for the better.

Well done, ladies!

— Laura Emerson Roberts, Lead Arts and Music Worker, Jack Drum Arts

The following is excerpted from a longer write-up of the day by Mick Watson:

I am 52. This disclosure regards my age may seem irrelevant. However, I feel it’s very relevant to understand my viewpoint regards the fascinating & well-organised Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event by people considerably younger than I. I have to point out that by & large my age group were the last to experience working mines that were still producing coal. My children never saw a working pit.

With critical thinking at the foremost, my first unspoken surprised reaction to the title of the event is why do the young people feel that the North East’s history regarding mining is actually hidden? Do they mean hidden from them? Hidden from my age group & culture? […] It got me thinking which is exactly what the event was all about & linking this to the knowledge pertaining to young people whether local or not, town or gown. […] I am not really sure our Mining History is hidden at all. The student should look for the history.

I learned that young people are not afraid to speak publicly about their own mental health issues, I am proud of them. My generation don’t like opening up like this generally.

I learned that some young people generally seem to be acutely aware of social class division. The word elite was uttered many, many times out loud during the event. I know in some people’s minds class is an issue but maybe this is just my opinion but the older you get that class division disappears, you realise, yes some people have more money, but we are all equal, the Queen still has to go for a poo, just the same as you or me ha-ha!

My advice is to be yourself, find your inner voice & be you.

— Mick Watson

Further Information

If you are interested to learn more about Hidden Histories, check out the Facebook event, the blog announcement, or email