Once I 'landed' and found my way to the venue, my anxiety and fears over attending were, as usual, unfounded. The people I met there were all absolutely lovely and really friendly and I have no reason to believe the people I didn't meet were any different. As I met and chatted to my fellow StoryCampers over a coffee, the positive vibes were already in full effect, but....[BUILDS TENSION] would it stay that way???...[SPOILER ALERT - It did!]. I met The Finch (not just 'A' Finch), Kathryn, blogger extrordinarire Sharon and her partner Graham (or Gary - he'll understand) who turned out to be my brother from another mother!
It was really interesting to note how many people were quick to get their phones out when you were talking to them. Now normally that's a bad, even rude sign that your conversation wasn't going very well, but not on this day. Today it was a sign of connection, of building friendships, as people began to follow each other on Twitter in real time, creating some real social networking. People for whom their only knowledge of each other was purely virtual up until that point, found that they were just as nice in person. On reflection, I think the human race is saved!
I thought I'd take time to document my impressions on Time To Change's #StoryCamp event which took place on Thursday 10th September 2015 at the Free Word Centre in London (which was yesterday as I write this). It was an event devoted to tell your mental health story and using that to challenge the stigma that many people endure. A worthy cause for sure so I hope I don't miss anything out! (Incidentally, I've linked each person's respective blog or Twitter feed behind their name, so you can read for yourself what a great job they are all doing in fighting mental health stigma).
Let me start by saying "What a day!". Bugger!. I've missed something out already! What an AMAZING day. As much as I was dreading the thought of going (and I don't mean that in a bad way), I was also looking forward to it. The early morning train ride down there was blissfully incident free. If you know how my last two visits to London went, you'll know that itself was a bonus. My iTunes library was keeping me aurally entertained as I travelled south, bound for the capital.
Soon it was time for the day to start in earnest as we made our way into the lecture theatre. After the usual housekeeping 'stuff' (poor Sarah from TtC had to try and make it sound interesting - good job), we were treated to some opening remarks from Sue Baker, one of the Director's at Time to Change. She was a credit to the organisation and really set the tone for the rest of the day. I wouldn't expect anything less from a company that has people's health and wellbeing at it's heart (and head).
Too Right... Make a Wong
Next up to bat was Shea Wong, our new American friend, mental health campaigner and Time To Change volunteer. She. Was. Amazing!. Let's be honest. Generally speaking, our American friends get a bad 'rep' for being a little, shall we say, over sincere by us Brits. Judging by Shea's speech, she must be the exception. She was the most sincere person I've ever heard speak. She was funny, captivating, genuine and honest. You wanted to be her friend. I didn't get the chance to meet her properly and I might never get to meet her again, but I'd be proud to say she's now my friend. Her openness and passion for fighting mental health stigma was contagious. A few people were brought to tears. Not me though obviously, 'cause I'm a bloke and we don't do that. Absolutely not. No way! As if! ;-)
How to follow that! Well, the equally lovely, but much less American, Jude Habib from Sound Delivery had to. The good news is she did a great job too. Jude offered us all some great advice on blogging and how to utilise social media to spread the word. I was writing new interesting web links and some great hints and tips quicker than I ever had. So much food for thought, especially as I head full force into launching this site. I'm so glad I didn't have to present anything; only three presenters in and the bar was so incredibly high I could barely see it.
StoryCamp Split Us Up!
After lunch it was time to go our own way as a collective. Let's tactfully call it 'creative differences', because that's exactly what it was. Some people had chosen to go to the Media Workshop (I can't really say how that went, but I'm sure it was great!) but my passions remain firmly with blogging. Crystal and Seb from Time To Change's Digital Team were on hand to take us through some great tips on getting the most from your blog (or starting one). If you're reading this (which you clearly are) then something they said must have sunk in. We also got to share our prewritten blogs with our StoryCamp partners. I was lucky enough to share the exercise with self-declared Sherlock obsessive (is that a real mental illness?...I'm not sure).. Sarah Lamb. Her blog was great and really spoke to me (My effort is here) It was funny, touching and very well written. We swapped notes, shared tips and talked Sherlock (well she did, I've never seen it!), whilst the production team tried to capture our best sides while we tried in vain to look intelligent. A Herculean task in itself, for me at least.
Next up (after tea and cake and a random piece of paper with a celebrity's name on it) were the dynamic duo of Natasha Coleman and Jonny Benjamin. Natasha was a producer on the Stranger on the Bridge documentary all about Jonny's search to #FindMike. Despite a couple of equipment snafu's (technical term) their presentation was incredibly insightful to those of us with a passion for blogging. Look I'm doing it now! They even took us (or me at least) into the uncharted territory of video blogging, aka vlogging (still not convinced that's a word!). To be honest, as they spoke eloquently about it as a medium to get your story across, I stoicly adopted a 'well-that's-interesting-but-there's-zero-chance-of-me-doing-THAT-thank-you-very-much' approach. By the time they'd finished, their passion for being creative through video had begun to transform my resolute indifference into curious fascination. Less than 24 hours later, I'd recorded my very first 'vlog' which you can see here! (and don't forget to 'Subscribe' so you can keep up to date with all the other blogs I won't do).
Next up, a panel discussion around what we'd all taken away from the day (personally, I took two pens...but don't tell anyone). The panel, chaired by Kate Nightingale (I think..sorry if I'm wrong) included the incredibly dressed and infectiously enthusiastic Faris Khalifa, the immensely brave and, sartorially speaking, the smartest man there, James Fish and Time to Change's own, Sarah. All equally fantastic and a perfect way to end such a collaborative day.
We wrapped up the day with heartfelt speech by Aimee Wilson, writer of the brilliant I'm Not Disordered blog. Her tale of opening up, friendship and the support she received when she disclosed her mental health conditions was truly inspiring. You could tell she was so nervous, but that didn't take anything away from her story. It made a real impact on everyone there.
And then, in the blink of an eye, the day was over. The hours had just flown by. All that was left for me to do was be seconded (in a nice way) to record a little bit of Vox Pop (as experts in the vlogging world, like me, call it) for the company filming the day. Let me just stress I did it without any additional help on my hair and make-up, Lord knows what it'll look like. I'll be in my trailer!
Despite a long day travelling the length of the country, a great day meeting lots of fantastic new friends, I was certainly glad to be home with my wife and son. On reflection, I wouldn't have changed it for the world....well maybe the Seychelles. I look forward to StoryCamp 2016...which I'm pitching....right here, right now... as StoryFest! Bigger, Better, Campier!