Mad-Positive in the Academy heads to the UK!

Guest blog by Danielle Landry

Our fearless Director Dr. Kathryn Church and her research assistant (myself) recently travelled to the UK as part of the second phase of Dr. Church’s research entitled Mad-Positive in the Academy: An International Dialogue on Practice. We thought we might share some of the highlights of our trip.


Back in May 2012, the School of Disability Studies hosted an international meeting that brought together scholars and community-based advocates from four cutting-edge projects in Canada, the United States, England and Scotland. This October, we travelled to the UK in order to reconnect with partners from two of these sites: Oor Mad History in Scotland and Comensus in England. We landed on October 4th, just before the start of a busy Mental Health Week at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) in Preston, which was to be our home base for the week ahead.


Photograph of two women walking along a brick wall in front of an old cathedral. One woman faces camera smiling
Dr. Kathryn Church is all smiles walking up to the University of Central Lancashire


On Tuesday afternoon, Kathryn participated in a session on auto-ethnography in mental health. We were pleased to meet Dr. Alec Grant from the University of Brighton, who made the trip up to join the session. In the evening, we screened the film Mars Project as art of the One in Four Film Festival, which is a free week-long university mental health film festival. It’s also a user-led festival, meaning that it’s run entirely by people who have experienced the mental health system.

Photograph of three people standing shoulder-to-shoulder facing left. Middle woman holds a microphone.
(From left to right) Dr. Kathryn Church, Danielle Landry, and John, a member
of Comensus discuss the film Mars Project at UCLAN’s One in Four Film Festival.

On Wednesday Oct. 9, Kathryn presented a keynote at the Recovery and Social Justice Conference at UCLAN. Peter Beresford introduced the conference in the morning and he (smartly) used the opportunity to promote the landmark Canadian text, Mad Matters. Kathryn’s talk, entitled Mad-Positive in Academy: Activist Works in Progress, was well received by an audience largely unfamiliar to the language of “madness”.

 Photograph of four panelists seated facing right. Female panelist in foreground holds a microphone.

. Kathryn Church (left) answers questions during a Q&A
at the Recovery and Social Justice Conference.


On Thursday morning, Kathryn and Danielle introduced World Mental Health Day at UCLAN, which was celebrated with an all-day music and arts event on campus. We were (somehow) convinced to join in a warm-up dance that morning, and although we’ll never share the video, we had to admit that it pumped us up for the rest of day. Later that afternoon, we hosted an ‘un-workshop’ (or participant driven meeting) along with Helen Spandler and Mick McKeown of UCLAN.


Photograph of two women standing behind a microphone. Woman at right is speaking.
Giving our opening remarks at World Mental Health Day at UCLAN.

Photograph of two dozen people in a large room chatting and looking at pamphlets on display tables.
World Mental Health Day at UCLAN.


On Friday morning Danielle gave a talk at UCLAN on what people within all parts of a university can do to increase accessibility for mad students. After saying goodbye to our lovely hosts at UCLAN, we hopped on a train for Edinburgh, Scotland. Looking out the window, we took in the remarkable view of the Lake District as the rolling hills sprinkled with sheep whizzed past.

Photograph of 12th century castle on a hill. Sign in the foreground reads “TOILETS” and points up to the castle.
Edinburgh Castle. According to the sign on the left, that’s where you’ll find the toilets. 

The next morning, we met up with our contacts in Edinburgh for tea. Kirsten Maclean was hard at work coordinating a number of events for the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival, including a screening of Mars Project [here’s a review from that screening]. We were also joined by Steve Tilley, an honorary fellow from the University of Edinburgh and Irish psychiatric-survivor poet Carol Kelly. Later that evening we were treated to Carol reading from her collection of poetry “Champagne from a Teacup”, as part of the festival.

 Photograph of five women in a pub facing the camera. Four are seated, one is standing behind them.

Enjoying poetry and pints with the gang in Edinburgh. Photo courtesy of Steve Tilley.


On Sunday morning, we enjoyed brunch with an expanded group of contacts from Oor Mad History and the University of Edinburgh. Together, we toured the collaborative art exhibit ‘Out of Sight/Out of Mind’, created by mad artists from Oor Mad History. Presented in Summerhall’s old Animal Hospital, this eerie setting (with old metal cages and all!) really set the tone for the artwork. One piece in particular, a room full of letters written by actual asylum inmates, pulled from the local archives, reminded me of Geoffrey Reaume’s book Remembrance of Patients Past (2009).

Photograph of woman looking right towards an arched gray brick alleyway. Above the arch, a sign reads “ADVOCATE’S CLOSE”.
Kathryn felt comforted knowing advocates were close.


That afternoon, the group made its way over to the University of Edinburgh where we screened a rough cut of a short film we’ve been developing. This educational video is made up of filmed interviews from our first international meeting and will focus on what it means to be mad-positive in the academy. More on that in the months ahead!


We flew out Thanksgiving morning on what was to be an entertaining flight. But that’s a story for another day…. All in all, this whirlwind of a trip was a success. We were able to reconnect with old friends and acquire a few new ones, to add to our growing network. We exchanged ideas and planned next steps for possible future projects. Most importantly, we reignited our shared passion for bringing mad politics into the academy.

Photograph through a window of a building. A small graffiti mouse holding a blank picket sign marks the foot of the building.
I spy, with my little eye: an activist mouse in Manchester


 Cropped version of the photograph above. Black circle centers in on graffiti mouse.



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