By Debbie Solomon, Synergi Director

My first six months at Synergi have been spent laying the foundations of our work. It has been an opportunity for the team to regroups and to build our capacity. We have been busy finalising the Theory of Change and Strategy – more on that in the coming months.

We attended several events. At the end of March, I attended the launch event of Sistren Legal Collectives open source publications in Brixton. It was an opportunity to hear what inspired Samara and Keya to do community lawyering and the intentionality behind naming their collective Sistren. I spoke to couple of folks including, Iyiola Olugbenga, director of Haki Collective and Kym Oliver from The Tripple Cripples as well as one of Synergi’s grant, Resistance is Our Mother Tongue.

This month I was invited by Malik Gul, Director Community Empowerment Network (CEN) to the 16th annual Healing Our Broken Village: Black Mental Health Recall Conference. I heard an update on Ethnicity and Mental health Improvement Project (EMIP) a multi partner initiative. On paper the initiative is solid and seeks to divert some of the £300 million spent each year by the Integrated Care Board (ICB) teams providing mental health services to the local community.

My sense is that whilst the South West Mental Health Trust appear to want to work in collaboration with the local community, there are still power dynamics at play and a resistance to fully acknowledge the failing of the South West Mental Health Trust in particular and the wider caracal systems in general, for the violence inflected on racialised communities. There was a lot of focus on demonstrating what the Trust has done and very little on historical and current harms been caused. The term white fragility comes to mind and the inability for those racialised as White within the Trust, being able to sit with discomfort. At one point they wanted to be commended and patted on the back that EMHIP had reduced the number of racialised folk being restrained! Based on what I observed, my take is that CEN, who are part of EMHIP, are visibly and vocally naming the power dynamic and the disavow of the Trusts for the harms caused by the mental health services.

In the same week, I headed over to Healing Justice London Dream Space for a soft launch of the Resourcing Racial Justice Guide and the learnings and reflections from Nusrat & Farzana – more to follow….

I was delighted to be able to attend a premiere screening of The UK is not innocent: the story of INQUEST by @rainbowcollective. The documentary was a sobering watch. It left me feeling enrage at the number of deaths at the hands of the State by those in their care but also a sense of how much work there still needs to be done. The panel discussed how the documentary took 18 months to complete due to heavy natures of the material which required the Rainbow Collective to create space to process the material.

As always, it was wonderful to chat with Aji from United Families & Friends, and Tippa from The Friends of Mikey Powell Campaign (Benjamin Zephaniah’s brother) who where generous with their time to speak on the Panel. Tippa highlighted the need for grassroots movement building to work in collaboration rather than in silos. Whilst Adji spoke about the lack of implementation of Seni Law 2018, which is important landmark ruling. However, you can’t legislate hearts and minds as demonstrated by the 25% increase in 2021/22 of force used in mental health units against black inpatient against a decrease 19% of non-black inpatients.. It should also be noted that the terms ‘excited delirium’ or “acute behavioural disturbance” has now been barred as an excuse for police restraint. The bigger question is how a racist pseudoscientific term was so quickly taken up by UK police force and why it has featured since 2005 in police retrain cases.

We have an upcoming event in June about Migrant Justice which is becoming a pressing area of concerning in light of the UK Rwanda Deal, which will cost the tax payer at least 370 million for the next 5 years (The UK government had paid £240m to Rwanda by the end of 2023). We are keen to see the UK Governments response to the work undertaken by BEO and the failings of the Windrush compensation scheme.

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