Internally, CMHUG avoided hierarchies, and planned by consensus as
a team. They set formal objectives and worked to them until their
aims were achieved. They avoided long-term plans, sensing that these
could lead to a shift away from their consensus approach. In their
view, avoiding long-term plans also allowed them to be instantly
reactive to local circumstances.
The group was aware that its lack of formal structure could make it
difficult for others to understand how CMHUG worked and how they
could work with them. However, CMHUG was firmly of the view that
their lack of structure was not an issue for them, but only for others.
CMHUG's view was that hierarchy could be destructive in user groups,
and they felt that their achievements demonstrated the effectiveness of
their democratic approach.
The group’s paid administrator was employed by MIND. The rest of
the work was done on a voluntary basis by members, and all
information in the office was open to everyone. There was only one
written policy, on equal opportunities. However, group members
acknowledged that there were unwritten rules: members did not
disagree with each other in public, for example, and did not make
reference to personal experiences in planning meetings.
When the City Parochial Foundation awarded its grant in 1994,
CMHUG had six members and an office staffed by volunteers three
mornings a week. By December 1996, there were 235 members, two
adjoining offices staffed five days a week, two phones, two computers
and a part-time member of staff. The funding allowed CMHUG to
campaign effectively, put across the user viewpoint, and gain respect
for its work. At the same time, the funders always supported CMHUG
in the direction the group wanted to go, in particular, backing its
increasing emphasis on public awareness raising.
The volume of work undertaken by the group was tremendous, with
the result that CMHUG had a major impact on mental health services
locally. Some notable successes have included:
production of a video on young people’s mental health (a
second video, on self-harm, was begun)
production of a training pack on promoting young peoples’
mental health aimed at schools, colleges and youth clubs
reversion to single-sex wards at a local psychiatric hospital, after
an independent evaluation of mixed sex wards commissioned by
research into users’ needs for mental health crisis services (results