On Tuesday 10th October, World Mental Health Day, people with lived experience of mental ill health, intellectual disabilities and addictions travelled from all over Northern Ireland to Londonderry’s iconic Guildhall for our second annual Inspire Takeover.

Taking inspiration from 2022’s inaugural Takeover, at Parliament Buildings, Belfast, the people who use our services – from Belfast to Omagh, Antrim to Enniskillen, Foyle to Cookstown – convened on a balmy autumn morning to kick off a series of workshops, all of which were designed to demonstrate the amazing things that take place across Inspire every day.

This year, the theme of World Mental Health Day is healthcare is a human right. Everyone, whoever they are and wherever they are, is entitled to the highest attainable standard of mental health. Human rights are the basis of everything we do at Inspire. Our voice, values, culture and strategy our are upheld by the highest standards of freedom, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy. It includes the right to available, accessible, acceptable and good-quality care, along with an entitlement to liberty, independence and community inclusion.

These principles form the core of our Takeover events and the aim is simple: to bring together Team Inspire for a day-long celebration of company and craic.

The schedule was a packed one. Proceedings kicked off with a welcome by the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Patricia Logue. She was followed by Kerry Anthony, Inspire’s CEO, who opened the Takeover by launching Creative Inspire, a showcase of our service users’ beautiful artwork. Each piece was selected to shine a light on how creativity plays a vital role in supporting mental health. From striking collages to intricate sculptures, the range of pieces was extremely impressive.

In addition, guests were also able to view the Photovoice exposition. This initiative, which is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded CHOICE project, uses the medium of photography to elicit a deeper understanding of the lived experience of mental ill health.

When Wellbeing, Ability, Recovery Live got underway, attendees divided into groups to participate in a range of wellbeing-focused activities: an arts-and-crafts class with the folks from Willow Studios; a visit to the nearby Void Art Centre and its human rights exhibition, Right?; sound baths with CALM yoga; an information seminar on internet scams; a wellbeing walk amongst the sights and sounds of Derry; and a guided tour of the Guildhall itself.

In the afternoon, ARC Fitness founder and RCN Nurse of the Year 2022 Gary Rutherford, a native of Derry, gave a keynote address. He shared his experiences of addiction and mental ill health. And he recalled the course of his recovery journey, a journey with fitness at its heart.

Gary stressed “the right help, at the right time, from the right people” is critical and reminded the gathering that “things can change. People can change. And that’s really important to hold onto… We have no right to write people off.”

Kerry then chaired Inspire Talks Back, a panel discussion about the important links between physical activity and good mental health.

Declan, an Inspire support worker in Foyle, outlined his efforts to establish a successful 20-week exercise routine for those attending the service, alongside a personal trainer and with the assistance of Inspire’s Freedom to Try innovation programme.

Two of the people who use our services, Sophia and Joanne, spoke about their own commitment to getting fit.

In Joanne’s case, boxing has become a major part of her daily routine. She pointed out that she is now “more positive and more willing to try different things. Boxing has helped me to develop what I want to do and who I want to be.”

For Sophia, sea swimming has opened up new horizons and helped her develop a fresh sense of determination. “Yeah, it’s cold,” she said, “but you just go in and you just do it.” If she has one key piece of advice, it’s this: “Don’t get stung by jellyfish.”

As a vehicle for displaying our work, staging crucial conversations and breaking through the stigma that can surround the subjects of mental ill health, intellectual disability and addiction, the Guildhall Takeover was a great success. After Belfast and Derry, where are we headed in 2024?

Be sure to check out our video diary and image gallery down below.