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CSMH Fest- Hero image - blurred orange and yellow lights ;

How can communities come together to partner for change?

Hanna Kienzler, Craig Morgan, Virginia Elgar, Katie Chamberlain, Verity Buckley

ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health

23 September 2022

We, at the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London, were inspired to organise a different kind of event this year – a festival that would celebrate community partnerships in research. A festival that would showcase our expanding and deepening partnerships that enable systemic inquiry, participation, and actions to address how rapid social change affects the mental health of young people, marginalised communities, and people facing precarious working and living conditions in the UK.

But, what could such a festival look like in reality? How could we showcase community partnerships rather than researchers and their findings? We invited our partners to explore the theme of "Partnering for Change", and to organise the event together with us. They were encouraged and supported to contribute through exhibitions, performance, installations, discussions – in any way they wanted, really – at a venue of their choice and with audiences most important to them. The proposed ideas were discussed, planned and supported with a budget to help with development and delivery.

Our Festival came together with events running over a week in late June. We had events organised by Jack Drum Arts in Durham (18-22 June) and, across London, by Black Thrive (21 June) and Thrive LDN (22 June), culminating in a full-day event with The McPin Foundation, the King’s Service User Research Enterprise (SURE), Centre PhD student Sanchika Campbell and her PRiSM research team, Traumascapes and Survivor Voices, at the Science Gallery London (23 June).

CSMH Festival - Black Thrive panel

The Festival brought people from a wide range of backgrounds, sectors, and lived experiences into conversation through activities including a 24-hour virtual games night, silk painting, drumming, panel discussions and workshops, a happiness hub, and a symposium.

CSMH Festival - Jack Drum silk painting

Shared experiences were created during intimate workshops exploring the importance of faith for mental health and supporting Black families with trauma; a participatory arts workshop and poetry slam with survivors of abuse; ‘talks over tea’ and blackout poetry.

CSMH Festival - faith

Spaces for personal reflections invited participants to create ‘a pie in the sky’ with ingredients for ideal partnerships, to air their ‘dirty laundry’ noting down frustrations with partnership building, and to hang ribbons with messages of solidarity on a tree for survivors of trauma.

CSMH Festival - vegetables

Most importantly, our Festival allowed for critical discussions around the importance of giving back to ensure equitable and long-term partnerships based on trust, honesty, respect, and solidarity. In workshops and during informal conversations over tea and lunch, partners grappled with dilemmas of how to create partnerships that are alive to the inherently unequal power dynamics and systemic injustices that shape academia where co-production is often more a tick-box exercise than a practice that shapes knowledge production in ways that are meaningful to affected communities.

CSMH Festival - trans board game

Brave spaces emerged where partners talked openly about lived experience with trauma; the mental health implications of state violence against young Black people by the police through unjust stop-and-search; the subjugation of knowledge based on lived experience; challenges faced by LGBTQ+ refugee and migrant communities to create spaces for mutual support and ecosystems of friendship; and what it takes to build safe spaces with migrant women to connect and to address gender-based violence.

CSMH Festival - poetry

During panel discussions visions were created for new ways of working together to ensure race equity and address health inequalities for Black people with mental illness in employment, empowering young people to shape research agendas that can meaningfully impact on their learning environments, allow service users and survivors to build properly funded programmes of research, and to address systemic injustice and discrimination in academia to enable socially just research impact.

CSMH Festival -

The Festival was a truly inspiring week filled with celebration, brave conversations, artistic exploration, and silent reflection. It allowed us to come together to discuss and enact how successful research partnerships could be established, how our evolving partnerships can be nurtured and strengthened, reflect on who benefits from the emerging collaborations, and how we know whether our partnerships actually lead to positive change in the field of society and mental health.

CSMH Festival - Thrive picture

Get in touch

If you would like to know more about the design and development of our Festival, or about the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health more broadly, please email

In this story

Hanna Kienzler

Hanna Kienzler

Professor of Global Health

Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan

Professor of Social Epidemiology

Katie Chamberlain

Katie Chamberlain

Research Support Manager

Verity Buckley

Verity Buckley

Research Impact Lead

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