‘We don’t fuck about, do we?’: MadCovid, 1 year on

On this day last year – 17 March 2020 – the Hardship Solidarity Fund GoFundMe page was set up for donations after Bethan and Jo had been in conversation about it since early March. Around the same time, Bethan set up the MadCovid WordPress site to publish Mad people’s diaries, with the aim of documenting their experiences of COVID in real time. A couple of weeks later, the Hardship Solidarity Fund became a part of MadCovid. And that was the beginning.

We had no idea what we wanted MadCovid to be last March, but it soon became clear it wasn’t going to be a short-term project. Since then our community and our core team has continued to grow: with Nell and Ellie joining in April 2020, and in December, Laura, guest of our podcast, and Sunitha, who has been a diarist since the very beginning, also agreed to come on board.

What we can say for sure is that we could not have expected MadCovid to be just as brilliant and successful as it is. We began with the Fund and the Diaries, but quickly realised that some people might need other ways in which to get their thoughts out, and so launched MadCovid Voices. Through this project we interviewed dozens of people, whose testimonies are on our website. We also wrote blogs, both independently and with others, on various systemic issues that we saw emerging for the Mad community throughout the pandemic. Over the summer, we also expanded these conversations which were arising through our podcast – MadConversations, with help from producer Will. 

As you can imagine, we’ve been doing a lot via Zoom! We hosted our own symposium on ‘The Second Wave’ in October, featuring our own Nell, Tamar Whyte, Andrew Grundy and Hattie Porter, who shared their various experiences of accessing mental health services during lockdown – and what lessons might be learned for the future. Building on this we produced a set of recommendations for online mental health care which have been distributed among mental health professionals. We were also invited to present a keynote speech alongside Simon Rose to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, for their conference: ‘Meaningful Online Psychiatric Care in an era of COVID-19’. 

We’ve also run a number of popular art projects. We had an Instagram account early on, and Nell produced Quaranzine. Our friend Rachel did a social media project called #pandemink. Ellie has led on MadMakers, including a weekly Craft Club held on Discord, and a MailArt project; an ambitious collaboration via post between Mad artists. We’re currently hosting a raffle with prizes generously donated by Mad artists for our first birthday – details on the website!

We are also currently running a project called For The Record, for survivors and service users to speak out about trauma which has resulted from healthcare. An important and exciting project that we’re excited to announce more about soon! More recently, we’re looking to speak to Mad people about their thoughts on lockdown ending and what that might mean for them.

We also have some important regular social media projects: #MadCovidChat, a twice-weekly Twitter chat led by various members of the Mad community on our Twitter account; and #GetTheFckOutside – initiated by members of #MadTwitter @RoseAnnieFlo, @wijserig and @Asteroid_Caller – where Mad people who might be struggling to leave the house encourage each other to take their daily constitutional, posting photos of outdoors as proof. We’ve taken over Neville Southall’s Twitter account on occasion, standing in for Saiqa Naz in her weekly mental health slot, #AskSaiqa.

With everything that we’ve been doing, we’ve also given the website a quick birthday jazz-up, creating a ‘past projects’ page where the one-offs and other short lived projects are archived. These are no less valuable or important than those which are still going! These include the excellent MadCovid Alternative Christmas Gift Supplier List produced in December by Robyn and Quarantine Quiztacular, run by Matt, which ran for a few weeks over Twitch early in lockdown in aid of the Fund.

We’d like to thank everyone who’s supported us over the past year! Including the National User Survivor Network (NSUN) who have provided financial support for various administrative costs, including getting a GDPR policy written, and a BSL interpreter for our For The Record meetings on Zoom. We were very happy a few weeks ago to find out that we’ve been nominated for a Making A Difference award at the University of Manchester, where Jo and Laura work.

We have done this around work, PhDs, madness, and life in general. The core team has met every week on Sundays – since 22 March – at teatime. Sometimes team members are too Mad or busy to come along and that’s fine, such is the rich tapestry of life. 

Today, on our birthday, the Fund went over £30,000 in donations. We have helped over 200 people and mental health wards with small grants. We couldn’t have done this without each and every donor who entrusted us with their money. Thank you.

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