The Speakers Collective is a social enterprise bringing together speakers on a range of issues including mental health, suicide prevention, sexuality and gender
Launched by founders Natasha Devon MBE and Jonny Benjamin MBE, the enterprise brings together experienced speakers who all have genuine lived experience or expertise in their field. The speakers have been peer observed, are DBS checked, have Mental Health First Aid training and have been working as speakers in schools, colleges or other organisations for a minimum of two years.
“Having travelled throughout the UK and beyond for several years speaking about mental health and related issues, we know it can be an incredibly lonely job. We created the speakers collective to give individuals who work mostly alone in an emotionally draining field a place to exchange tips and ideas, share best practice and support one another,” Natasha and Jonny said in a statement.
“Furthermore, we had been made aware, particularly by schools, of issues concerning quality control. We understand the necessity to discuss sensitive subjects safely, in keeping with the latest reliable research and in a way which is engaging and inspiring. That’s why we also created a quality assurance for our speakers, to give those who book them the assurances they need.”
Speakers Collective member Jo Love, an award-winning mental health advocate who talks about depression, OCD, anxiety, postnatal depression and PTSD, told Happiful that it became increasingly obvious that something needed to be done after seeing a number of speakers who were not safeguarding their audiences or themselves as mental health speakers.
“When you’re talking to people about a sensitive subject like mental health, there needs to be accountability for that and there needs to be some recourse. At the moment, it’s a bit of a ‘Wild West’ and mental health cannot be a Wild West.”
“Talking about mental health, from the perspective of somebody who has lived experienced of mental health, not only helps the person who is speaking but it really has been shown to help audiences connect with the topic of mental health,” says Jo.
“Often, people find talking about their own mental health very awkward and difficult and they don’t know how to start, but it has been shown when people hear real stories… they can connect with it better. It’s good to talk, and as long as we’re talking in a safe way, that can only be a good thing.”
Broadcaster Sean Fletcher told Happiful, “For months my wife and I kept our son’s debilitating OCD a secret. The main reason was a parental stigma - we blamed ourselves, and worried he’d be judged. But at a chance meeting with Prince William at the Heads Together launch, I mistakenly said those three words I’d been avoiding to the future king: ‘my son has OCD.’
Instead of things getting worse, as I’d feared, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Talking openly about mental health was crucial in keeping our family from spiralling. As our son’s been getting better recently, I’ve had an overwhelming desire to share what I’ve learnt as a father of a child with a serious mental illness, because the parents are often the forgotten party. The Speakers Collective will give me a chance to talk about my experiences and hopefully help those going through what we did.”
Journalist and author Chris Hemmings speaks in schools, universities and work places to promote a healthier idea of what it means to be a man. Chris told Happiful why he is passionate about men’s mental health and what the collective means to him.
“Ever since I found myself spiralling towards a cocaine and alcohol addiction in the wake of my father’s death, I’ve been researching the myriad of ways some traditional masculine values can cause serious problems for men. Too many of us still try and suppress our emotions and despite the conversations starting, they are by no means happening frequently enough.
“Most of my work in schools and universities focuses on giving young men the tools to redevelop the empathy that’s been socialised out of them. By urging them to create more open, nurturing environments it will allow them and their peers the space for honest, open dialogue. It’s only in those spaces humans feel able to be vulnerable and share with others that they might be struggling with a mental illness.
“There are so many young people, adults, families and communities having difficulties, and the Speakers Collective have a lot of bases covered; offering tailored talks and workshops around issues such as mental health, suicide prevention, sexuality and gender. We hope to become an integral part of discussions with young people about issues fundamental to a healthy society.”
Author, speaker and mental health advocate Stuart Baker told Happiful, “I enjoy speaking about my experiences in my public events for two reasons: one being it’s therapy for myself, and two, if it helps one person not be in the position I was two years ago attempting suicide, it’s doing the right thing. Being a part of this collective is amazing. Between all of us we cover a whole genre of subjects grouped together in a professional body.”
Jon Salmon, a member of the collective, lost his father to suicide as a teenager and was later sectioned with stress and depression. For almost 20 years, he told no one. In 2016, after losing a friend to suicide following postnatal depression, he decided to speak out in the most public way - alongside the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the launch of the Heads Together campaign. Jon now speaks openly on how awareness and reducing stigma can save lives.
“I had kept my mental illness secret for nearly 20 years, and when I shared my story publicly for the first time, it was empowering and slightly overwhelming at the same time. Talking openly about mental health is the fastest way to bring about a change in attitudes. However, being the one delivering the message, I find it can feel quite isolating at times,” Jon told Happiful.
“The Speakers Collective not only provides a charter on how best to share your story within organisations and schools, but most importantly to me is the support network I now have of amazing individuals that make sure we are all supporting each other.”
Mental health campaigner and author Hope Virgo told Happiful, “I am delighted to be part of the speakers collective and part of this exciting new work. I work across the country speaking in schools, hospitals, and corporates to thousands of people each week. This type of work is so important so that we can reach even more people and help break the stigma that comes with mental health.”
The Collective’s current members include: Natasha Devon MBE, Jonny Benjamin MBE, Anglea Samata, Shahroo Izadi, Chris Hemmings, Jo Love, Dave Chawner, Juilette Burton, George Hodgson, Rachel Kelly, Hope Virgo, Tom Ryder, Jake Mills, T.J, Sean Fletcher, Ellen Jones, Jon Salmon, Abbie Mitchell, Marsha McAdam, Lotte Stringer, Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, Jacs Guderley, Adrian Garcia-Miller, Rachel Morris MBE, Rich Taylor, Mary Louise Meadows, Satveer Nijjar, Steve Loft and Jo Emmerson.
Read more about Speakers Collective, including their charter, speaking topics and who’s involved here.