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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA




Amongst the array of wonderful events that make up MIF23 from Yayoi Kusama to Benji Reid to Afrodeutsche Balmy Army stands out as shining beacon of hope in our uncertain and for many frightening world.

The Balmy Army project is a movement for youth-led mental health activating the power of art and activism.

Over the past year young people, artists, madpride organisers, radical dreamers, disability justice doers and everyone else trying to cope have come together with the common aim of striving for Mental health support that works.

The have been busy sharing poetry, making placards, activating social media takeovers and mass acts of civil disobedience, In fact crea0ting a space where anything (safe) can happen, where the Balmy Army can play, plan protests, give performances and even print ‘Madidas’ t-shirts.

Balmy Army is made by 80 young people from Greater Manchester, with the vacuum cleaner [James Leadbitter], Kevin Edward Turner, Lizzie Chapman, Toni-Dee, Caz Hughes, Evyn Seaton-Mooney, Rory Aaron, Rosalyne Norford, Gráinne Flynn, Cara Looij, Sascha Gilmour, Charlie Clark, HOME, Factory International, Contact, 42nd Street, Gorse Hill Studios, the Hope and Horizon Wards at Fairfield Hospital, Awakening Minds and Touchstones Rochdale.

Most of us are struggling with our mental health or have a family member, colleague of friend who is and maybe we are supporting someone who is working in mental health or perhaps feeling the effects of poor mental health in our communities. The Balmy Army reminds us that beyond what we can do as individuals, community care, and creativity are some of our greatest ways to heal.

In the words of one of the young people “Balmy Army has changed my life and I’m positive we’re going to change the world. I’m so proud of my fellow artists, grateful for the facilitators and forever in awe of the amazing work we have accomplished and are yet to accomplish”.

I urge you to find time to experience Balmy Army for yourselves - it’s free to drop into the Balmy Army's space at HOME.

Balmy Army until 17 September at HOME:

Phone: 0161 200 1500

Visit: (

Captioning Relaxed Performance BSL Interpreting Wheelchair Access Assistive Hearing.

‘the vacuum cleaner’ tells us:

“I went through mental health care as a young person, it was crap then and its crap now. Nothing seems to get better, however much those in charge say it has. I was in an adolescent hospital 20 years ago, has the mental health care got any better since then? Not enough, let’s put it that way. (I totally: acknowledge there are some cool people doing good stuff in young people’s mental health care – I’m not attacking them, we need you sooooo bad).

How many more excuses should we accept?

I want to work with YOU to imagine, dream up and then make real the mental health care you desire, that your friends deserve and that adults just don’t seem to be able to give you.

Enough excuses.

I’m starting a long-term project called Balmy Army. It’s part art, part activism and part mutual care project. I want to help you fight for what should be a basic right…. good mental health care. I want to do this because I know how much bad mental health care affected me. (I’m lucky to still be here). It’s going to start in Greater Manchester – but hopefully could be a national thing…

SO, let’s do this thing, let’s make an army of young people who are struggling with their mental health. Let’s not be ashamed of who we are, let’s be totally proud of what we can do together. Let’s imagine something brilliant and kind and that actually works.

Let’s do thing safely, sustainably, let’s do it right and take our time… but not like 20 years (lol).”

A note about language… the vacuum cleaner says.

“The language around mental health is still in debate; I think it always will be. In a similar way to how it is around race, gender, sexuality and so. That’s a good thing, we’ve always got to get better at it, and try to reduce harm.

In a lot of my art work I use the language around mental health in a playful way, words like mental, mad, barmy, crazy. For me personally I want to reclaim these words as something to not be ashamed of. Perhaps in a similar way to how Queer has been reclaimed. I understand not everyone is down with this. But I also want you to know that I use these words with love. Because I love crazy people. We are amazing. We are really good at surviving, and helping others, and being empathic, and standing in solidarity with other people who face mainstream BS. Being mad isn’t easy, and it’s really important to be honest about that, but equally I’m not going to be ashamed of who I am, what I have been through, and how I want to talk about my experience. I want to be able to love my madness – so much so I did a project called Madlove. I’m not going to let it define me, but I’m also not going to ignore it”.

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