Hundreds of Bristol students march on Senate House demanding better mental health care
‘Use your wealth for student health’
Hundreds of Bristol University students took to the streets on Friday to demand better mental health care from their institution. Held in the aftermath of three student deaths in the space of a fortnight, the 'March for Mental Health' remembered those students who had died and called for 'real change' from UoB management.
Attendees waved signs with slogans such as 'Listen to your students', 'Use your wealth for student health', 'Make mental health a priority' and 'Minds over money'. A few students carried placards commemorating friends who had died. One paid homage to the Oscar nominated film 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' by holding aloft a sign that read '12 suicides in 18 months. Still no change. How come Hugh Brady?'
Beginning at the Victoria Rooms at 6pm, the march was kicked off with speeches from a range of speeches. Event co-organiser Isaac Haigh told the assembled crowd of his own struggle with mental health difficulties and explained that "I do all the campaigning and work I do now because I don’t want one person to go through what I did almost a year ago now".
As the attendant cameras of BBC Points West looked on, Keep Our Communities Co-founder Tom Phillips took to the stage to deliver his philippic against the university, calling on it to "cherish the meaningful relationships that are forged between students and staff" and "provide counselling cycles that permit such relationships of trust to develop." Fixing his glare on those management staff who had turned up to do media interviews, he closed his speech with the words "The university must do better. The university must, in every sense, truly care."
Thereafter the crowd marched up Queen's Avenue, with one police officer giving an unofficial rough estimate of between 400 to 500 attendees. Protesters waved signs, drivers honked horns and chants were sung ranging from 'Health not wealth!' to 'We're here because we care!' to the reworked classic of 'Hey, hey Hugh Brady/Ooh ah/I want to knooooow/where my Warden's gone!' to the tune of 'Hey! Baby'.
The ubiquitous sound of the drum call organised the hundreds of students as they assembled in a semi circle outside the administrative hub of the university at Senate House. A buoyant but passionate atmosphere pervaded the scene as chanting continued outside the building for around ten to fifteen minutes.
The march subsequently walked briskly down Woodland Road before up Park Row to head back to the Victoria Rooms. Traffic was stopped, car horns were sounded and locals stared as the march wound its way past the local landmarks of Bristol fame. Placards such as 'Fight for mental health services' were waved as the protesters headed past Wills Memorial Building and on to Taka Taka.
As the crowds returned to the steps of the Victoria Rooms for the final speeches. Union Affairs Officer Stan Ford gave a spirited speech, urging the university to do all it could to stop the tragedies and criticising the role of some media outlets for sensationalist coverage.
Third year Papatya O'Reilly and fresher Ruth Day were left to close off the day's proceedings with two emotional and heartfelt speeches about their own experiences with mental health. The rapturous reception given by the assembled crowd proved a fitting conclusion to the evening's proceedings, with one event steward telling The Tab "it has been more successful than we dared hope."
Photo credits: Alex Sheppard. More images can be found here.