The Dublin City Good Citizen Awards ceremony took place in the Mansion House on the 18th May 2016. The awards acknowledge and celebrate the contribution made to Dublin city by countless hidden heroes of everyday life. Over the coming weeks, we’re presenting a profile of the winners who stood out in making a big difference to the lives of others.
JP Swaine – Social Inclusion
I’m JP Swaine, and I’m the co-founder and director of the First Fortnight mental health charity, we run an annual arts festival and an art psychotherapy service.
It all came about from me wanting to create a different approach to provoking conversations about mental health. I’m a mental health professional, but also have a family history of mental health problems, and have lost a sibling to suicide. I felt back in 2009, when we started to think about doing the festival, that mental health communication was still in what I call the ‘leaflet’ phase – you might find a couple of leaflets in a hallway, but it wasn’t something that people were actively engaging in, or being provoked to engage with.
I have a background in the arts as well, and was keen to look at the special effect that arts events have when it comes to bringing people together, and making them think, and feel – and what it would be like if those thoughts and feelings were about our own mental health, and our relationship to it as a social issue. And it all evolved from there. We had an idea about linking it in with the first two weeks of the year – it’s a time that can be really challenging for people who were experiencing any type of mental turmoil. We wanted to start the year with a positive and dynamic message about mental health, some that engaged people with the issues surrounding it.
What keeps me doing what I do? I’ve given a personal commitment to stay as the voluntary leader of the initiative; we pay the participants what we can, but we get a lot of volunteers as well, and we couldn’t do it without them. I never wanted this to become a job, I want it to remain a mission. I don’t need First Fortnight to be the most creative or biggest of arts festivals – it needs to be something that continues that social mission, and remains dynamic and creates new entry points in the conversation around mental health. It’s a labour of love. And I do see it as a civic function. This is the time in my life to do this.
What’s the most satisfying part? It’s still walking out of events we’ve organized, and seeing strangers, people I’ve never seen before, engaging with the event and talking to each other about mental health. There’s always something about that 20 minutes afterward, feeling the conversation kick off and people sharing, that’s still magical to me.
I’m naturally inclined to downplay these things, but in a year when we’re commemorating 1916 and thinking a lot about citizenship, it means something to be nominated for this award. There’s a lot to be said for civic responsibility, and if that means I’m the guy who puts all his spare time into something like this, then that’s something to be proud of.
JP won the Dublin City Good Citizen Award in the Social Inclusion Category. This category recognises people who work to improve the lives of those who may be experiencing social exclusion