A mental health mutiny

“It was a massive twist of fate really, but that is what my life is all about.”

We’ve all heard the stats: 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental ill health at some point in our lives, and yet in workplaces up and down the UK it is still highly taboo to talk about mental illness, let alone take time off to deal with it. Male suicide rates are still climbing.

The team at We are Hummingbird are doing something about it. Pirate style.


For 17 years, Ian Hurst was your typical suit. Every day he would travel into London to look after the global insurance for high profile clients like Porsche, Bentley and Rolls Royce. Making good money, he could offset the stressful work environment and five hour commute, with evenings and weekends spent playing golf and eating out, before returning home to his young family and pretending that everything was as it looked. Totally fine.

Then one day a couple of years ago he was on a flight back home and out of nowhere, he broke down.

“I just started crying. People were like woah, and bless, the woman I was with didn’t have a clue. She was like ‘chin up mate.’” 

Ian quickly realised that he was suffering from severe loneliness. Though often surrounded by colleagues, friends and family he felt unable to connect with anyone. “The biggest problem is how tiring that is because you’re putting on a show 7 days a week, and sometimes by the time I’d get to work at 9 in the morning I’d be emotionally and physically drained.”

Acknowledging that something had to change, he took time out and went on mental health first aid course. Almost every work place has a designated first aider for physical injuries, but the idea of a mental health first aider in the work place is still unusual, radical even.

For Ian, it was a lightbulb moment.

He trained up and started splitting his time between his regular job and mental health initiatives. Then, finally in October 2018 he decided to take redundancy and become a full-time mental health instructor.

Around this time Ian met James Scroggs and explained his plan. James is a Trustee of CALM, and founder of HOOPMUSIC and MC Overalls; he introduced Ian to his now business partners at We Are Hummingbird, but also suggested he read a book.

“On James’s recommendation I immediately read Be More Pirate, and wow. It was so clear that my old work place was the Navy, the establishment. In every chapter there was a different thing I could apply to my daily life.”

We are Hummingbird began four years ago following the death of Matthew Cogley from the band FailSafe. Two of Matthew’s friends initially set up a website simply support anyone those suffering from depression and direct them to the NHS. But, as the guys were all involved in the music industry too, the platform evolved organically into a community that blends music with mental health awareness.

Why music? Given that to inability to express emotion or connect with other people are such huge facets of mental ill health, We Are Hummingbird tackles both through by encouraging people to create playlists and explain what music means to them, at the best, and the worst of times. The playlists are pushed out on Spotify and social media and to date they have some well known musicians such as Paramore and James Blake contributing.

“We knew that there were people in the music industry that don’t relate to mainstream mental health campaigns so we’re trying to rip out the rule book. If someone wants to call themselves a fruit loop because that’s how they communicate, go for it. It’s not ‘correct’ but if communicating stops you from committing suicide then that’s what matters. It always comes back to good trouble, playing with what’s out there, asking ‘what about this?’”

When Ian came on board as a full-time director he developed the We Are Hummingbird health side of the business, with his core offer of mental health first aid training. With this came a blank slate and a chance to do everything differently.

“The biggest thing I thought about was values. I was sat in a soft play area with my kids and I thought this is my chance to write my pirate’s code, that in 10 years time if we’re at a crunch point when someone’s flashing money but and it doesn’t feel ethically right, we’ll know what to do.”

So Ian started to established his code with articles that would be the cornerstone of what We Are Hummingbird is about.

The first was the importance of community, and how they treat the WAH community. The brand grows with the community, and everyone has an equal say. They might not be on the payroll but the people out there creating and promoting playlists and taking the courses are treated as the same as the Directors.

Another is Fluidity. The requirement to make stuff up, make mistakes and make them fast. Take a gamble and see if pays off.

Alongside the music, the site sells merchandise, but since they’re still a small platform, Ian started to use pirate principles to think using collaboration to achieve scale.

One way they do this is for every t-shirt the sell, they will give £1 to CALM, and £1 to Trust music venues. This enables them to capitalise on the huge reach that these other organisations have, use their logos, access their network and increase brand awareness. Traditional business models would tell you that it’s madness to give away such a big chunk of your profit but Ian is adamant the returns are worth it.

“I don’t think I’d have thought about joining up crews like this, if it wasn’t for the book. I was previously in a really cutthroat environment where everyone was in it for themselves. But now, I look at things differently. When it comes to mental health I’d rather have four experts overlapping their work so that no one slips through the gaps, rather than people claiming their patch or being territorial about the work.”

We Are Hummingbird Health are still at the beginning of the story, but are committed to the new way of working.

If you want to know more or collaborate, get in touch with Ian on wearehummingbirdhealth@outlook.com

The Pod: bravery as strategy

“Some people just stand out in the sea. Like a rock with a light on top. That’s Christine.”

Change in the UK public sector is tough. Our health and education systems, and our sprawling network of local councils are complex and fractured, heavy on rules and processes passed down from on high.

But here is a story to inspire every frustrated employee who thinks that it’s not possible to create services that actually work, and are responsive to human needs.

It is entirely possible. But it takes courage. If you want to know what public sector piracy looks like, read on.


In 2009 the Lamb Street Day Centre in Coventry was to quote Greenday, ‘a boulevard of broken dreams’. It was frequented only by staff and service users - people suffering from mental illnesses; roughly 106 service users in all, over half of whom had been referred there by social services 10 years previously. If you got referred, you were there to stay. Moving on was seen as neither possible or a good idea. It was not ‘safe.’

Fast forward to 2017, and you would never believe that what they now call ‘The Pod’ is the same place. The Pod is a hub of cultural activity; an art collective, cafe, a social space. 15,000 people engage with the Pod in some way each year and they come from all over the city, all walk of life. In the words of one visitor:

“The Pod is not a service it is more like a social movement…”

The transformation is down to a woman called Christine Eade.

Christine has pioneered a new model of change in Coventry called social brokerage. The purpose of social brokerage to optimise a person’s connectivity to and inclusion in the community, taking them from service users to citizens (the citizen shift, in Sam’s pirate code 2.0). It is a recognition of what gives people’s lives meaning, that the risk involved in learning new things or forming relationships, actually supports recovery.

“Social brokerage demands emotional intelligence and ingenuity. It is not simply resource finding or signposting.”

 By January 2012 developed a social brokerage qualification with Coventry University. Christine asserts that the transformation she’s spearheaded at the Pod, could only come about through ‘positive risk taking’.

Break and rewrite the rules

'“not because I was asked or told to do it, but because it’s what had to be done. I’d say that my job was on the line, at least once a week.”

The Department of Health’s policy on ‘Putting People First’ pushes the agenda for a personalised approach to healthcare, but is lagging behind in the mental health arena because of the reluctance to accept positive risk taking in the realm of personalised budgets and choice of activity.

Christine first looked at the silos that exist in service provision and decided to ignore them. In many local councils ‘recovery’: how a person might go on to live a meaningful life with or without their conditions, is dealt with by one team, while an entirely separate team looks after personalisation.

It seemed fairly obvious to Christine that recovery and personalisation should go hand in hand, and that without effective communication between support teams the results were likely to be mixed.

Time to reorganise

Instead of cutting people off inside a Day Care Centre only to be visited by disparate social workers, Christine made the Pod the centre of activity. The Pod actually manages several city wide programmes that have nothing to do with Mental Health (arts collective, food union, time union, quiet activism), so all kinds people come directly to them. Connections are made across the city; often but not exclusively with an emphasis on the arts. Christine recognises that artists are natural risk takers and has recruited many to work alongside citizens of the Pod. In her own words “…to respect and reflect people’s aspirations.” In this way people stop feeling marginalised and start feeling like citizens.

A Development Worker commented:

“Change happens when we both take positive risks. The ‘push and pull’ of the debate, can take Citizens’ lives to unexpected and exciting places”.

Redistribute the power

Christine also has a keen sense of power imbalance. Her service user to citizen model is all about giving people their agency and encouraging them to move on. When people are first referred to the Pod, they meet there, but in the second meeting they choose a location of their own choice. They are never bound to the Pod.

The ultimate goal is to help people to move on to fully independent lives. When Christine first arrived on the scene many people  had been attending the day centre for years One person thought it was for ‘around three years’ when it was actually seven! In response to that time unwittingly lost, the Pod introduced a Pass Card to give people confidence about moving on. The Pass Card offered a fixed number of one hour sessions with a development worker after leaving the service, without the need to be re-referred by a Care Co-ordinator. No-one has ever used all the slots on their card.

Soon the Pod will move to new headquarters in FarGo, Coventry’s new Creative Quarter, which feels appropriate since they have created significantly to the cultural capital of the city and is continually challenging national assumptions about what social care can and should be delivering.

Embrace flawed leadership

The Pod represents a new model of social care, one that focuses on critical connections, a shift to citizenship and agency. But underneath that there is a leadership model; a way of being that allows you to embrace the ‘chaos’ of positive risk breaking. Here’s is Christine’s advice:

 • Don’t be frightened of disagreement

• Be prepared for difficult conversations

• Push and provoke

• Ask the difficult question. And then keep asking it.

• Enable citizen’s rights

• Look for the mutual gain

• Be brave

• Test it and build on it

• Be pragmatic

• Do stuff

“It’s not about conforming and not about having answers – it has to be about outcomes not outputs. If you are truly innovating you won’t know all the answers. If you know the answers, it’s not innovation – innovation is about positive risk taking”. 

Or in other words: the in darkness, there is discovery, possibility, freedom.

Pirate through and through.   

Christine recently presented the Pod as a case study for innovation in front of fifty senior leaders from across healthcare. She was held up as shining example of success by Duncan Selbie the Chief Executive of Public Health England.

So next time you’re told that you can’t do this or that, or are worried that the risks won’t pay off, execute your doubts like the traitors they are and remember, courage calls to courage everywhere. Everyone knows that we need new methods, we just have to brave enough to do it.

CRIN: the self-loathing NGO

As advocates of professional rule breaking, we believe that the we need different methods of improving the world. Charity is part of the old guard.

Of course charity and philanthropy has been responsible for changing the lives of millions across the world, but the question is rarely asked whether could be both the problem and the solution.


Veronica Yates is Director of CRIN, the Children’s Rights International Network. They call themselves a self-loathing NGO.

Last year Veronica took the radical step of rewriting the rules not only of how CRIN operated, but also taking a stand against how the whole charity sector operates.

“I looked around suddenly and thought, maybe I’m part of the problem.”

So what is exactly is wrong with charity - what rules need breaking?  

Symptoms not causes

First on the list is how charities campaign. By and large, they inform people about the symptoms of problems (war, famine, disease), but rarely do they tell you about how and why the problems exist in the first place. They encourage you to keep sending money to starving children in Yemen and turn a blind to who is fueling the civil war, or why (far too political)

Giving your spare change to the symptom is easy. Looking more critically at the system is hard. But ask yourself, are here to take the easy route?

A dependency on despair

Negative campaigning reinforces hopelessness. CRIN want to change that by carving out clear principles (their code).

“stories of despair make us feel powerless. We want to better define what is we’re righting for, rather than just repeating what it is we’re fighting against.” 

Charities are ultimately dependent on negativity in order to exist: misery is how they convince you of their purpose. But will we ever start challenging the causes of the problems from a place of pity and guilt. Charities charge their batteries on negative emotions.

Attack at the edges

Charities tend to fight the stuff we all agree is ‘bad’, as CRIN describe it “the low hanging fruits of advocacy”. In this sense they’ve moved far away from being provocateurs or real changemakers (with a few notable exceptions).

CRIN are actively trying to break this norm in their own field, children’s rights, by fielding some more controversial campaigns. Their 2018 report outlines their intention to challenge the exclusion of children from voting, their participation in the legal system and the bodily integrity of children (including looking at things like virginity testing, routine male circumcision and forced steralisation of children with learning disabilities).

Subjects most charities wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. But CRIN understand that attacking at the edges in order to absolutely necessary to influence the mainstream.

Language matters

NGOs produce large volumes of content in the hope of winning support. Yet on closer inspection little attention is paid to how language is used. CRIN highlights a couple of the problems with NGO language:

  • Impotence: language has become flaky across the board. In a recent study of the most commonly used words at the UN Security Council strong sounding words such as “demands” and “warnings” have been used less and less frequently.

  • Clarity: jargon is a problem everywhere, but there is a special kind of jargon that exists in the think tank/NGO space. If you read a paragraph with two many phrases that require a second or third read (e.g. this framework requires leveraging more resource, and identifying synergies with partners). The result is cognitive overload and you’ve lost your audience.

Pragmatism over principles

Charities too often succumb to what’s realistic, rather than what is just, but CRIN argue -

“Perfection is a tough standard to meet, and setting a goal based on what seems realistic rather than principled can have a seductive allure. Yet a trap lies in caving in to pragmatism, and chasing short-term goals: if we lose sight of the ultimate change we want to see how can we ensure our pragmatic steps will get us there?”



Mere Mortals Code

Fed up with egos and in the advertising world, Robbie Greatrex decided to start with a clean slate and

1 No compromise

We live in a world of shortcuts and excuses where excellence has become a rarity, and good has become good enough. Well, sorry. We refuse to play along. At Mere Mortals we never ever compromise the quality of the work we produce.We challenge the mediocre, stand against doing the bare minimum and despise the feeling of ‘could have done better’. We have a burning desire to build our reputation on the quality of the work we produce, and take enormous pride in a job well done. We question everything, delight in the detail, and stay curious - scouring the globe for inspiration to ensure our work remains fresh and relevant. We strip back process and throw egos aside to ensure we spend as much of the working day as humanly possible making the work better. So be creative. Be persistent. And never, ever compromise.

There it is - the first Article of The Mortal Code. But how will we ensure we live by it? Well, one of the biggest things we can ensure is in place from the off is that our process and ways of working are designed to free up as much time as humanly possible to make the work better. And that's exactly what we've done by doing away with timesheets, simplifying documentation and creating a flat, open structure. So, now there really are no excuses when it comes to the quality of our work.

2. Drop the attitude

Unfortunately, some people can be rude, arrogant and disrespectful.
They can be unpleasant to be around and a nightmare to work with.
Not on our watch. At Mere Mortals we treat each other with total respect and expect no less in return. We detest inflated egos, can’t stand bullies and find petulance intolerable.We treat everyone equally and with the utmost respect. This is non-negotiable.We lend support, question intelligently and challenge respectfully.
We’re inclusive, fair and positive, extending this attitude to all we encounter: our clients, collaborators, guests, peers and competitors. So drop the attitude. Be respectful. And stay humble.

We're making this Article public, along with the rest of the Mortal Code, so that everyone who's involved with Mere Mortals knows the standards of behaviour we expect. And we understand that instilling respect throughout the organisation starts from the top down, with the leadership team. So this is where it begins. And it will allow us to crack on with the work. As a collaborative, motivated & happy team.
Which is what we're here to do.

3. Don’t conform

We’re sick and tired of our industry’s obsession with conforming to the same trendy, identikit culture. We break this mould. At Mere Mortals we demand everyone just be themselves. Our culture isn’t some pre-fabricated image for people to conform to. Quite the opposite. Our culture is nothing more, and nothing less, than the grand total of each individual’s background, characteristics, qualities, experience, accomplishments, interests, quirks, the list goes on…We embrace differences, encourage individuality and believe a team of diverse, unique and spirited people will create more original, interesting and culturally relevant work. So be yourself. Be individual. Don't fit our culture. Enhance it.

We have many ideas of how to ensure this Article is not left in a dusty drawer, but instead becomes the driving force behind an inclusive, vibrant culture. This begins with ensuring a fair and equal recruitment process, includes mixing up teams on projects and extends to how we celebrate success and socialise. We can't wait to see how our culture develops. And we can't wait to see which interesting individuals join our journey.

4. Step up to the plate

Many organisations find themselves plagued by complex hierarchies, rigid rules and stifling procedures. Not here. At Mere Mortals we revel in autonomy and crave responsibility. We’re bored with micro management, inflated teams and multiple sign-offs. We’re too impatient to be stuck in training mode, and too ambitious to wonder ‘what ifs’. We champion smart, ambitious and spirited individuals who take risks and give things a go. We relish the challenge, trust our gut and make decisions swiftly and decisively. We place an enormous amount of trust in people - trust to crack on with their jobs and trust they’ll seek help and advice when needed. So step up. Be bold. And get shit done.

Having a flat, open structure will be the basis of ensuring we live by this article.
We'll show our trust through simplified policies for such things as getting taxis, buying a client lunch or working from home, which will be little more than 'Use Good Judgment'. On top of this we're doing away with annual appraisals - you know, the sort that take forever to organise, feel like a nervous stand-off, and are far from designed around helping individuals fly. Instead we'll have regular catch ups that are centred around growing skills and autonomy. Because we believe that if we put trust in people we'll get the best out of them.
That they'll step up to the plate.

5. See the Bigger Picture

Like it or not, profit driven businesses play a huge role in the world around us,
whilst people’s happiness and the impact on our planet are often relegated to nice-to-haves.
Screw that thinking. At Mere Mortals we care about our impact on people and the planet. We believe businesses have a responsibility to stand up and be counted,
to care about the bigger picture and to aspire to be a force for good. We lead by example and strive to inspire others. We take happiness seriously and switch off after a hard day’s work. We volunteer, fundraise and play our role in the local community. We get stuck into the bigger issues affecting our planet with the hope of leaving a legacy that extends further and deeper than simply the work we create.

We've made a flying start on ensuring we live by this Article. 
We've become part of the B Corp movement - a community of leaders driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good, changed our legal documentation to instruct those running the business to make decisions based not just on profit, but to also consider the effects on people and planet.With these foundations in place we're now rolling out other initiatives, such as giving everyone one week per year paid leave to volunteer. These will ensure that Mere Mortals and everyone involved has a positive impact, that we don't just say we want to be good, we're obligated to.