2.8 Million Minds: Collective Power Awards

| Mel Parks

We are delighted to be involved again this year with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) annual awards which focus on collective power (partnership and co-production), practitioner support and climate.

We are partnering with CHWA on their Collective Power Award. This award aims to recognise an inspiring project, consortium, collective or movement of people in which meaningful partnership and co-production has improved the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through culture and creativity.  CHWA were positively overwhelmed by the quality of applications. Each application told another story of the incredible work happening all over the country and the amazing collaborative and creative spirit of people responding to individual, local and global challenges. We loved the different interpretations of “collective power” and we were blown away by how people and organisations worked together to respond and adapt during the pandemic. 

In order to celebrate this work, we are running a blog series on each of the projects shortlisted for the Collective Power Award. This blog features the 2.8 Million Minds project, which was highly commended. Between November 2021 and May 2022, over 120 people contributed to A Manifesto for 2.8 Million Minds, a youth-led, artist-centred, and Disability Justice-informed approach to how young Londoners want to use art to begin to radically reimagine mental health support, justice and pride.

These questions were answered by Zoë Whitley, Director of Chisenhale Gallery:

What has been your favourite thing about the project?

‘How can young people use art and culture to create change in their mental health, and how mental health services are funded and delivered?’ was the question that drove the conversation at The Baring Foundation eighteen months ago between Madlove, Chisenhale Gallery, Bernie Grant Arts Centre and Greater London Authority (GLA). 

My favourite part of the project has been seeing an idea blossom into a reality.

This enquiry developed over the course of that time into a pilot project, a manifesto, events in Lewisham and the Houses of Parliament. The written response and an action plan based on the findings of the Manifesto have a real impact on the conversation about Young People’s mental health in the capital city of the UK. 

If that all sounds incredibly serious and worthy, know that there has also been pizza, cake and high-stakes rounds of playing Zip-Zap-Boing. There has surely never been so much laughter in the Westminster Halls as our day in Committee Room 4!

Have you made and learnt from any mistakes along the way?

The Manifesto for 2.8 Million Minds has a section called ‘13 Mistakes We Made’ which talks about the challenges of not being flexible enough with timelines; sending too many emails; distrusting health care systems; falling into the pitfalls of not reaching out to others; and not being honest about one’s own resources. It’s worth reading that section of the manifesto in full (it’s here). 

These are learnings more than mistakes; they help me reflect on the support and guidance we must take up while ourselves aiming to be supportive. A Manifesto for 2.8M Minds has been a brilliant way to account for the pressures on organisations like ours and determine how we can mitigate them where possible.

Has anything surprised you during the project?

My biggest surprise was seeing groups of strangers with diverse mental health experiences (many of whom hadn’t visited an arts space before) – over a relatively small amount of time and with artists who had experienced similar things to them –create a genuine feeling of collective endeavour and pleasure in one another’s company. Complicated feelings and experiences were shared. This pilot showed that we could do it properly and safely, building trust along the way.

Aniqa’s story

My name is Aniqa, and I am one of the young artists who worked on 2.8 Million Minds.

Growing up, I had experiences with many different services. I found that there was help available, but only in certain circumstances – usually when it’s an emergency or crisis. That is a reckless situation.

Adults can act like they listen, but often they pick apart what you say, select what works for them and put you in a box. That makes it feel like they’re digging to find something wrong with you to put a label on you. 

2.8 Million Minds is not a mental health service, and it is not trying to be. But through the process and the art, we were approaching mental health issues – our own, each other’s and in society – in new ways. 

Many involved in running the project have their own mental health struggles. There is an unspoken feeling of connection, so we don’t need to worry that others won’t understand us.

There were also no labels. We’ve been taken on as individuals and as a group. The process was open; we were going on a journey with no specific destination, and we control the direction of the discussion and the content of the work rather than the other way around. This allows everyone to explore and figure out who they are without imposition.  

The sessions mixed fun and pleasure with seriousness and striving to want something better. For example, we would play a series of games that Becky devised, and then have an open debate, with no judgement, drawing on our experiences about how we would like the mental health system to change. We were able to be very honest and concentrate on many sticky issues because we had been laughing together just a moment before. No one had to share anything we were uncomfortable with, but it says a lot that people felt comfortable enough to share what would normally be very difficult.

This balance was so important. The joy created a light and airy feeling; the light and airy feeling created a sense of freedom, and if you are in a free state of mind, it allows all the seriousness to happen naturally. And even if it was painful, we could find the light in the situation. I believe joy allowed us to address the serious stuff authentically.

I think we have all opened up each other’s minds a little. It can be liberating to see the world through someone else’s eyes, however hard it might also be. We’ve tried to capture this feeling in our art. 2.8 Million Minds is about helping young people to create an image of thriving on their own terms. This is an invitation to recognise the seriousness of the situation, but also the joy of coming together and taking action.  

Click here to read A Manifesto for 2.8 Million Minds.

Follow 2.8 Million Minds on Twitter:

@ChisenhaleGal, @BGArtsCentre, @vacuumcleaner, @LDN_Culture, @BxWarnock, @YomiSode, @blingwearuk

Or Instagram:

@chisenhalegallery, @bgartscentre, #thevacuumcleaner, @bxwarnock, @_tyreis_, @blingwearboy, @yomi_sode


1. A Manifesto for 2.8 Million Minds (2022). Produced by Chisenhale Gallery, the vacuum cleaner and Bernie Grant Arts Centre. 2. Tyreis Holder performs Elegance With No Name at the Houses of Parliament (2022). Photo: Sam Nightingale. 3. Becky Warnock and OOST collective, How’s the weather in your head? (2022). Photo: Anna Howell.


We are looking for a freelance consultant/manager for our Thriving Through Culture: 2.8 Million Minds project to support young Londoners with their mental health. Deadline to apply is 19 December. Find out more.

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