Compiling the shortlist for the Future Archives competition
14 June, 2021
Long ago, back in 2019, in the days when face to face meetings at the RCPsych HQ were a daily happening, the History of Psychiatry Special Interest Group (HoPSIG) were discussing their next essay competition. We decided on the theme of people’s present-day experiences of mental health services, with the suggestion that the entries would all be kept, to add a personal, lived-experience element to the College’s formal institutional archives. We were aware that this was not what one might call ‘doing’ history, but thought it had the potential to create a historically significant time capsule, a future archive.
We started work on the project just as planning began for celebrating fifty years of the College and 180 years since the founding of its first predecessor organisation. The competition moved from being a HoPSIG activity to being on the main College programme.
Little then did we foresee the emergence of COVID-19.
For many people, psychiatrists, patients and others, the changes and constraints due to Covid have provided an opportunity for pondering on good and bad, past, present and future, and for putting pen to paper.
We breathed a sigh of relief when the first entries arrived. Three entries meant that we would not lose face as we then had three ‘winners’, one for each prize. But we didn’t expect quite so many entries to keep flowing in – to a grand total of 63. The College archivist anonymised each one before sending it to us for shortlisting. Compiling the shortlist was a memorable experience, not just for the number of hours it took!
All entries were extremely good. Some were astonishingly powerful and tear-jerking, and a couple were distressing, with matters taken up by the College outside the competition. A few pieces of superb writing were remote from the subject, and others far exceeded the specified length, so could not be shortlisted.
A shortlist of 12 was submitted to the judges who included a patient, a carer, a journalist and a novelist. Other people were involved with organising the competition, and we are grateful to all of them. We will, however, mention two College staff, Dipti Malik and Harry Weber-Brown, who picked up the administration and organisational aspects of the competition, and saved the day when we were getting somewhat bogged down by those responsibilities. Thank you, Dipti and Harry.
The prizewinning entries, plus some of those shortlisted are presented on the Future Archives page. We are much richer in our understanding for having perused them, and the College is richer too, for being permitted to retain this record of mental health services in 2020-21. We hope you also find them enjoyable, moving and thought-provoking.