Our work with Woking Mind began in 2008 when we were approached by staff of Woking Mind for help in settling a disagreement that had arisen when someone had taken an early plan of Brookwood mental hospital to their weekly meeting. Though many of their members had either been patients at Brookwood, or had worked there, none of them could agree on the location or names of buildings and departments shown on this plan. The staff wished to know if any records of the hospital survived that could settle the matter.
Fortunately, a great number of records of Brookwood Hospital do survive. It was established by the Surrey quarter sessions as the county’s second asylum in 1867. When the hospital closed, in 1994, we rescued many records from empty wards and forgotten cupboards before the site was transformed into flats and a supermarket.
Woking Mind members were amazed that so many records had survived. There are administrative and clinical records, maps, plans, chaplains’ reports, early photographs, rules and regulations and hundreds of more recent photos of hospital events such as the annual summer fete, the carnival, and weekly concerts. There are also pictures of life on the hospital farm, the chapel, the laundry etc. The world that former patients knew was not quite as lost as they had feared. In a series of coffee mornings we looked at items from the collection together. It soon became clear that Woking Mind members knew far more about the collections than we did and their knowledge has been recorded and added to the information about our collection in our catalogue.
Further collaborations have included working with Woking Mind and youth drama group, Peer Productions on a play called The Mental Health Project. Peer Productions used the archive of Brookwood Hospital at reminiscence sessions with Woking Mind members to produce an extraordinary performance exploring the history of mental health, stigma and the issues that people face today. The performance went to 33 secondary schools in and around Surrey.
Our current work with MIND also seeks to make Surrey’s heritage more accessible and relevant to their members. In a recent project with Woking MIND we visited places of historic interest throughout the county, exploring their responses to museums, historic houses and galleries. Funding enabled us to give them digital cameras so that they could record what they liked and disliked about the places they visited. This led to a display of their work in the foyer at Surrey History Centre in which they shared their appreciation of different forms of heritage with a wider audience.
In 2015 we used the 800 year anniversary of Magna Carta to work together to examine what the ideas of freedom and liberty mean to people experiencing mental health problems today. We discussed the history and significance of the Magna Carta at a picnic at Runnymede and invited the group to see and handle medieval deeds and seals at Surrey History Centre.
We will be continuing to work with Woking Mind to examine Surrey’s sporting past with a host of events planned for the year.