My tale begins many moons ago in the autumn of 2009, the year following the big dress festival. Back then I was looking for possible ways to reengage with my somewhat lapsed Christianity, and also thinking about how I could make my own small contribution to the amelioration of suffering in the world (if that sounds like a grandiose aim, I can only say that that was how I saw it at the time!). As luck would have it, I chanced upon the local SPEAK group at our students’ union’s ‘Christian Societies Showcase’ event. This was the meeting that would mark the beginning of my long and beautiful relationship with SPEAK!
For our main campaign of that year, we took advantage of Sheffield SU’s notorious predilection for holding themed weeks of events by convincing them to dedicate one such week to the cause of peace! ‘Peace week’, as it became known, was also intended with a more specific goal in mind: to encourage the university to sever its links with the arms trade. It was instrumental in developing the strong tradition of anti-arms trade campaigning at Sheffield that continues to this very day!
For the 2010-11 academic year I made the deeply unwise decision to commute to Sheffield from my parents’ house in Macclesfield, as a result of which I was unable to attend SPEAK meetings. The following year, however, I returned, finding a SPEAK group reinvigorated by the addition of numerous unique and wonderful individuals. That was the year that SPEAK played a key part in organising a large scale protest against arms company presence at the University’s careers fair, involving a number of different student societies. Again, this helped to instigate a tradition of careers fair protests that survives to this day.
But what I remember most about SPEAK that year had nothing to do with our campaigns. During that time I was really struggling with mental health issues and finding it very difficult to open up to anyone at university about what I was going through. When I did finally find the courage to talk about my problems, it was the members of SPEAK that I turned to first. I was really grateful to find that their response to me was one of wholehearted support and acceptance.
That was a real turning point in my life at university for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was the moment when I began to regard my SPEAK group not only as a bunch of people that I worked together with on campaigns, but also as a treasured group of friends and a community. Secondly, because it laid the foundations for the subsequent and for the most part much happier years I would spend at university and with SPEAK. Thirdly, because it might just have been the encouragement I needed to stick with my studies even when things seemed at their bleakest!