Originally published on November 5 2020.
Features Editor, Olivia Bybel, sits down with Xavy Bull and Willa Robertson of B&Together. They talk about some of B&Together's goals, and how they have adapted during the pandemic.
According to the NHS, one in four adults experience mental illness. B&Together is a non-profit mental health organization founded in St Andrews by Xavy Bull aiming to destigmatize and fundraise in order to support young people at universities who struggle with their mental health. The Saint sat down with Xavy Bull and Willa Robertson to talk about their start in St Andrews, their goals, and how COVID-19 has affected them. Xavy Bull started B&Together in his second year, after noticing that most events used wristbands for entry. He had the idea to “create wristbands and sell them to events to use as their entry wristbands and then just donate the profits to charity.” He then described his idea “spiralling out of control” to what it is now. He chose to focus B&Together on mental health partly due to his experience with mental illness in his own lie. He explained, “I’ve had a lot of experience over the last ten years of my sister who has suffered from eating disorders since the age of 13.” He expressed that “that really inspired me to try and help other people.” Bull now focuses on “the overall strategy and idea and taking it to where we want to go,” while Robertson is a director and works with Bull “organizing pretty much all of the aspects within the charity.” Band Together now has expanded far past selling wristbands. Bull describes it as a “nonprofit mental health organization focusing on destigmatizing mental health across the UK. We have our central team in St Andrews and then we have branches at different universities across the country.” Robertson explained that they have “leads in 13 universities” but are established in “Leeds, Oxford, Cambridge, Newcastle, Edinburgh, York, and Bath.” Bull expressed that the team in St Andrews is not considered to be a branch like at the other universities. “We have a team up here that runs it that just so happens to be in St Andrews, but we could be anywhere else, and then we run it in coordination with events in St Andrews… our team up here isn’t so much a St Andrews branch as it is just sort of the national team coordinating it all.” It has expanded much since its early beginnings, Bull explained that “as more people got involved, it’s sort of become this organization which offers more than just fundraising.” B&Together has two main goals: fundraising and destigmatization. They fundraise for the charities they support which are Young Minds, a “general mental health charity for young people” and Beat, an “eating disorder charity”, which Bull describes as “close to my heart.” Currently, they fundraise by selling merchandise, which are currently their t-shirts and wristbands. They are looking forward to releasing more products. They’ve been looking to their supporters for merchandise ideas: “we said what do you want to see and it already said bucket hats, slides, jumpers, tracksuit” as well as a number of other ideas. They also have a donation feature on their website for anyone who wants to give that way. Roberts added that their merchandise is “very much linked to sustainability” and even though there was debate over increased pricing due to the sustainable nature of their t-shirts, “we decided not to sort of be phased by that and just go ahead with the sustainable thing” Their second goal is destigmatisation. They have an awareness section on their website where they have “articles that are being put out, and blogs that are being put out.” They try to create a “balance between experience and information.” Bull explained that information alone is not enough “all these facts, they mean nothing unless you put them into a context. So our goal is to place information into a context. We work along the mandates of the 2016 five year forward plan for mental health. This is an NHS report published in 2016, basically giving an agenda for what to do in the next five years to try and help mental health.” One of the main features of this plan was “educational destigmatization” so they base how they educate on that plan. Unfortunately, B&Together has faced some difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are no events being put on that they can sell wristbands to. However, Bull explained “we are no longer doing wristbands for events because Coronavirus has hindered that from happening.” They have had to restructure how they fundraise, and how each branch works “the original concept was having teams in all these universities work independently with events. It’s becoming a very different creature even in the last two months as we realized events are probably not going to happen at all this year.” They have made the best of the situation however, “we recognize that Coronavirus is our opportunity to expand as much as possible.” “We’ve changed the focus entirely as being on social media and advertising destigmatization.” Roberts expressed that they hope in the future “when events are up and running, we’ll have a relaunch.” They hope that they can return to doing physical events and get back to their roots selling wristbands, once restrictions allow them to do so. B&Together aims to have an impact on the community in St Andrews, where they were founded. They hope that recognition of their name, and their merchandise will start conversations between students, and other people in the community. They hope that the reading material, and other media, that they publish will help to put mental illness into a context that university students can understand. They look to other organizations “just like the way that St Andrews Survivors or Extinction Rebellien or any other movement brings about a conversation, that is what we are trying to achieve start conversations about.” Roberts explained the importance of B&Together reaching every student in St Andrews, rather than specific year groups or friend groups. They hope to have an impact on “specifically first years” and make sure it is “current every year.” Bull added that they want it to have a “cultural” impact. Students in St Andrews can get involved in a number of ways. Bull said “they can financially support us in a way of involvemen, and they can write for our blog.” One can go on their website, where there is a write for us button, to share your experience with mental health, and how your time at university has affected it. “We will edit them and put them alongside information we think is appropriate, putting it into context as we say.” Another way to get involved is through their social media, by interacting with it, and reading and watching the posts, talks, and interviews. Roberts wanted to add that they want to continue to feature up and coming, young artists, on their merchandise. B&Together wants to emphasize that they are not a clinical charitee, and that they cannot offer service to those suffering from a severe mental health condition. On their website they have a “connect” page to find local resources however “for each uni there is a connect page that will take you to all the resources that are available in your local area as well as the national resource” if someone is seeking help.