CRIP Tribute 2021: Joe Bidder – disabled activist and poet

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This month we commemorate Survivors’ Poetry legend Joe Bidder as part of the CRIP Tribute 2021 awards.

A caricature of Joe Bidder sitting on a park bench and holding a copy of his new book. In the air around him are pictures representing aspects of his life. These are a microscope, an oil well, a caricature of Paul Merton and a red sign reading ‘survivors poetry’.

For those of us within the disability arts movement, the name Joe Bidder is synonymous with the highly successful Survivors’ Poetry movement, which he established in 1991 along with fellow poets Peter Campbell, Hilary Porter and the late Frank Bangay.

Under Joe’s guidance Survivors’ Poetry grew to having 20 groups across the UK between 1991 and 1995, the London branch alone running over 1000 events per year in day centres, resource centres, libraries, and community centres – anywhere that survivors of the mental health system could come together to share experiences through the medium of poetry.

Colin Hambrook, Editor of Disability Arts Online, describes how Survivors’ Poetry achieved so many milestones in its early years. In an article he recently wrote to commemorate the launch of Joe’s poetry collection Blue in Green published by Dizzy Press on 30th March 2021, he told readers:

“ … (Survivors’ Poetry) changed the perception of survivors in the wider community and opened up conversations about mental health at a time when it was strictly a taboo subject. We saw the survivor label as a badge of pride; not something to be ashamed of and that message was something Joe was incredibly adept at getting across in the media through the 1990s.

“For Joe, Disability Arts is about a transformation from victim to warrior – a way of using the arts to challenge society’s conceptions of so-called ‘mental illness’ – its scapegoating of communities of survivors in order to create fear and division.”

Joe also supported many disability arts organisations during the time he was chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain’s Arts and Disability Advisory Panel and a member of Arts Council England’s Literature Panel.

Prior to this Joe wore a variety of hats, one of which was as a chemical engineer before travelling the world as an oil businessman. In the early 1980s he created the alternative cabaret club ‘Cynics and Idealists’ providing a stepping-stone in the careers of several well-known names including Paul Merton, Julian Clary, and Harry Enfield. At that time, they were learning their craft as stand-up comedians and entertainers and were happy to accept £10 per gig, to get the experience.

Survivors of the mental system, and disabled people in general, owe Joe a debt of gratitude for his support and belief in the power of the arts to transform our lives. It is with this in mind that we take great pleasure in awarding Joe the CRIP Tribute 2021 award.


To nominate a disabled person for a Crip Tribute please email colin[at]disabilityarts.online with details of who you would like to be recognised and why.