Calling mental health service users, mental health providers, social prescriber and community connectors in South Norfolk, Great Yarmouth, Waveney and Norwich!
If you live with mental health challenges, or are supporting anyone in South Norfolk, Great Yarmouth and Waveney or Norwich who is interested in history and creativity, here’s a great new project for participation, community connection and mental wellbeing.
We are enrolling people now, and the project kicks off properly on 22nd July.
It’s well set up for social distancing, and is completely free for participants.
Dr Hills’ Casebook is a Change Minds project, run by the Restoration Trust in partnership with Norfolk Record Office, South Norfolk Council and UpShoot Theatre Company.
There is a film about it and a leaflet below.
Contact our Coordinator Darren France for information:
firstname.lastname@example.org. or on mobile 07905517906
Restoration Trust trustee Frances Halahan ACR has produced a list of online conservation resources that meet her high standards! No flannel, no dodgy techniques, no overblown claims. Mostly not for DIY, except for managing moth top tips from English Heritage.
https://www.tate.org.uk/artist-rooms has a Learning resource section with information on a number of artists. Some of the info includes video which are quite interesting and also suggestions of things to do. It is generally free of artspeak and, in some cases, discusses the artist’s mental health.
Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the group enjoyed mindfulness walks, talks with experts and creating artwork inspired by what they saw
We asked the Restoration Trust’s director, Laura Drysdale, why they use heritage in their work – and how they are continuing to support people during lockdown.
A feeling of belonging
“Heritage is about that feeling of belonging, knowing that this is your place and understanding how your history fits within wider history,” Laura says. “It is a part of being human.
“We are often in unbeautiful environments, particularly those who live with mental illness who regularly have to visit places like health centres and benefits offices. Access to heritage gives people a chance to be somewhere beautiful, forge connections with other people and explore their own creativity.
“It can be a hard shell to crack and even harder for some members of the group to gain that feeling of entitlement – the feeling that yes this heritage does belong to us. For many it would be much easier to hide away. It takes a lot of courage, but once people do get that feeling, the benefits can be extraordinary.”
“I’ve lived nearby Burgh Castle for so many years and had never been. Now I don’t think I will ever stop going.”
How does the Restoration Trust create that sense of belonging?
“Crucially we listen,” Laura explains. “Mental illness attacks ordinary human experiences and pushes people to the margins. As a result, we work with very excluded people.
“We talk and find out what will help – it might be access to the site via minibus or the language used to promote events.
“Listening has to become action. You don’t want people to feel that their time and thought has been wasted. When people are listened to they feel more confident to tell you things, so it is a virtuous circle.
“We involve people with lived experience of mental illness in planning the project, for example through running trial sessions. We have scheduled opportunities for listening, and people with lived experience sit on the Project Board to monitor progress.
“Listening helps us to tackle our own organisational attitudes. Ultimately, we, our partners and the participants are in it together. Everyone is learning, it’s always an experiment, things are always changing. It can be demanding, but it offers the best outcomes.”
Staying connected during lockdown
Of course, coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed the way the project can operate. Laura tells us how they have been managing: “Our IT team have been working hard to get laptops set up for participants who want to stay in touch in our weekly Zoom meetings and Facebook group.”
“While that digital connection is very important, we are still maintaining contact with those who it doesn’t suit by sending creative activities to them.”
“Not being able to be in the heritage landscape is certainly being felt. Having lost that connection has made the group realise how important it is to them and their mental wellbeing.”
Kindness is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year and it is fundamental to the group’s activities. “Kindness is a big one for us,” says Laura, “especially during this time of high risk.
“The group have been really supportive of each other, even dropping food off for each other. People will remember those acts of kindness.”
Valuing the heritage landscape
The group are looking forward to getting back together when they can. “Not being able to be in the heritage landscape is certainly being felt. Having lost that connection has made the group realise how important it is to them and their mental wellbeing.
“During the pandemic, The National Lottery Heritage Fund has been fantastic in helping us reshape the project and be flexible on its timescale. The group is most definitely hoping to meet up again once we can, to continue the project – maybe not quite as we planned but it is going to be great!”
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we hear from a participant of a National Lottery-funded project that uses heritage to help people living with mental illness – even during lockdown.John Durrant20/05/2020
“I’ve lived nearby Burgh Castle for so many years and had never been. Now I don’t think I will ever stop going.”
For Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked John about his experiences with the project before and during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
How did you become part of the Burgh Castle Almanac project?
I began hearing voices from the age of 12 and as a teenager tried to take my own life. I was diagnosed with a mild form of schizophrenia, but it wasn’t until 11 years later following a psychotic episode that I discovered I had been misdiagnosed and I actually have emotional unstable personality disorder.
Since then I have been trying to understand my illness.
“I don’t drive, so the fact I was offered transport to get to the castle was a big factor in my decision to join.”
A facilitator of the Burgh Castle Almanac project contacted me to see if I wanted to take part. I don’t drive, so the fact I was offered transport to get to the castle was a big factor in my decision to join.
The first time I went I really didn’t feel like it was for me and didn’t think I would be going again, but my partner persuaded me to give it another go. Now I am part of the furniture! The group is so non-judgemental, you aren’t judged if you miss a week, but they also care and see if you are OK if you do.
Before lockdown, what did you do?
So many things! We met every fortnight, sometimes small groups and sometimes more of us – it was really flexible.
We had different professionals visit to help us relate to Burgh Castle including a writer, a geologist and a butterfly man.
“In my life I went through a long time not feeling connected to anything. The project gave me that connection back.”
Another time, we visited the Thames Foreshore project in London – walking right along the riverbed was phenomenal. That same trip we went to the British Museum. One of the other members of the group actually has a Saxon find on display there. He also found a Roman coin in a molehill near Burgh Castle when we were on one of our walks.
Mindfulness walks were another thing. I was sceptical at first but walking and paying real attention to the sounds of birds, the wind blowing and taking in the smells really did help me reconnect with nature.
I’ve lived nearby the castle for so many years and had never been, now I don’t think I will ever stop going.
Has the project impacted your mental health?
In my life I went through a long time not feeling connected to anything. The project gave me that connection back. I looked forward to going on a Tuesday and being laughed at (good naturedly!) for getting stressed about art projects.
The group is like a big family, if we see each other struggling we take notice and offer support. I’ve made friends I never would have met if I hadn’t joined.
Now I’m connected to the world again I want to take this experience as far as I can and I want to give back to the project and people what they have given to me.
“Heritage is about that feeling of belonging, knowing that this is your place and understanding how your history fits within wider history. It is a part of being human.”
How has coronavirus (COVID-19) and the lockdown changed things for you?
I work to manage my mental health by trying not to get weighed down by too much news or social media. Each day I say something new and positive to myself including the fact that this situation will not beat me – I will beat it.
In terms of the project, we have definitely not stopped.
We meet on Zoom every week where we talk and complete challenges such as mindfulness maps to stay in touch with each other and heritage.
We also have a closed Facebook group with more than 50 members where we post creative challenges. In fact, lockdown has meant the group is more active than ever and remains a way we can pick up on if someone is having a down day.
“The group is like a big family, if we see each other struggling we take notice and offer support. I’ve made friends I never would have met if I hadn’t joined.”
I’ll admit, the situation was disheartening at first, but the communication and support is still there and so helpful.
When lockdown ends, we will meet up again and there are so many positive things to plan and do for the project. I’m excited and so thankful we will have the opportunity.
Care & kindness: A conversation for Creativity & Wellbeing Week
A conversation between Victoria Hume (Director, CHWA) and Liz Ellis (Policy Project Manager, National Lottery Heritage Fund)
Victoria: This year in a beautiful piece of synergy, Creativity and Wellbeing Week, theme Positive Futures, runs alongside Mental Health Awareness Week, theme Kindness. The National Lottery Heritage Fund is one of CHWA’s Strategic Partners and you lead on inclusion and wellbeing policies. What synergies do you see in this week during this extraordinary year of challenges so far?
Liz: I’ve been a fan of and happy contributor to Creativity and Wellbeing Week for the past 10 years so I know it is always a week of shared, brilliant energy. I know the characteristic generosity of so many culture and health practitioners alongside the involvement of so many networks and alliances, will make 18-24 May 2020 an amazing week.
The Heritage Fund recognises the significant role of wellbeing in our outcomes and inclusion priorities. This week has a strategic focus for us all this year and ahead. As a funder, we recognise that not everyone is equally impacted by the pandemic, with existing, structural inequalities disproportionately affecting the experiences of individuals and communities.
When the Heritage Fund approached Burgh Castle Almanac participants to share their knowledge and experiences as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, it was the very intentional, central role of kindness as a core value which was shared by everyone involved, that sang out for me. It was also the way that all the structures surrounding this brilliant two-and-a-half year project demonstrated for me what is increasingly recognised as an ethics of care. This is a situated, relational model of understanding how we connect – or fail to connect – with each other, which recognises that care takes place in a mesh of social and structural networks. Using the ethics of care means we pay attention to the changing care needs we all have throughout our lives, whilst recognising the often extreme differences in how we all experience power relations and structural inequalities. As a very concrete example of the ethics of care in action (although not a term I think the Burgh Castle Almanac participants currently use, perhaps a creative opportunity together ahead!) I’ll give a brief snapshot based on this recent experience.
I’ve been lucky enough to join one of the Almanac walks at Burgh Castle. Arriving in Great Yarmouth one late autumn day I was immediately made welcome by all involved in this exploration of historic landscape and mental wellbeing at Burgh Castle Roman Fort. I was included warmly in the conversations over past events, then guided along in the darkening day by others, the kindness consistently demonstrated by all meaning that I didn’t fall into the surrounding muddy ditches and peaceful, but freezing water. While we were walking, many of the 20 or so participants shared with me their experiences of the beauty and comfort they gained in this extraordinary ancient landscape, associated now with new friends, people who could be trusted and who evidently helped each other, often during difficult, perhaps lonely days. When we eventually left the moonlit landscape for a much-needed tea brew back in the warm Village Hall, I felt relaxed, safe and completely included in this environment that had been previously unknown to me.
The context I had been invited into, to explore with other people, to contribute ideas and share these more widely through the Burgh Castle Almanac enabled us all to feel more positive about what was next for each of us, in our days and weeks ahead. These intentional values of kindness and supported creativity of course didn’t happen randomly. Addressing the inequalities of health, income, housing and much more, which prevent so many people in the UK experiencing historic landscapes or any other aspects of our shared heritage, takes an understanding of the ‘ethics of care’. This is an understanding that we all need care at differing points in our lives and access to resources and equitable structures to look after each other and which really values how we care about each other. This knowledge means placing people at the centre and from the outset, through thinking, planning and resourcing, often for months ahead.
In the Burgh Castle Almanac example, creative and flexible relationships between mental health and heritage organisations include the Broads National Park Authority and the Restoration Trust. Finding the right person to regularly drive the minibus so people can get to the site and contribute to the Almanac, or who to give an enjoyable talk about the stars over the ancient Burgh Castle site and the archaeology within it, or to remember to bring the milk – are all crucial relational and interlocking components.
All these skills and resources require kindness as core to ‘working with’, not ‘doing to’ people who may have experienced intense vulnerability and reduced life opportunities over many long, hard years. Together as participants, heritage organisations, artists, funders and many more we can contribute to building an ethics of care now and ahead, which really demonstrates meaningful social and creative change in tackling these inequalities. That looks like a Positive Future for me and so many of us involved in CHWA and other alliances I know too.
You’ll find Laura Drysdale’s and John Durrant’s experience of Burgh Castle Almanac here:
Liz: Victoria, during the pandemic you’re currently running CHWA from South Africa. As a musician and CHWA Director, do you experience the sketch I’ve given of an ethics of care and how do the ensuing practices of kindness resonate for you?
Victoria: Well, I’m experiencing a sort of double-consciousness at the moment, since I’m completely immersed in what’s happening in the UK via the news, social media, and the work with the Alliance of course. I am living in the UK on one level, and on another I am in a South African winter, with all the beautiful cold sunsets hitting Joburg’s orange rocks while the UK’s summer evenings drift on.
Your recollections of Burgh Castle make me think of some work I was involved in as a musician, here in South Africa, with an organisation called Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF), specialists in public engagement in health research. The project was about water – during the Western Cape’s severe drought in 2017, SLF wanted to extend the conversation to areas that have less of a voice in the media – to learn what water, and the loss of water, meant in communities where stormwater can dislodge homes in a single night, break down roofs, flood makeshift sanitation systems; and where, too, a lack of water means no way to extinguish house fires, no means of burying a loved one’s body correctly, no means to run an annual flower competition in the impossibly sandy soil, until then a defiant symbol of community and possibility. With their partners in Delft and Enkanini, SLF were guided by exactly the ethics of care you describe. In Delft, long relationships had been built up over years of sporadic funding and a belief in slow, unshowy work full of integrity. Many aspects of this project are branded into my memory but towards the end of an intensive week of making music, body-maps, and drama together, a local lay preacher who had been part of the project brought us together – a collection of atheists, Muslims, Christians – in tight concentric circles with our eyes closed – to receive a blessing. I’ve rarely experienced something so intense with other people. “Care” is such a degraded word in the UK, the “care system” such a cold concept, however warm the people within it. Somehow this circle of people in a rickety church hut surrounded by body-maps was a rebuttal of that cool idea. Care instead became a powerful force, something with great energy, great potential to unify, and to create change.
‘Care’ in the UK has been such a contentious concept in the last few years. Last summer the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested that cuts to public health and social care since 2012 had caused 130,000 preventable deaths – all of this well before covid. It’s now clear that the government’s action plan on social care has – in the words of the chief executive of the Health Foundation – “come too late to stem the avoidable loss of life for care home residents, and social care staff – mostly women – who are about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as other adults”. Care homes are sites of appalling suffering. People paid some of the lowest wages in the country to do a job already so difficult are now having to deal with death on a massive scale. How will we care now for all these people who have borne the brunt of our lack of preparedness?
The arts and culture are often decried as a ‘nice to have’, yet the individuals and organisations in the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance are using all their skills and experience to find a way to support this recovery. Ensemble Hesperi (working with Live Music Now) recently reflected on their work at Park Avenue care centre in Bromley:
Fortunately, we had built up a great rapport with the staff and residents …and, as musicians who live together, we were able to continue our weekly sessions on Zoom. Live-streaming participatory music sessions from home has been quite a learning curve, but it has been incredibly rewarding to be able to lift the spirits of the residents and staff during these difficult times. We have had to adapt our approach, planning in more detail, and have had to overcome the fact that we can’t gauge the atmosphere of the room as easily. Despite these challenges, we feel that the sessions are really bringing a smile to the residents and staff. Singing together, using well-known songs and activities, has been a brilliant way of bringing together the whole community. We have been so touched by the dedication and enthusiasm of the staff at Park Avenue, who even recorded their own music video of a song we wrote for them! During this period, we are so lucky, as we have each other as musical colleagues, our instruments, and our music, but this project has really given us a wonderful opportunity to share our music beyond our own four walls. This, more than anything, has helped us to keep positive and give us hope for the future.
This seems to me to be relational care encapsulated – with musicians, staff and residents all receiving the benefits. Similarly, in Liverpool, Heart of Glass have developed Home Work commissions – many of which are being created by shielded people or people who are caring for shielded people, and all of which are responding to the theme of care.
In many parts of the country, cultural and creative organisations are connecting with emergency support to reach the most vulnerable. RAMM in Exeter are distributing 1,000 creative packs through Exeter City Council’s health and wellbeing hub, alongside food parcels. In Canterbury the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge is sending out health and wellbeing information with food parcels, and working with Parish councillors to distribute books to people unable to access the internet. Greater Manchester Combined Authority is supporting a city-wide collaboration between health, social care and the cultural sector to reach both older people and vulnerable young people with tens of thousands of creative care packs.
What makes it care though, is not just the fact of delivering packs or playing music across zoom, but the kindness, the people, the humanness of it, the humour: the acknowledgement of our own artistic frailties in the face of technology, someone’s sensitivity in making sure RAMM’s creative packs have pencils and pencil sharpeners in them. Tiny things that makes this all feel as if we might have it within us to make something better out of this awful reality. The WHO guidance about Covid-19 rests on kindness (“Be Ready, Be Smart, Be Kind”), just as Mental Health Awareness Week does. Kindness and care are both invested with a respect for our vulnerabilities. I recently read the actor Rory Kinnear’s tribute to his sister, who has died of Covid-19. It’s both heartbreaking and hopeful, because of his passionate avowal that our real strength as a society is in our recognition of vulnerability, of the need to care for one another. As Guddi Singh put it in a brilliant blog, “Care is what could turn this tragedy into communal, collective, global metamorphosis”.
Liz: Finally, in the spirit of positive futures and the kindness we all need ahead, what is the one top music track you’d share?
I heard her play at St Mary’s Music Hall, a brilliant music, faith and community coproduction with St Mary’s Church, London, E17. The Heritage Fund are proud to contribute funding in this community success.
Now we are emerging from hardline lockdown, here’s a brisk summary of what Burgh Castle Almanac’s been up to since February in Burgh Castle Almanac.
We suspended our exhibition until March 2021 and moved sessions online. We’ve met weekly and now fortnightly, along with artist Ian Brownlie. Between Zooms we’ve sent out art parcels to 20 people at a time, and shared makings on our private facebook group. With Ian Brownlie, we’ve designed a T-Shirt that will be printed any moment now.
We have shared incredible music collections, worn beards, made fantasy homes, alphabets of Burgh Castle Almanac, posted art school pottery and discussed dinners.
Burgh Castle Almanac featured in two blogs produced by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for Mental Health Awareness Week in mid May, one an interview with Laura, and another with John Durrant – who blogs at Living With Mental Health. This was re-blogged by the Baring Foundation. We also popped up on the front page on the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance website.
John Durrant has created a podcast, and there’s a new one out where he and Laura talk about Burgh Castle Almanac, and culture therapy as a way of improving mental health and wellbeing.
During lockdown people have been resourceful and mutually supportive. The private facebook page has seen kind messages, but it hasn’t stopped there. Cooking, food deliveries, photos of lovely lockdown walks at Burgh Castle and bike rides have connected people in the real world as well.
This is a very tough time for everyone and there is a growing sense that it’s only going to get worse for people who deal with mental health challenges. But it’s not all gloom, and there have some wonderful developments in several people’s lives.
On Facebook we have an essential daily dose of Bobby’s Barnstormers, Robert Fairclough’s life in music. Robert is also writing a weekly facebook post for the Restoration Trust called Life under Lockdown.
Tod Sullivan has created a series of live facebook broadcasts and a new organisation, Asteri Learning, to share skills about telling personal mental health stories – to be safe, connected and heard.
Julian Claxton’s film is almost in the can, two short clips have appeared online. We’ve agreed the final story board and Julian has orchestrated a drone flight over the site. There are a couple of interviews left to complete, and a voiceover to record.
Jane Willis completed her first evaluation report, noting that people felt the project was safe, well managed and well-held, and a place where they did not feel judged. The fact that it was a two-year project also enabled them to feel safe, knowing that it was going to carry on. They appreciated the new experiences it gave them, but also felt that it enabled them to connect with a sense of history, culture and place leading to a greater sense of connection and belonging.
The other piece is an interview with Laura, our Director. That focusses on what heritage does for mental health, and how to listen to people so that a heritage engagement project like Burgh Castle Almanac works.
Thanks to all our partners and contributors on this beautiful project – Norfolk Archaeological Trust, Norfolk Museums Service, Access Community Trust and the Broads Authority. And to the Heritage Fund!
We are delighted to publish this Aide Memoire of research into the life and times of Dr Hills, Superintendent of Norfolk County Asylum from 1861 to 1887. Researched and written by Richard Johnson, it is a core text for our new Change Minds project, Dr Hills Casebook.
Conservation for Wellbeing Midpoint Focus Groups with Staff & Participants, London Metropolitan Archives and SMART, 6th & 13th March 2020.
In the few weeks leading up to the UK lockdown due to Covid-19, I met with participants and staff of the Conservation for Wellbeing project, to learn how they felt the project has gone so far.
Looking back, it was a strange time, in which many were feeling growing anxiety and anticipation of the measures to come. The focus groups, for myself at least, came as a welcome break from conversation about the corona virus, and yet it seems obvious now that even these conversations were impacted by the collective consciousness of the pandemic.
I had first met staff during week 5 of the project sessions at LMA. The following week, five days before UK schools closed, I had a session with participants. As the researcher on the C4W project I had not met all the participants before. We gathered in the meeting room at SMART with cups of tea and some participants still eating lunch, to talk for an hour and reflect on all aspects of the project.
The participants spoke openly, and shared some fascinating insights into what has been most important and resonant for them about the activities and the archives. Particular sessions stood out, such as making boxes to store the archives, and the week in which participants learnt about the tiny pests which pose a threat to documents. Several participants made connections to memories from their own lives, including occasions when they and their families have used more manual photography methods to record important occasions. Participants talked about how the quality of a photograph is affected by the process through which it is produced, and how replicas or well stored negatives might change the value of each image.
All participants made connections to their own memories, and thought together about value, significance and meaning, particularly as these are held within articles and objects they themselves have collected throughout their lives. They each talked about things that they protect and preserve due to their importance or relevance to them. The group explored what it is that can transcend time within archives, and how the records hold resonances which can be shared with people who never met the individuals whose lives they relate to.
They talked about how interesting and valuable it has been to learn about a field of work most people know little about. The project has given people an opportunity to enter a rarely seen world, in which every day involves taking care of snap shots and pieces of life stories. There have been lots of surprises, and elements of the work that the participants could not have imagined.
One participant explained;
“It was just really interesting how careful you have to be. You have to treat these things like you would treat a human being basically.”
Now is a time when we all may be thinking more about how we take care of each other and ourselves, and about what is most important to preserve or know and how those things can be kept safe. We are thinking more than usual about what matters most to us. This is a hugely significant point in history, which we are witnessing for ourselves as it emerges every day. I wonder how people may be recording this time for themselves, whether they will be keeping diaries more, or collecting things to keep when we re-emerge from lockdown, and life begins to resume. What will we want to remember or preserve for others to see, from this strange and poignant time?
Daisy Rubinstein, art therapist and C4W evaluation consultant
Here is a useful blog by Harriet Lowe from the Baring Foundation about organisations, including the Restoration Trust, who are trying to sustain creative connections with participants during lockdown. It is in the context also of their excellent report on arts and mental health, Creatively Minded.
Participatory arts in an age of physical distancing – responses from the Arts & Mental Health sector
Five organisations told us how they are continuing to deliver creative sessions to participants, how they are trying to bridge the digital divide at short notice, and what they are learning from the COVID-19 experience.Arts
We asked five organisations from the Arts & Mental Health sector to share how they are continuing to provide creative activities to participants and engage with their communities when no one can attend the face to face sessions which are often a lifeline for people.
We are keen to add to more examples from Arts & Mental Health organisations. If you’d like to send us a brief outline of what you’re doing – or write a blog for us with more detail, please do get in touch.
Delivering creative sessions to ALL participants
We are committed to continual provision for all our artists and not being in the same space together isn’t going to stop that!
Joanna Willis, Shallal
All the organisations we spoke to are continuing to run their creative workshops for their existing communities and participants using digital/online methods – but also trying to find ways to include those for whom this is harder.
Creative Alternatives are creating weekly videos that encourage creative play with materials that people can easily access from home, e.g. mandalas with natural materials and food stuff, paper cutting and collaging, wet media in the kitchen, as well as creative writing. Participants are being encouraged to upload their creations to their online platform. They are also planning to host live sessions and chats where artists are online, encouraging people to share their ideas and experiences and inspire each other.
Fallen Angels are delivering five interactive creative movement sessions online each week (via zoom) so that participants can continue to develop their artistic & physical skills at home.
Magic Carpet have created a blog with work-from-home ideas and videos from artists who regularly work for Magic Carpet. Participants are encouraged to email images of their art to be shared on social media and featured in galleries on their ‘work-from-home’ blog. They are also putting ideas for creative activities out on their social media channels for the wider world.
Restoration Trust: one project run by the Trust is archaeology, creativity and wellbeing programme called Burgh Castle Almanac. It now has weekly hour-long Zoom meetings with up to 11 people. Art materials are posted to group members between meetings to form part of the conversation. Things made from the session are posted on a private Facebook group by 6pm that evening to keep the energy flowing. Experts and creatives from previous sessions (archaeologists, writers, artists) may be invited to join the conversations as people get more relaxed with the new format.
Shallal are delivering the creative activities for its different creative groups (various art forms) through a variety of means, from post to Zoom and online streaming. The approach varies with both bespoke suggestions to suit particular individuals’ needs and ideas for whole groups sent out via emails and blogs to all. Joanna Willis, Shallal’s Creative Director, is sending out a weekly playlist of ideas and there is a section for others to give creative their suggestions and links.
Shallal also has an inclusive studio space in Redruth. Studio artists are painting at home with support and suggestions from staff. Staff artists are creating videos demonstrating activities – and they are looking to expand this through partnerships and commissioning artists (e.g. there will soon be a short film by artist Ruby Bateman of her approach to still life).
Dealing with the digital divide
A wide range of digital platforms are being deployed: Facebook groups, Zoom, Whatsapp, Instagram, as well as bespoke platforms. Organisations are trying to ensure that those who don’t have the same access – whether it’s no internet, limited data or lack of confidence in using digital tools – are not excluded:
Creative Alternatives are developing Creative Home packs that will be posted out with a range of arts and wellbeing focused activities doable from home.
Restoration Trust note that they are trying to be flexible about contact methods, but are also looking into how they can help people get the resources they need to join online (e.g. by providing hardware, software and friendly advice) and are exploring ways they could fund this.
Fallen Angels are inviting participants who can’t join live video sessions to share photos and videos with other members on a private Facebook group.
Supporting participants beyond workshops
Laura Drysdale of the Restoration Trust says that while they are not a mental health service:
Participants’ wellbeing is our first concern and if it comes to it, we will do all we can to help with peoples’ immediate needs.
Some practical actions include:
Restoration Trust are keeping in regular contact with participants, and also running their digital sessions at the same times as face-to-face sessions to maintain a sense of routine and continuity. Shallal are also trying to check in with participants at the same time as their normal sessions.
Fallen Angels have a Buddy Support system which will involve making sure participants have daily phone contact with another group members. Their staff are tracking ‘attendance’ and keeping alert to when people’s online engagement (or lack of) might suggest they are struggling and they will then call to check in. Shallal are brokering connections between participants and some have volunteered to support others.
Magic Carpet are posting letters to previous participants in their projects and Shallal have also sought to re-connect with previous participants and make sessions open to them too.
Health & safety and digital safeguarding
This crisis has thrown up new safety and safeguarding issues. Shallal note that they are getting advice on contamination risks associated with sending materials by post.
The wellbeing of staff is equally important. Shallal note the importance for artists/facilitators in maintaining healthy boundaries if they do choose to contact or support participants outside of the scheduled sessions.
Making the most of a difficult situation
This is a very hard time for many arts organisations – however these organisations are taking some positives from it. Creative Alternatives Director, Jessica Bockler, notes in her blog for the Foundation that feedback on their digital programme which they began in 2017 suggests that digital delivery can work better for some people who find it hard to attend a regular session.
Joanna Willis of Shallal says that they are looking at this as a very valuable research and development time that they don’t usually have, particularly around maintaining contact with people who are isolated and can’t always attend due to transport or ill health. Laura Drysdale of the Restoration Trust is hoping to use the lockdown time to develop a digital strategy drawing on this experience and ideas from others. And on a slightly different ‘note’, Magic Carpet have started a Zoom choir – something they hadn’t planned, but which they describe as “socially brilliant, if mixed results creatively!”.
About the contributors
Creative Alternatives in Merseyside is an arts on prescription service with a longstanding commitment to people with mental health problems.
Fallen Angels Dance Theatre is based in Chester and specialises in recovery from addiction with classes in safe spaces as well as public performances.
Magic Carpet Arts is an arts and health charity in Exeter which runs a variety of visual arts, singing and theatre sessions including around mental health.
The Restoration Trust in Norfolk is a heritage organisation providing ‘culture therapy’ in partnerships with NHS Trusts and universities.
Shallal is an inclusive arts charity based in Cornwall. Starting out as a dance company, it is now multi art form and also has the inclusive Shallal Studios.