Well-being through creative activity

Of mice and GP’s…………or maybe the victim that roared?

Sorry for all the old film and book references. Titles are hard to come up with weekly and hey, read a few books and been around so I have plenty of corny titles up my sleeve. This last week has been a very busy one for me and the volunteers at S2C. It has been one of those weeks that has had me reflecting on myself and how I cope with things and how others perceive S2C.

One thing I have always found difficult is talking to my GP or any Doctor for that matter. I never quiet say what I want to or fully explain things. I miss bits out and rush through or even don’t mention things at all. I also don’t question, accept whatever is said and run out as quickly as possible more often than not feeling like the issues are unresolved or I angry with myself for not talking about the things I needed to. It’s that classic case of difficulty with authority figures as a result of childhood trauma and abuse. You spend your formative years afraid of a dominant figure, lying and hiding truth, in fear of the consequences of discovery. That is bound to have a profound effect on your ability to relate to people in authority and in future years then be expected to divulge your secrets on demand in a ten minute slot.

I think to a degree also many people with health problems, in particular mental health, are inhibited in talking to authority figures due to the stigma of the illness which has a similar effect in wanting to keep things secret and hidden.

So this week it has been interesting for me to have opportunity to see another side of GP’s on three different occasions. Firstly was at an event last Sunday where I sat alongside a local GP on a panel being questioned by an audience about the benefits of creativity. What struck me about the GP was the fact that they were just a normal every day person. With a particular skill and training but they had the same self doubts, stresses, worries as anyone else. Like many of us they operate in their own bubble of experience and technical terminology depending on their education and chosen career. Sometimes those bubbles are very hard to break out of. This particular Doctor described the “leap of faith” they had to take to start sending their patients to socially engaging projects rather than just giving a prescribed medical intervention.

The second instance was talking to about forty training GP’s in small groups and trying to help them see the benefits of social prescribing alongside the normal medical intervention and how the two can compliment each other to provide a very effective support and recovery model for individuals struggling with many different issues. The danger is that people go into medical school from college and have this clinical evidence based practice that dictates their working. To then expect these young Doctors, with little life experience outside of that medical bubble in their early careers, to just accept and start using a model that includes social prescribing with out that same level of clinical evidence is difficult. It was encouraging to see the trainers at the session, themselves very experienced practitioners, highlighting how there was the need to balance medication with social engagement. Plus meeting all the eager training Doctors also made me realise that they are just normal human being, with very specialised knowledge, but human all the same.

This weeks socially engaging artwork:


39, 40 and counting………

I apologise in advance for this weeks rambling affair……….lots of things happening. My diary is looking like one that doesn’t actually belong to me as it has some very unusual and diverse entries in it. Lots of scribbles and crossings out and alterations mainly due to the fact that I have a three-week slot of mayhem. In no particular order a volunteer fair, taking down an exhibition, putting up an exhibition, putting up a different exhibition, a funding fair, talking to training GP’s about the benefits of social prescribing, presenting to the Integrated Care Community, taking part in a local radio discussion panel on community, an exhibition preview night, another exhibition preview night and of course the usual day-to-day S2C stuff.

I have probably forgotten an odd thing in there too, I am finding that increasingly, with my own medical ongoing issues and also caring for my wife after her stroke sometimes things I say I will do just vanish from memory. Apologies if I have forgotten anything I said I would do to any reading this, just give me a nudge and try again. I am haunted by the thought that there is some poor person sat in a coffee shop somewhere in Kendal waiting for me to turn up for a meeting.

So, you are wondering, what is the 39, 40 all about. Well I mentioned exhibitions. I have been thinking and looking back to 2012. When we started S2C which was five years ago in December gone (so we are well on the way to six now) and started adding up all the shows, exhibitions, displays we have done. And I came to the figures that the next two exhibitions we do will be the 39th and 40th in five years! That is a lot of artwork by service users and local artists that might otherwise not have been seen. We have put art in our gallery, in shops, in the Town Hall, in Doctors Surgeries, in Hospitals, in tents in muddy fields, in the Leisure Centre and more.

In many cases we have given people their first experience of exhibiting and introduced people to new artists, raised people awareness of art as a tool for recovery. We work with people at their very worst and lowest points through to the point where they are back fully taking part in the local community and the artwork we show tells those stories. Every Service User artwork that goes on show has more in it than just its creative value. Every piece has the story of an individuals journey from the lowest moment to recovery, a snapshot along the way. This is why we are determined that our sessions are always ongoing rather than in short bursts and why we are ken for people to express and explore art rather than force them to do a particular style or method.

So this week we put a new selection of Service User Artwork in Helme Chase part of the James Cochrane Practise throughout the waiting rooms and building. The week after we have a major exhibition of artwork on an abstract theme from just about every creative group that come to S2C exploring how being abstract distracts from problems and the benefits to recovery.

I run S2C but at the same time I am one of its Service Users too because being involved and being able to lead and run creative sessions making artwork with and alongside some amazingly brave people is helping me as well as them.

The art of distraction………..

One of our participants this week told me of how they had jumped up at another organisation to put them straight when they talked about S2C. Apparently they had described S2C as giving “art lessons”. “No, no, no….” the participant had cried out. “………they do so much more than that. It’s not a school, it’s a safe community that makes you feel happy”. Can’t argue with that.

This, though, had me thinking, again, about how people react to S2C. I have invariably found that if you talk to anyone who attends sessions and ask them what they get out of coming and joining in then you get a uniquely different answer from each individual. Really that is not surprising because one thing I have found in helping individuals who are struggling with long-term illness, mental health, social problems and isolation is that despite professionals giving them a label or a named condition they don’t all respond or act in the same way. Every individual has a unique experience of an illness or a particular set of circumstances. Yes there are common elements, symptoms or reactions but alongside this runs the influence of their life experience and personality which colours that condition differently for each one.

This is why, at S2C, we don’t generally do labels. If you need to come to S2C you can come to S2C.

So of course (I’m still thinking about it) this different experience that each individual encounters has common themes.  You can go round a room after a session and ask each person what they gained from that session and each will give a different answer but if you do that for a week then certain categories start to emerge. And he we are finally getting around to todays blog topic as one of these threads is that of distraction.

Many artists will tell you about being in the moment when creating where you are focused on the act of creating and everything else recedes. At S2C when everyone is busy creating it can go from a bustling, chatting laughing environment to utter silence. There can be twelve people creating side by side but each is lost in the act of creativity. It’s not something that can happen in a place where people feel uncomfortable or threatened. In those moment there is an ultimate level of distraction where nobody is concerned about there issues. Now this may not sound like much but hey, ive been there and definitely have the t-shirt. To be able to escape that over arching all-consuming voice of depression (or whatever each individual is facing) is a blessing. It helps you escape the worries for a while and not only that, it enables you to experience and build realisation that you can escape them.

Personal experience of course. Though if you talk to people it is a similar story. You can escape the negative thoughts and through experience relearn to have a positive mindset.

Thankyou for listening………..

PS don’t forget that our Trustee is doing the Great North Swim on Saturday 9th June swimming across the open water of Lake Windermere to raise funds for S2C. Julie has been training hard so please sponsor her. You can find forms at S2C or Julie herself and you can sponsor her by making a donation thorough the Donate button on our website and Facebook page.


This weeks distrations:

Kind acts and Cornetto’s

This week has been a bit of a lift in terms of generosity. Generosity of deed, spirit and word.

We were very grateful to receive a cheque for £750 from the proceeds of the Green Door Artists auction. The Green Door Artists are a fabulous group of local artists with varied styles and work. We held their annual auction at our Unit earlier in the year and despite a major road snarl up with the M6 being closed the event raised a good sum of money. When you think that S2C’s current yearly spend is about £20,000 then you will realise how significant a chunk this is for us. A big thank you to all the artists who contributed artwork.

Another generous (and brave) act followed on with one of our Trustees, Julie Thomas, taking part in the Great North Swim across Lake Windermere on June 9th. I don’t know if any of you have tried open water swimming across a deep lake like Windermere but the temperature is chilly and with a wetsuit to keep warm it makes swimming and breathing more difficult.  Julie is doing this to raise funds for Space2Create. Julie has sponsorship forms and there is one at S2C too or you can simply make a donation to S2C. Look out for the Donate button on our Facebook page or website. This takes you to the Charity Checkout S2C page where you can choose the amount to donate and method of paying securely. Leave a message for Julie too! Or simple email, text or message S2C and say the amount you would like to sponsor Julie and contact details.

S2C often gets people referred form their GP to come along to our sessions. Until this week I had very little feedback from the GP’s about what they thought or the feedback they received so it was very good to have opportunity to speak to three local GP’s from different practices who gave us some lovely and very positive feedback about the positive impact attending sessions had for the patients they referred. It is always good to hear how the work we do helps people and even more so when it comes from the medical professionals we link to.

My final word on kind acts has to be to our small volunteer team who keep S2C running. There are never enough! But they do everything from the cleaning to the accounts, for a couple of hours or over a few days. We are always in need of volunteers. It is sometimes hard to work out a role for a new volunteer. That’s sounds daft but when you have several volunteers doing multiple jobs it can be hard to split things away. So if you do want to help make a difference in your community, no matter how big and small a role you can do, come and talk to us. We can find out the best way you can help us and often we find that volunteering helps the volunteer too.

Some people volunteer to give something back, some because they feel isolated, some because they have a passionate belief about a cause, some to help them with their studies or a temporary chance to gain experience before they find a job. Many reasons to volunteer. If you are thinking of volunteering or know somebody who is then why not head to Kendal Town Hall on Wednesday 6th June 12-1.30pm. S2C volunteers and those from many other charities will be there at the CVS Volunteer Fair.

So, now you are wondering how I’m going to fit the Cornetto’s into this. Like any good drama, keep the suspense building till the end finally reveal that I enjoyed one in the garden with my dog in the lovely hot weather we have been having recently. Don’t forget to be generous of deed and spirit and word at some point in the coming week. It will make a difference to somebody.


Art of the past week……..

You can have any colour paint you want as long as it’s brown……..

Pthalo turquoise. The most desired and requested colour by S2C painters. It is a lovely colour, green blue blend in a rich satisfying blend that lends itself to sky, water and just generally as a colour to lift any abstract. Of course then it becomes a popular colour and everyone is using it and no matter how much you get in the paint order you know it is going to run out fairly quickly.

I often try to get people to mix colours. We are not an art college, we are not trying to turn anyone into a professional artist, we are using art in a social environment to improve wellbeing. I teach people how to mix colours. But when you are feeling low sometimes out of the tube is fine. So we then come to that fateful day when there is no pthalo turquoise left, well before the next paint order is due to go in. After the righteous indignation has died down and people get back to their painting there is a sudden stirring of hope. Somebody has been experimenting.

Yes, the quest begins to mix a near pthalo turquoise. I am impressed by the fact they go back to yellow and blues and then add odd touches of other things in there until, eureka, we have a close approximation and everyone proceeds happily.

So why am I telling you this. Because maybe, for me, this illustrates how S2C works a little and maybe enlightens. We are not an art school. We don’t make anyone do anything. We don’t lecture or preach. We do encourage people to be confident in themselves and to have a go. We do encourage people to not be afraid of things going wrong. We do encourage people to be self-reliant and to solve problems creatively.

We do encourage people to have fun.

We do occasionally end up with brown paint.

This weeks fun…….

In a bubble………

It is always a danger that we end up in our own little bubbles. You know what I mean. A circle of friends and people we work with who share the same views, Facebook groups we are interested in because they talk about the things we want to hear, It is a comfortable place to exist. The danger is of course that you shut yourself away from different viewpoints, avoid controversy, become blind to certain injustices and maybe even are guilty of making decisions based on very biased arguments without ever getting to hear differing viewpoints or evidence.

I hold my hands up. I am very much guilty of this. My online world revolves around the people I am friends with and follow which blends Sci fi, metal, gaming, science, art, mental health, culture and charity. It is not a safe place to be in reality. We all need to be aware of our world. Understand why things are happening. Not to accept information at face value but go digging for the truth. I am in no way telling people what to think. The right of the world is that you make your own minds up, but make sure you make it up based on balance, evidence and truth.

So why am I rambling about free thinking and awareness. In my bubble, the one with a heavy mental health bias, the world is full of reminders that next week is Mental Health Awareness Week from 14th May. Of course all those involved in mental health know about this as we are all telling each other about it and what we are going to be doing. The danger is that the people who really need to be more aware are the ones that are not in the mental health bubble at all. It is the difficulty of breaking through those individual bubbles to raise awareness.

Space2Create does what it does. In doing so we do try to raise awareness. This weekend we have had the open studios at The Factory where people have been coming through our unit to look at our exhibition in the gallery. Most of those have no idea what we do as they have been attracted to the art but then we talk to everyone who is coming through about what we do. The difficulties the people have gone through whose art work they are looking for. It’s an in, a chance to open eyes and to raise awareness. To burst a few bubbles.

Some bubble bursting artwork from this week…….


Which box do I tick?

So this week I was filling in a funding application. Not unusual. I came to a section where I was supposed to tick one box out of many choices. Which area of need do you work in? Long list of different conditions, health problems and social issues etc. As I read down the list I was mentally ticking them all. Ok, choose one. Am I going to say S2C just helps people with mental health conditions……..no because that’s not true. A lot of work in that area but to say that just one thing would be to diminish Space2Create and it’s ethos. I wasn’t very hopeful of this particular funding anyway so I drew in a box and wrote “Inclusive of all conditions and situations”. I don’t anticipate being successful. It was only for a small amount anyway.

But, it’s true. We have people coming to us at S2C for every possible imaginable situation and condition. We don’t specialise in any particular condition, we specialise in making people feel better, feel confident, feel creative and above all feel positive about moving forward with their lives. One of the things that makes me proud of S2C and all the people involved is that inclusiveness.

I don’t see people with labels. I see people who need support. Yes it helps to know their issues, but it is not the defining aspect of their involvement at S2C. We do diversity and inclusion. I don’t need to have any boxes to show that.

This weeks inclusive artwork.


The ghosts of positive interaction……….

I have often wondered when people tell me that the S2C Unit is full of light, welcoming and positive as a space. Sometimes when I am in there by myself doing odd jobs or working at the desk it can feel an empty and cold place. The faint echo of hard flooring and white walls. A quite silence broken only by the crack of contracting or expanding roof components, an odd distant voice muffled by windows and walls. The vibration and hum as some piece of construction is carried out or maybe the faint whiff of music from behind adjoining walls.

It never feels like an unsafe space. I have never felt uncomfortable or isolated there. You wander through the empty rooms and are reminded of recent and deeper memories. The gouge in the floor where several volunteers maneuvered a massively heavy giant drying rack into position. The paint splat on the wall from a joyful creative session where accidental flying paint produced rounds of laughter. The picture on the wall by that person who is struggling, remembering them for the joy and inspiration in that moment rather than for the difficulties they face. Memories and sights, artwork and faces all come rushing back. You remember those people who have been through the building and are no longer with us or have moved on to brighter things propelled by the creative impetus generated in a thousand painted moments.

Maybe that is why people come into the unit and express how safe they feel, how welcome. It’s the ghost of all that positive creativity that has left its physical mark on the fabric of the building. The knowledge and awareness of those moments of joyful creativity that exude from the artwork around. The presence of laughter and the sound of creative togetherness. These are the ghosts that swirl around me as I sit at the desk. This is why not just any old building will do. The building needs to earn its ghosts.

A selection of this weeks artwork………….


Creating social engagement……….

Why do we do this? A load of volunteers turn up every week. Some of them are themselves in extreme pain or harbouring really desperate life situations. Some of them are lonely, some of them have been through the most horrific experiences and come through and want to help others. Why would you give up your time and cause yourself pain or anxiety or stress to help and support people even more vulnerable. Well……..

There is the person that is so lonely and isolated they barely talk and only answer direct questions with a yes or no and have an air of despair or no hope. Then after attending sessions one day they suddenly start chatting and laughing and joining in and talk about their hopes for the future.

There is the person who wouldn’t get involved, watched or did the clean thing but wouldn’t get involved in creative activities, couldn’t cope with mess and getting covered in paint. Then one day they are in there with the paint on and saying how much fun it is to ” slap the paint on” and smiling.

There is the person who was so painfully afraid to get things wrong, slightest splodge or mistake and anger or giving in was the only escape. Many pieces in the bin. Then one day they drop paint on a clean piece of work and everyone holds their breath. “Ah well”, they say, “I can turn that into a bird” and they carry on.

There is the person who is so convinced that everything they do is rubbish and worthless that it goes straight in the bin despite the praise and support from the group and the encouragement. Then one day their work is framed and on the wall and they are inviting friends and family to come and see it.

There is the person who is so sad. They sit by themselves, they are with the group but not in it and paint quietly, head down. Then one day they are up, laughing, chatting offering to make everyone a drink.

Those are the reasons the S2C volunteers, often at cost to themselves, turn up. Because a community accepts everyone and everyone helps each other through the tough times and give each other hope.

This weeks achievements (some!)

The Kindness of strangers…….

Well just when you are feeling a bit low and alone in getting on with running a charity and the stuff with it, you get a bit of a boost unexpectedly. We held an Eden Communities Event at the Space2Create Unit on Saturday. Eden Communities are an offshoot of the Eden Project in Cornwell (The one with the bio domes and gardens not to be confused with the local Eden). This brought together community project leaders and workers from across the North of England to meet up and chat, network, support each other and make connections.

The first thing that struck me was the passion they all had for what they were doing. The belief that they could make a difference to their communities. It made me a little sad, with lots going on I realised I had maybe lost that a little. It has been a bit swamped by personal illness, family illness and just the day to day grind of keeping things going.

The second thing that struck me was how very similar it all was. The focus of the projects was all different but the real need to help communities was shared. The problems were all common ones. Finding and retaining volunteers in the face of so many attractive opportunities. Funding and maintaining funding for projects. Space and suitable accommodation. Public awareness of the project and getting support in the community.

It is a very tough climate for charities and community projects. There is so much need developing and there are so many voices asking for help.

What made my day and kind of stopped me being miserable, maybe even pushed the start button again was a conversation with a young lady (well young from the point of view of my approaching lofty age!) who told me what an inspiration S2C was to them and how it had developed, how it was inspiring them to do something in their community. Wow, I thought. If we achieve nothing else this year, being able to inspire somebody to do something for their own community was pretty cool. Sometimes actions have far bigger legacy beyond the immediate pond you are tossing stones into.

This weeks stones…….

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