Well-being through creative activity

The Bang For Your Buck!

So, an interesting week, as they always are. I am forever having conversations. This week I have been working with a Marketing Advisor. Great as apparently we get 12 free hours of advice from the Chamber Of Commerce through an independent advisor. Why does S2C need marketing advice I hear you ask. Well……..its about messages. At events I am still always surprised by the number of people who have never heard of S2C. Then when people ask me “What do S2C do?”, I always take a deep breath because it always feels complicated. We do so many different things it is hard to describe succinctly. So the marketing advisor has been helping us develop the clear message we give out to people which is their first contact as it were before they delve deeper.

So I asked one of our groups what they though the benefits were of coming to S2C. They said things like, “Making friends, learning new skills, learning to cope in a social group, gaining confidence and self esteem, building resilience, becoming a volunteer, feeling like you belong to something, getting away from medical pressures and clinical environment, leaving with a positive feeling that lasts through the day, occupying time, stopping them being isolated, getting them out……..and more! So you can see why I find it difficult to just say what the benefits are never mind all the things we do.

So, okay, i’m meandering a bit here. But all this was set in motion by meeting a council official who asked us what we do. I started telling him all the things and the benefits. He raised his hand after a while and simply said “Tell me how you are going to save me money.” It was one of those moments that probably don’t convey as  they played out. The tense atmosphere, noisy room, hot day sweaty shirts and conspiratorial essence of the discussion. Nor the slow raising of his hand and the slowly but softly spoken words that cut right through my fog and must have been somewhat akin to the experience of Archimedes in his bath, the eureka moment.

Different audiences want to hear different things. Potential Service Users want to hear about being better, Organisations want to hear about services offered and cheap rooms, artists and supporters want to hear about events and exhibitions, people with funding want to hear what bang they get for their buck.

Well, I can safely say, S2C delivers a lot of bang per buck……..


A healthy community……

I have been thinking for a long time of Space2Create as a community. It operates like a micro community within the wider local community. So in order to do this I keep spotting signs that suggest a healthy community.

It feels healthy when new people are welcomed, supported and integrated into our community regardless of their illness, background, origins, ethnicity, sexuality or appearance. It feels healthy when people who are isolated gain confidence enough to make friends and meet them outside of Space2Create activities. It feels healthy when the community share the fun and laughter with everyone but also share the difficult times and support each other. It feels healthy when the community embraces change and is open to new ideas. It feels healthy when the community work together to clean up or complete a task that needs doing. It feels healthy when the community links to other communities to share ideas and experiences.

I observe this frequently at Space2Create so this gives me the hope that this is a good community we have created. In the last month I have certainly experienced this first hand. When I have been having difficulties in my life that meant I was unable to cover my S2C commitments volunteers stepped in to fill the gaps and make sure S2C continued to run. The Service Users themselves helped the volunteers to do this too. I have been shown many acts of support and kindness by everyone, from lifts to and from hospital, cards, meals being cooked for me, coffee out to hear my woes, kind words, covering important meetings, admin, sorting problems to just smiling when I needed a smile. The wider community too has been there to offer help, be understanding when I have not been able to get things done and offer to help me if they can.

All I can do is say a big thank you to all who have helped and offered their kind words and thoughts.

I see this level of community in other grass roots organisations and communities. I wonder to myself why, if human beings at the bottom of the pile can build strong communities despite the difficulties, can  the more affluent and political establishment not do this. At what point does selfishness and self-interest take over? I feel very blessed to live in the community in which I do.

The artwork from our community this week……..

“If I am cut, do I not bleed”………Stigma still simmers.

Stigma is an odd thing. It has always seemed very odd to me that a person you know well, may be friends with you and has interacted with you for many years can suddenly, on learning one key thing about you, suddenly go cold, shun or even stop talking to you. The reason. They discover a fact about you. Despite all the positive friendship one small detail can alter their perception of you despite the evidence of their experience of you. That little gem of information. You have a mental health condition.

I have encountered this on several occasions in my life. It cost me a job once. Ignorance? Fear? Whatever the emotion it generates within an individual it is beyond me that people make a judgement on that one piece of information instead of all the experience they have of you or without making an effort to discover you despite that.

I had thought that with all the good work that has been done in recent years we might actually be turning a corner and that people had more understanding and knowledge of what those words “Mental Health” actually mean. For goodness sake 1 in 4 of us are going to be experiencing it in our lives at some point.

But, it is still there. In the last week my experience has been that on discovering I have Mental Health problems I suddenly seem to have lost the ability to understand complicated words and need talking to a bit slower and also with some kind of sympathetic tone. Being excluded from a discussion while being sat there while other people with me were talked to. Hello. I may have a touch of paranoia here but what?

It’s a damn shame that we have to create safe communities where mental health is not an issue but who and what you are is valued. Space2Create is an interesting place for this. To a casual observer there we are a group of people together who have illness to deal with. But there in that group are the very experienced teachers, artists, photographers, data analysts, managers, doctors, social workers, hairdressers, researchers and a whole host of other professions. The common theme is they have had some kind of illness. It does not stop them being those things.

Space2Create values that diversity and taps into it. We encourage people to use their skills to the mutual benefit of everyone. To the group, the organisation and ultimately to themselves on a road to recovery to give themselves the confidence to use those skills. What none of us need are people who only see the health condition label. Our illness does not define us. Open your eyes and see potential not barriers and help those people who are struggling to be able to work and live free from some damn stupid stigma by a selfish few.

The lovely artwork created by our community this week:

When cut becomes an infection

I don’t know really where to start this week. From a personal point of view it has been a difficult one but ultimately one that resonates with the celebration of 70 years during which the NHS has been a security blanket for everyone in the UK regardless of age, situation, wealth, status or any other measurable attribute of an individual’s existence. There are a few strands to me ramblings this week so bear with me, they all lead to one very clear conclusion.

I am sure that all those who read this have been touched by the NHS at various times in their lives. I know I have. Dedicated staff in the NHS have saved my life a few times, patched me up, repaired damage which might otherwise have had massive consequences for my quality of life and generally has been there when I needed them. Regardless of who you are the NHS staff do this as best they can. Yes, we may have to wait for appointments or sit in busy waiting rooms for a few hours but that is not their fault.

As I write this my wife is in their care with issues that stray across several departments all of whom are working to help her recover. That’s the first strand. The NHS is not perfect and things are very tough at the moment but the people in the NHS do their damnedest to make you well.

AT S2C we work closely with Mental Health Services, local GP’s etc. In recent times the pressure on services has been horrendous and we see constantly the effects of Government Policy on those services. Waiting times go up for Mental Health patients, options reduce, support is evaporating and the staff of these services are just as frustrated as the people who use them and put themselves under massive stress to try to deliver. Not their fault. Trying hard with limited resources.2nd strand?

In the course of developing a project with local health providers I have come to be aware of several things that have, and will, have an effect on how S2C works and what it does. In a good way, expanding what we can do. Till recently we have always been an over 18 organisation but in the light of what is slowly becoming a crisis we feel we will best serve the community by changing to work with all ages.

I find it abhorrent that we seem to be blindly walking down a path which will leave the next generation with a massive mental health crisis and an absence of support. Mental health problems are increasing among young people, rapidly. Increasing anxiety, depression and suicide. There is nothing more damming to a society than when a 12 year old is so isolated from reality, unsupported and unable to cope with the pressure they are under that they feel there is no other way out but to kill themselves. And when social media supports that action, advises ways to do it and makes it an acceptable thing to do we should all hang our heads in shame. An education policy that has firmly shifted from “do the best you can” to “unless you achieve this you have failed”, social media reinforcing messages that you should look this way or act that and nothing else is acceptable. 3rd strand.

So what support can these children expect. A long wait to be seen, several weeks due to the underfunding and lack of trained staff in CAHMS, the young people mental health service. A government that will tell you it is investing more than ever to put right these problems while quietly shovelling contracts out to Private Companies. 4th strand.

The thought that our lives are being handed out to private firms makes me cold. The NHS is there for the single purpose of helping us. As soon as you add in a private company to the equation you factor in profit. To deliver thesame service as the NHS the only way is to cut costs, lower wages, inferior equipment, less time and the profit to keep shareholders happy.

So as we celebrate 70 years of the NHS please reflect on how many more anniversaries we will be able to celebrate.

Sorry, feeling ranty!


Artwork from this week at S2C


You say tomato, I say “spicy tomato salsa”

Managers Blog: You say tomato is say “spicy tomato salsa”

This week has been one of frazzling proportions for the senior volunteers at S2C. Just so much to do and get sorted. It has also been a week of highs and some lows for me personally in relation to moving S2C onward. Be warned, there is the potential for a rant here somewhere but we will see how it goes.

Well no actually, lets not, let’s get straight to the ranty bit! One of the things that really gets me quite hot under the collar is when people refer to S2C as “an art group”. For a start the “an” implies singular when the S2C community has over ten organisations running fourteen different sessions in the week with various collaborations alongside S2C’s stand alone sessions. The Space2Create unit is very clearly in our minds a Creative Community that is inclusive of all those who use it, visit it, engage with it or benefit from its presence regardless of their age, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, illness, condition or situation.

This has been triggered by two things……first was one of those events that contributed to the busy week, a funding fair up at the Rugby Club. It was great to talk to a number of funders who were able to help and advise us and were absolutely brilliant in suggesting approached and ideas. One of those funders present completely wound me up however. This is where the “art group” was mentioned where within in moments of sitting down they drew upon a previous casual encounter and very quickly were being very  dismissive of “our” funding priorities based it seemed to me an assumption that because we use art we were “just another art group” without actually looking closer at what we do.

This fuelled my speech to the visitors at the opening of “Abstract Distractions” where I was somewhat wound up about that. The speech was delayed as myself and the Chair were talking to somebody (more about that later) and I actually found myself so angry about it that unusually I almost let emotion get the better of me. As I was talking I was getting a lump in the throat. The point that got me was when I looked at the artwork work on the wall from “the art group” I could see the person behind the artwork and knew the back story of each piece. To impress on people to look at the “art” with understanding that the person who created it may have been contemplating suicide the night before. May have been fighting with an alcohol addiction, may not have had any meaningful contact with other people for days before attending the group, may have been living in fear of abuse, may have been facing another night of pain, may have been wondering how to afford their next meal, may be fighting extreme anxiety.

One last bit to the ranty part. I also had someone say from another organisation “Our clients aren’t well enough to be ready to attend your groups”…….

So, what lifted me this week. It was fantastic to be able to go and give a presentation to the Kendal Integrated Care Community where we made very welcome and had the opportunity to show and discuss what we actually do beyond being an art group that those present very much understood and appreciated. Some potentially interesting links and opportunities may well arise from that to benefit our service users and the wider community.

It has also been great to get some very positive feed back from the James Cochrane Practice about how much the new artwork up ta the Helme Chase Surgery is being appreciated as well as from patients who have let us know how much they enjoyed seeing it while waiting for their appointments.

During the exhibition opening (reason the speeches were late) we were talking to a visitor from the County Council who I found quite refreshing. It was one of those conversations where in the first instance you are a bit unsure and then realise that the person is actually trying to help you. What I liked about it was that there were no ambiguities or platitudes. Somebody who spoke their mind and told it as it was. Brilliant. Wish there were more of it in the World. The end result of the conversation was several opportunities to get help and advice from people who were very well qualified to give it. We thank them for that.

The most inspiring thing this week however was a phone call from an individual who told me that prior to attending a session at S2C they had been struggling with suicidal thoughts, involved with the crisis team and Samaritans without being able to break out of their low. The difference had been a morning of throwing paint around in supportive company such that they had been lifted and inspired to feeling more positive and thanking us for that. If we can do that even just once in a week then it has all been worth while.

Some of the work this week by our “art group”


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…….

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