Making An Exhibition Of Ourselves

Yes, another exhibition, but this one is just that bit more special. S2C Summer Exhibition opens today (Saturday 19th August) 1pm till 4pm with refreshments. This is an exhibition that is focused on just the people who use S2C. The Service Users, the volunteers, the groups that use our space, everyone who is producing some kind of creative output is represented.

Putting this exhibition up has been a privilege for me. A privilege because I have an intimate involvement with each piece of artwork. In selecting an artwork it speaks to me massively not just because of any artistic merit or technique used but because each piece has a story to tell to those of us who know. You are framing a work that you know was done by a particular person and you are thinking “Oh yes, they did this when they were released from hospital, they were really upset at the start but they left laughing”. Another piece is selected and it fill you with sadness because the person who created it unfortunately passed away after a short illness. The next one you pick up is somebody who no longer attends S2C because they have recovered to the point where they have managed to go and find themselves a job so that picture reminds me of the journey they were on from first coming to S2C to the present.

Of course when you visit the exhibition you will not know any of this. There are clues in the snippets we have added around the exhibition from our serive users but the actual individual stories will not be there for you the viewer. However, as you look at the exhibition you can be aware that everything there is part of a journey for somebody. It will have started in crisis, it may have been created in turmoil or in recovery. It will have a story which you can only possibly imagine. But that is the same for artwork often in any gallery you go to. You stand in front and you can only imagine what the artists motivation was. There are clues with us as you know the circumstances.

So this exhibition is there to represent the community that is Space2Create. That encompasses the service users and volunteers, the visitors and those that use the space. All leave there mark there, in artwork, in cleaning, in creating the environment and the ethos.

The Space2Create community invites you to take a look and think about the multiple journeys represented in that exhibition.


Why are we here?

Not a philosophical question about human existence but a consideration of who S2C is for. I was filling in some funding applications recently (a hobby of mine) and of course they all want to know how many people the project will help and what group/section/illness etc your project will support. This is a really important thing to clarify because the majority of funders I have criteria by which they grant funds. There is no point applying for a grant from a funder who’s focus is under 18’s with low self esteem in Brighton when doing a project to boost self esteem in the over 50’s in Kendal.

So this started me thinking about who S2C is actually for. A difficult question. Difficult because the people who come to us have many common reasons but also very differing reasons at the same time. So then I started to think of the individuals who had been in the past or were coming to sessions now. Why did they need S2C and what did we give them?

We have mainly been associated with mental health but over our existence have shifted into wellbeing. The terms, I feel are very different, though both relate to the state of your mind. I always feel wellbeing is a more rounded and whole person thing where mental health relates more to specific conditions though good mental health is important to wellbeing, equally good physical health is too, friendship, feeling useful, having purpose, good housing, relationships…… goes on.

So we have a lot of people with a variety of mental health issues ranging from bipolar, schizophrenic, depression, self harming and many others. We don’t deal directly with those conditions but rather support people through them. There are four points we may see somebody with a mental health issue. Firstly when they are, for want of a better expression, on the way down. Attending S2C might help them reduce the effects of their condition, making sure they are at least not alone and are distracted for some of the time. It’s possible that the severity of a condition might be lessened. Secondly when that person is being treated for a condition. This might be while being supported by a CPN or support worker or when they are on the psychiatric ward. Again it’s that safe place to go and be supported in a positive environment helping people get through difficult times. On the ward we again offer that distraction and positive input. Thirdly on the way back up into recovery. We are there to help people rebuild social skills, confidence esteem and a positive outlook.

Having focused on mental health a lot of physical conditions can have similar isolating, confidence lowering effects as a mental health condition. We have individuals who have come to us with a range of physical illness, disability or conditions that have left them in need to of the same safe place, friendship and community.

Then of course there are people who have been isolated by circumstances. divorce, redundancy, those things that happen in life that leave people a little lost and maybe reduced confidence. They might be caring for somebody.

There is of course no reason why any person can’t come along and join in from a purely art motivated point of view. Finding the time and inspiration to create can be difficult sometimes. It can be that attending sessions gives that motivation and inspiration needed to be creative.

Reading that back it barely scratches the surface. Yet there are common themes regardless of the cause of self esteem, self confidence, loneliness, isolation, low wellbeing,  social exclusion, insecurity, poor motivation, lack of opportunity………..

So that is where we sit. ready to welcome those people in and do our best to make sure that they leave a little better than when they walked in.

This weeks inspired:

Can I ‘av a word………….

It is only when you talk to individuals you are helping at a place like S2C you realise how it is you’re helping them. We have these grand theories about the benefits of creativity and indeed I strongly believe that creativity plays a big role in supporting an individuals recovery from crisis. However, the nitty gritty, what the creativity facilitates, the actual nuts and bolts of it is a little harder to get to.

Then sometimes somebody does a session where those inner thoughts and benefits get tapped into and you get a valuable insight into what it is your doing right. That happened this week with a visit by Shaun who is making some promotional films for S2C. Because many of our service users do not want their face shown in images and films Shaun was planning to do a number of animations and activities that allowed the people in a session to express themselves without doing so to camera. We set up an activity where the group were asked to think of a word that described how they felt or why they came to sessions. Shaun then created a time lapse of all these words being applied to a large piece of paper on the wall. I was very curious to go round during the session and gently enquire as to why they had chosen that word.

So here are a selection of words and reasons for choosing:

Support: not the official kind but support in terms of how people support your ideas and allow you to express yourself. You can do something and you get positive support that encourages you and validates what you are doing.

Peace: not about the noise level but how you feel about yourself. Alone at home you can feel in turmoil but coming to S2C and being among the people who know what it is like and treat you with respect gives a real sense of inner peace for a time.

Comfort: the comfort of knowing you are not alone, when you are struggling having a safe place to go where nobody judges you and people respect you.

Not alone: just being with other people, together and doing an activity, talking. Away from that you can feel so very alone even with other people, but you don’t feel alone here (S2C) because everyone understands.

Permission: having permission to express yourself without fear of being put down or ignored.

People: just being with other people, sometimes you feel alone and lonely but it’s nice to be in the group and part of the group.

Friendship: as soon as you come to S2C you a treated like you have been coming forever and you get the chance to meet and talk to people who become your friends.

Art: Being able to do the art I want to do and not do the art other people tell met to.

Calm: Feeling calm instead of in a panic or anxious because you know there is no right or wrong here, what you are doing is valued no matter what and the moments when everyone is creating where a hush descends and a very serene calmness fills the room is amazing.

Laugh: we can laugh and do laugh a lot. It sounds odd but it feels safe to laugh.

Creativity is the pot, the people are the ingredients, the session leaders the spoon that stirs it together and it all turns out fine.

Some images from this weeks pot:


Help! Growing Pains……ouch!

Ok maybe not actually pains but certainly dilemma’s. S2C was created on the back of a wonderful charity closing down and the attempts by its service users and volunteers to rescue something of its ethos. We created an arty charity, nearly five years ago. Over that time it has gone from being a small group who met in the back of a Church room to having our own unit, gallery and supporting on average the best part of 100 people in various ways over the course of a week. We have followed the same ethos up till now and it has served us well.

One of the strengths of S2C has been the community nature of the organisation. It has always felt like everyone is involved and everyone takes part or has ownership of S2C. Not many people take on specific roles but volunteers and service users support each other to get the things that need doing done.

But here is the crux of the dilemma. We have reached a point where it is getting difficult to grow further, there is always the desire to do more to help people and to provide better for those already being helped. We have plans for the immediate future. We have already added an extra drop in partly aimed at carers. In September we are hoping to start a targeted evening group and also having Thursday afternoons with six week blocks of creative writing, drum circle and possibly something else. Wednesday we are working to develop a programme of learning opportunities collaborating with Adult Learning Services ranging from confidence building through to skills workshops and volunteer training.

Ultimately though there are three restrictions on growth. People, money and space. Is that all I hear you cry! Er….

People is always a problem for us because of the way we are currently organised. We rely heavily on goodwill from volunteers to take on jobs that need doing. It has worked up to a point as it is flexible, people are not committed too much to one thing and  they gain useful skills that help them pursue their own goals and careers. I don’t think it’s my reference writing but in the last three years every person who has been a volunteer with us who has asked for a reference has been successful in getting those jobs (pause while I hunt for a slab of wood to touch). It is sometimes easy to forget that a charity like ours doesn’t just help the people in distress but also the volunteers do gain in many ways. And that is partly the problem as some people want or need to have a specific role and then there is a constant moving on of volunteers who might have become very good at their role with S2C so when they do move on it leaves a very big hole to fill. The obvious answer there immediately starts with having a core of staff paid to do some of the roles.

Which brings us neatly on to money. The current climate for grants is extremely competitive at a time when financial resources are slim. It’s out there but the criteria that funders are demanding you meet are getting ever more specific and stringent. A few years ago it was easier to fit the charity into a funding streams categories but it gets more difficult. We generate an income but it’s not massive and does not cover our outgoings now, though it is a massive help. To add the cost of one or two staff members would triple or quadruple our required budget. We are not alone. I was recently talking to the manager of another organisation with staff who admitted they were permanently running six months away from closure and indeed, we have seen casualties in the local charity sector ranging from closures to redundancies as budgets get squeezed. We have always had project funding for short specific projects that have paid to employ somebody to run that project but this is of a completely different order in that it needs funding to sustain a continuous position.

Space also relates to money. The more space you have the more money it costs. But then you also start to feel restricted by a space when you have it used to its full potential and maximise the income it can generate for you. So what do you do? Look for a space that is better value? look for one that is bigger that can generate more income? This in turn needs more people to run……….

You can see why I am troubled. Shrink or grow? Staying the same never seems to be possible. The nature of funding is that funders, on the whole, won’t fund old things, won’t fund basic running costs but are always looking for the new innovative project to get started. Do S2C want to become a money grabbing treadmill? Want I ultimately want is what I have always wanted S2C to be. Safe, supportive and there for those who need us when they need us.

I would appreciate and love to hear your thoughts on this…………

Meanwhile, some of the creative wonders from the last week:

There is no cure……but there is recovery.

All I say here is based on my experience, reading and opinions. I can claim some insight due to my own serious and ongoing physical and mental health problems as well as working with vulnerable people with a range of mental and physical conditions. A bold statement but I feel that in most instances there is no “cure” for mental health problems rather a recovery from them with the ability to cope and live with a condition more successfully. A lot of what I hear in the media and from many political voices describe mental health as if it were like a disease that can be medicated or treated to remove it completely. It then sounds contradictory to demand that mental health be given the same standing and resources as physical health but the fact that mental health is increasingly under funded is very clear.

There are similarities between physical and mental health. For example a cancer might not be curable but can be managed. I don’t attempt to rank illness side by side or give one more importance but merrily illustrate how the language we use in describing the treatment of illness is used across the board. When you suffer with a serious mental health issue I don’t feel you ever lose that, it has a profound and life changing effect in many cases having consequences far beyond ones own immediate self. How the illness is treated is important because an attempt to “cure” is only ever going to be a short term solution and the same issue may well arise in the future. Alongside dealing with the immediate consequences of a mental health problem there needs to be a longer term view that seeks to give the individual a tool kit to manage and live their lives with that mental health issue safely.

Ten to fifteen years ago I was a suicidal mess on the back of years of abuse, depression, self harm, physical illness and self loathing. I was in a state of permanent crisis when I was being treated as it happened simply fighting the fires as they appeared with no real effort to prevent the fires starting. I was interested to read this week of how CBT is starting to fall out of favour because this illustrates the point I want to make perfectly. CBT has been proven as an effective treatment of mental health issues. But not for everyone and not for all conditions. Yet despite this it has been very much the “go to” treatment of mental health in recent times. I know those for whom CBT has been a very successful way to go and also other, including myself, for whom it was a disastrous process. The inability of the decision makers to see beyond the current big thing can often lead to the over and inappropriate use of a therapy or treatment it seems. I now hope that there is not a back lash against CBT that sees it denied to those who would benefit from it.

The danger of this desperate “one cure fits all” approach is that those for whom it is not appropriate or successful get pushed out and left with no options often ending up in a vicious cycle of inappropriate therapy and long waiting lists. The sad thing is that, often at the suggestion of GP’s, individuals then seek private therapy which is very expensive especially when you consider a person needing such treatment is unlikely to be working. I ended up down this road and to be honest for me it worked to a degree. It worked because I ended up with a Forensic Psychologist in a place I never expected to be going but in the end it turned out that the person had exactly the right skills, not to cure me, but to sort me out a strategy for survival.

They looked at all the issues. They looked at what I was about and what made me function. They noted my art and it became a big part of our sessions. I was supposed to have six but down to their goodwill that ended up being 18. What I came away from that with was a strategy for getting along with life. It was, and is, part medication, part creative, part self care and having the tools to cope when things go downhill.

I don’t believe enough of this happens on the NHS. Working to find solutions to individuals mental health issues that comprise a range of strategies and therapies that enable that person to be safe and functioning. More importantly to be happy. Space2Create is just one strategy. I would be a fool to suggest it would be right for everyone. It works for some people. For a few it can be life changing.

That brings me to the second report that caught my eye this week. This time from a parliamentary select committee reporting that creative activity has proven health benefits. Good grief, please catch up! We have been telling them that for goodness knows how many years! My fear now is that creative activity becomes the next CBT. Eager politicians looking for an underpopulated bandwagon jumping to make it available and pressuring GP’s to prescribe it. As always the same dangers as with CBT arise. It may not be suitable for everyone or be effective for everyone so don’t make those for whom it is not undergo it just because there is no other option.

Please somebody put in place a person centered balanced approach to the treatment of mental health that is sufficiently funded to be effective and end the chain of misery being dealt out to thousands of individuals suffering because of inadequate support and provision.

Oh and please do give S2C some money!

Here endeth my rant for the day……and here is some beautiful artwork by our service users:

Diary of an arts group……….(Filling up fast)

I found myself reflecting this week on the chaos that is our timetable. Well not chaos just getting fuller. Mondays is taken with the Whinfell Group, for adults with learning difficulties and currently an NHS Mental Health course. Soon we also hope to start a stressed professionals group in the evening.Tuesdays we have two drop in sessions for mental health and one for carers. There is also a meditation group meeting at the unit in the evenings. Wednesday we have been doing volunteer training and a Jewellery making course. There is the CMHT Decider training all afternoon along with a massage therapist into the evening. Thursday there is the textile drop in and soon the afternoon will hopefully have a rolling programme of creative writing, drum circle and possibly others in six week blocks. Friday is our WellArt drop in and afternoons sees the Dementia Group. The unit is also hired on and off for odd meeting by the Comic Art Festival team, Morcambe Bay Partnerships and a Buddhist Group. Of course there is always an exhibition on and weekends are looking under threat too! Not forgetting the exhibitions in local doctor surgeries and the leisure centre.

Suddenly you start to think things like “we need a bigger building!”. Or another building. Its tribute to all the hard work put in by the trustees and volunteers that S2C has gone from borrowing a room in a church to what we are now. In December it will be our 5th Birthday! Thank you for all your support, we continue to offer support to the vulnerable in our community and to support others supporting the vulnerable.

Short and sweet this week. I am now off to Scotland to sit on a cliff with a sketch book and some oil pastels for a week. I leave my able volunteers in charge though the social media updates might get a bit wonky!

The wonderful artwork from this week!

Resilient endeavours………

One of the large chunks of important things S2C does is about reducing isolation in people who are vulnerable. Many get the completely wrong idea when we talk about isolation and have a picture of somebody hiding in their home never coming out or communicating, being locked away and never seen. This is why isolation is such a dangerous thing. A person can be completely isolated in the middle of a crowd or a group of friends. There are instances where a vulnerable person has locked themselves away, but we also need to be aware of people becoming isolated who we see daily, who we may say hello to or smile at. Maybe even chat to. Isolation comes upon you, often slowly but almost without realising.

I can speak from experience, been there, got the t-shirt as it were. My road to isolation was mental health related but there are many different reasons it might happen. For me, serious depression and suicidal thoughts eroded confidence and my ability to communicate with the world or engage with it. It is a much used cliché but the idea of building a wall around yourself is quite literally true, a very strong mental wall to block out what you perceive as causing you pain and fear. I could walk through a building where I worked, speak to people, say the right things but without actually engaging, making eye contact. You withdraw from society, stop going to things, stop responding. The danger is it is so gradual that maybe sometimes people don’t notice. It’s easy to say you’re getting busy or have other commitments you don’t. In this state it is easy to offend or distance friends. An inwards destructive cycle on top of whatever issue was causing you to become isolated in the first place. For me, I almost became a ghost of myself, there and able to be seen but almost not real.

In some ways it has become easier to isolate ourselves. Social media is a great tool for hiding. Giving the appearance of being active, responding to contacts. “I’m Fine” is easy to write in a comment and it means you don’t need to see or speak to anyone.

So S2C helps with this. Whatever your reason for being isolated, it is very  difficult to recover from it without help even if the underlying cause has been resolved. S2c provides a safe place where there is no obligation to anybody there. You come as an individual in crisis and you are among people who understand that and have or are going through the same thing themselves. There is no obligation in the sense you are coming to a group away from family or a circle of existing fans. Within the group you can take those steps towards reducing isolation, becoming part of the group, building relationships, relearning those social skills that allow you to engage with others. Improving confidence and opportunity enable people to go back to their lives and use that confidence.

It’s not easy. To be isolated or to spot a friend who is isolating themselves. If you are worried about somebody then the solution may not be dragging them for a night out. Sometimes just being there, listening and keeping in touch is enough.

Oh, and there is art too!


Give me three good reasons……..

This week I have been very much reminded of why I do what I do in running S2C and what everyone who helps out is doing it for. Three instances, just those stand out moments that make you think, well yeah it has been worth doing it. It has been one of those weeks where as the week has gone on I have been personally struggling with pain mainly because I have been pushing myself to make sure things were done, covered or happening. Those times for me are a reminder of how many people feel who are in pain. Not just physical but mental too. It makes you want to give in and do nothing, isolates you as you hide yourself away and to begin looking inwards, reducing your contact with the outside world.

So the first moment was early in the week at the new Carers Group S2C are running at the unit with South Lakeland Carers. Groups like this slowly build as people gain confidence to come along. The moment that stuck for me was as one participant left they said “Oh, I haven’t even been thinking about X (the person they care for), makes a change to think about me”

That is not in any selfish way because those who are in the role of carers do an amazing job and often sacrifice much of their own life to carry out that caring role. Foe these people having a time to themselves to do what they want to do is very precious and also essential in helping them keep going with their caring role. That moment showed me that this group was the right thing to do.

Second time was at the end of the week in the morning when some of our service users had been off screen printing in a studio round the corner funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in a project with Sedbergh School Archive. One service users who I know has been going through a really bad time and often looks fragile and terrified of being out was part of those printing. As they left at the end they were smiling (a really genuine smile which we have not seen from them for a while) and said “I really enjoyed that”. Job done.

Finally, at the same session, there was opportunity to continue printing over lunchtime and into the afternoon. The artist they were printing with has been fantastic with all our people. The individual is very nervous and lacking confidence and we could see they were hitting that run moment, the basic instinct to fight or flee, but the artist very calmly reassured them and even supported them to get some lunch before coming back to print some brilliant artworks. Although the individual was still nervous we could see that this was a big step for them in trusting and building confidence.

I guess I am the fourth example of why or how S2C helps. Because I can cope with and manage pain to do it in bits and pieces at odd times and when I feel up to it. For me without it I would be very isolated and quite probably deteriorate with my own mental health. S2C is run for everyone that goes there and everyone that goes there has some part of it as it develops into a community supporting each other.


Artwork from the last week:

The S2C Community is just that…….

We had a great volunteer training session on Wednesday this week (first of five so still time to join in with us) that was very much volunteers sharing their skills and knowledge of good practice. We are very lucky to have such a diverse mix of people with different skill sets that they can share to help everyone who volunteers do the best they can to support those that need it.

S2c is a bit of an odd place to volunteer in a way. it is not as clear cut as other organisations really as it is very difficult to assign set roles. I am guilty sometimes of not really explaining well how it works! For a start with some people being a volunteer is as much a part of their recovery or need for support as it is any of the service users. Some people volunteer because they want to help others and are in a position to give time. Some people volunteer because they are lonely and feeling isolated. Some people volunteer because they are on a road to recovering from some kind of illness and it is a step in that recovery to help them move forward. Some people volunteer to help develop skills with a view to gaining experience before heading to further education or indeed seeking a job in a related profession. Some people volunteer to say thank you for helping them by giving their time in return. Sometimes a person will volunteer because they don’t feel they want to be a service user but want to be part of the mutual support and ethos we have.

People volunteer with us for many reasons, all perfectly good reasons and we benefit. We also hope very much that our volunteers benefit too in some way. S2C is very much a community in that everyone from the person in charge, the volunteers and the service users all share responsibility for the organisation. If a job needs doing then somebody will do it without needing a label. The floor needs mopping, an exhibition needs hanging, toilets need cleaning, store room needs tidying, a form needs filling in, a risk assessment needs to be done then one of us will do it. If somebody does not know how to do a job then someone who does will show them the first time.

The art sessions are one group working together and sometimes it is difficult to tell volunteers apart from service users. Perfect. In that setting with everyone sharing, helping and supporting each other, then it gives individuals the confidence to grow from a very low place or from somewhere a bit more settled. We all take responsibility for each other and the putting away, making drinks  and cleaning up.

Clearly that happens with the safeguards in place. There is a structure there for more support, reporting, handling confidential situations and referring on to other agencies if needed. With everyone involved, everyone has ownership of S2C to contribute as much as they feel they can which makes the space a very healing, friendly and accessible one for those who are struggling or feeling vulnerable.

In August we are planning a “Summer Exhibition” with contributions from everyone who is involved with S2C in any way. We want to celebrate the S2C community and all the good work that goes on from all the service users, volunteers, partners, supporters, funders, groups hiring rooms, artists and individuals who have some involvement with S2C.

This weeks selection of artwork:


…….With a little help from our friends.

This week has been a very rewarding one for me in the sense that it has seen several different projects developing or concluding that are example of working together to provide support for people who need it most.

First of all we saw the final showing of Sharon Tait’s epic undertaking of 100 artworks in 100 days. This was shown at our unit in Kendal then over at Walney Community Centre all part of the celebration of Leonard Cheshire’s 100th birthday celebrations where people were asked to  do something to raise awareness that involved the number 100. Sharon decided to exhibit and sell the pictures raising funds for Leonard Cheshire over in Walney and Space2Create as she volunteers for both organisations. This has also developed as we are looking to bring a Space2Create session to the Walney Community Centre. It is great to be able to link with a great organisation like Leonard Cheshire doing amazing work in Walney and hopefully we can bring an extra dimension to what happens in the local community centre.

We also saw the start of a new afternoon group at our Unit. Working with South Lakeland Carers we have added an afternoon drop in on Tuesdays from 1.30 pm aimed at carers but also for any of our service users and anyone who would like to join in! One of the carers who came to the first session summed it up perfectly saying that it was an opportunity for some “me” time and how much just being and creating had made them feel great.

Also this week was the final led session for the Sedbergh Archive Project. The collaboration here is great with a Heritage Lottery Grant, the inspiration of the Sedbergh School archive and the chance to work with a great local print maker in his studio with our service users next week going over to Ben Dodge in his studio to develop the designs we have created.

In the coming week we also will be celebrating being part of the Gateway Group that brings together many local charities with shared resources and information. On the 22nd from 2 till 7 in the Town Hall we will be having a table with information about us and what we do along with all the other members of the Gateway Group to showcase the group. You will be able to meet and talk to many of the people involved and hopefully we will have somebody there most of the time.

Well there we are. A bit of a bland blog really, an important message about the power of mutually supporting each other to support those in need. Well actually what I wanted to do was rant about how the country is being turned into a giant private enterprise zone with everything being a profit driven business model. Then I was going to really rant about how some things can’t be run like this. Yes it is inefficient to have a fire station in a particular area but it still saves lives which is the whole point. Increasingly it seems that the people on the ground, whether that be the immensely brave emergency services tackling and trying to rescue people in a burning tower block or the NHS staff working hard day in and out to keep people safe and well, are ignored, overworked, underpaid and treated like business assets. I find it morally rephrhensible that there is any situation where the support of the vulnerable, the protection of our communities or the wellbeing of the people is any way driven by profit. Anyone making profit from any persons misfortune is the lowest form of scum. And yet it seems that “privatisation” is the only model that successive governments subscribe to. It seems odd that so very few of the businesses that provide private public services are not for profit organisations and one has to a second look at who the directors and share holders are in these companies……….

Okay, mini rant, feel better………..well no, actually I feel angry!

Some of our not for profit artwork by our very vulnerable service users mostly assisted by unpaid volunteers this week….


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