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….

 

Where are we going with this?

Managers Blog: Where are we going with this?

I often ask myself where is S2C going? By that I mean what is the ultimate goal, what would we like to be doing. In some respects we have so much going on and yet in other ways there is just a core. The core is the drop in for people who are struggling with mood, self confidence, esteem, loneliness, isolation, illness. We run those drop in session continuously and numbers go up and down week by week. That was the whole point. No pressure and no requirement just an opportunity and a safe place to go.

But then there is all the other things we make happen or give opportunity to happen. The gallery space has given many of our service users and local artists the opportunity to exhibit, sometimes for the first time, in a safe and supported space without a great deal of pressure. Particularly for our service users who are often anxious about being exposed to scrutiny. The space is and has been used to make groups happen that otherwise might not have. County Council adult education courses, Cumbria Mental Health Team group sessions. We help an art group for adults with learning difficulties by giving them space to do art after their premises were flooded. There is a massage business that’s just started up we help by giving cheap space, a meditation group that couldn’t find affordable places to meet.

Artists hire space to run training and art courses and we work with a local gallery to run a dementia group at the unit. Local arts groups put on exhibitions with us. We get involved in local festivals and events and we run sessions at the local hospital. We exhibit art work at the Leisure Centre and in local GP surgeries.

All this shows that in a way we are becoming a creative community centre and perhaps that’s where we should aim to go. A safe and welcoming place in the community where anyone can come to be creative, show creativity, enable creativity, promote creativity and above all give opportunity to the vulnerable in the community to recover, grow and belong.

All this takes volunteers and staff. As we grow and add new things it all needs extra volunteers to make it happen. For the first time in the last year we have had some paid staff undertaking specific roles and where funding allows this needs to develop and continue.

At the end of all that though, the main purpose of all this is people. If in any given week we help one person feel more positive about themselves and confident which means they survive the week then it has been worth the effort.

Some of the artwork from the last week:

The Space2Create Managers Wish List (A non party political broadcast by the S2C party)

Soooo, trying not to be political or biased to a particular party. Very difficult. I have explained before how we avoid taking sides, not least because of the stress and division this causes during sessions. We are not there to judge people s political views and as a democracy people are entitled to vote however they wish.

At the same time the election is a hot topic. One that does cause those who are vulnerable in our society to become anxious and stressed. How do I know? We witness this over the weeks building up to elections and referendums, individuals feeling just a little more pressure in their lives when they least need any more.

Instead what I am going to do is let you have the “Space2Create Managers Wish List” available to all political parties free of any consultancy fee or bribe, I mean donation. Remember its a wish list and only there as suggested guidance for policy makers. How can I justify this wish list. It is what I experience with our service users weekly.

  1. I would like there to be enough NHS mental health staff so that when I or my Service Users go to our GP with a mental health issue the first place they recommend you to go for help is not a local charity. Don’t get me wrong, the charities do amazing work but should they be the frontline?
  2. I would like there to be enough NHS mental health staff so that Service Users are supported by more than occasional telephone calls from a crisis team, especially when they are self harming or having suicidal thoughts.
  3. I would like there to be enough mental health hospital beds so that those Service Users who are self harming or having suicidal thoughts are not left for days waiting for a bed to get the help they need.
  4. I would like there to be enough NHS mental health staff so that existing staff are not so overworked and stressed they end up on sick leave.
  5. I would like enough NHS staff, beds and funding so that Service Users in chronic pain, disabled by illness or with life threatening conditions are not waiting for months for operations or getting them cancelled at the last minute.
  6. I would like Service Users to get adequate support while they are unable to work so that they can live with some dignity without anxiety.
  7. I would like low income Service Users to earn enough for the basics of food, heat and power without constantly facing debt, eviction, hunger and shame.
  8. I would like Service Users with mental health problems and chronic illness to be fairly assessed for benefits and support without massive unnecessary anxiety, stress and shame.
  9. I would like my Service Users to walk through the streets without being abused or ridiculed.
  10. I would like my Service Users to not have to live in a constant state of FEAR.
  11. I would like it to be a criminal offence for any elected representative to lie to or mislead Service Users through campaigning they see on television and social media.

There is a lot more but that’s enough to be going on with. I know that there will be some who will blame our Service Users for the position they find themselves in or will deny that this happens or even tell us that we all have to share the burden of austerity. They are entitled to their opinions. I base mine on what is happening in the real world.

That was an unbiased open offering to all political persuasions………..

 

Some of the artwork from this week……

One hundred days of art and life…………

One of the great privelages of being in charge of an organisation like Space2Create is being alongside individuals who are on a journey from crisis to recovery and sharing a chunk of that journey through time spent with them creating.

The exhibition now on at our Gallery in Unit 31 and ArtSpace at The Factory is a creative record of 100 days in the life of an individual facing a variety of challenges that is mental health. Only somebody who has lived those 100 days with the pain, fear, stress and hope of living with a mental illness could possibly have produced this body of work. No artists could research and develop sketch books to produce artwork that equalled this content. As such it is a very unique record, a very personal record, of a period of time that saw the roller coaster ride of mental health. The troubles with medication, the sleepless nights, the fears, confusion occupy the troughs while the peaks call out in colourful hope pictorially describing the highs and the joys of being alive.

It is a journey worth sharing. I was privileged to be present at times in the creation of this record as artwork was being produced. Spontaneous, unplanned from the depth of a soul and from the heart and from the turmoil of a mind. You must travel this road. If you have suffered with mental health issues yourself this may be a tricky journey to share but you will understand. You will appreciate the steps along the way as the mood rises and falls, as fear becomes insomnia becomes beauty. You will appreciate the black humour and the complexity and the colours. If you have no experience of a mental health condition then you need to take this journey. From day 1 to day 100, walk the path and experience this expression of living a life, how abrupt the changes in mood can be, how low the lows can be and how high the highs.

For me this represents a staggering achievement. To face the problems and still produce an artwork each day for 100 days.

The exhibition raises funds for Leonard Cheshire Youthability and Space2Create, picture selling at £100 each. A bargain when you consider each is priceless.

Exhibition continues Sunday 28th and Monday 29th May, Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th June 11-4 at Space2Create Unit 31 and ArtSpace in The Factory Kendal before moving on to Barrow.

Space2Create’s service user journeys this week:

 

S2C sells ‘art………..

The art created at S2C has impact on those attending sessions in many different ways. The one that probably gets the most attention is the act of creating the artwork. I have often described what it is like to be in a room with twelve people, all working to the same goal, all having some difficulties they are a facing, all with a sense of being together and yet in total silence focused and almost mindful, engrossed in their artwork. ten minutes later the same group can still be creating and focused but be howling with laughter. It is those times you know that there is some sort of healing occurring, that people are feeling better because they are there in the group and creating.

Beyond this is then the sense of achievement, of having created something, for some even the act of finishing something is in itself an achievement. That starts to build confidence and esteem as their peers comment, support and praise. At S2C we also display work created, either around the workrooms or in our gallery as part of exhibitions. This raises the benefits of creating another notch as seeing your creativity framed and on the wall is a whole new level of confidence and esteem building for our service users.

This week we have seen two good example of this in action. We always show work created in sessions on our Facebook page and last week I had a call from an individual who saw one of the artworks and wanted to buy it. When we told the person who had created it they lit up and glowed. During the following session it was also noticeable that they were more engaged, productive and happy with what they were creating.

We have been very fortunate that a local GP practice, The James Cochrane Practice, have embraced the idea of how creativity has many positive benefits. Working with staff at the practice we have put on display artwork at their Helme Chase Surgery in Kendal. This week we had a viewing event which was well attended by our volunteers and service users. One part of this particularly stood out and that again was when we told one of our service users that one of their artworks on display had been sold. This produced a whole range of emotion from shock to being absolutely overjoyed. Again, the next day in the session the individual seemed brighter, more  engaged and very enthusiastic about creating.

Using creative activity as a tool to build people back up after being demolished by illness or circumstances is a very powerful tool. It does not stand alone as it also needs lots of other support but it is an effective device to help the most vulnerable start to reclaim their lives.

Examples of this weeks rebuilding work……..

 

The art of teaching art by not teaching art……..

Managers Blog:The art of teaching art by not teaching art…….. (Sorry, bit of a lecture on the philosophy and methods of S2C)

At S2C we have many tricky fine balancing acts to maintain (WARNING: Cliché may be deployed as a metaphorical tool within the following paragraph) and it often feels, especially to those tasked with running creative sessions, like you are attempting to keep several widely spaced plates spinning on very bendy wobbly sticks.

We deliberately don’t work like an art class. The fact is that the vulnerable people we work with are often too pressured or stressed to cope in that kind of environment. Even where it is brought very much to an informal level some individuals can feel very sensitive and self conscious about what they produce regardless of their experience, skill or artistic ability. Because of this we also tend not to have courses or a series of sessions where skills and progression are clearly mapped out. For example, when feeling  anxious or stressed to make a commitment to say a 10 week course is daunting. Going to the first of anything can be daunting for anyone but for an individual in crisis all that feeling can be multiplied tenfold. If they make it to the first session then the next the might have an appointment or have a day when they are in too much pain or even just getting up is terrifying. So what can happen is an individual may make it to the first, fourth, eighth and ninth sessions.

This is one of the reasons we like to have drop in sessions which are self contained in that the activity that session is just for that session and the next session might be completely different or may be related but be such that it isn’t important if you missed the last one. Taking off the pressure. If you have counselling, appointments with doctors, pain, anxiety, are feeling manic, are feeling depressed, hate yourself, are afraid to go out the last thing you need is to have the added worry of having missed out. That becomes another reason to stay in which is how people become isolated. What we do helps those most vulnerable build their resilience by making it easy for them to not be isolated (as easy as we possibly can) and after time, when they are ready, they may then be able to take on a course.

Then we come to the role of our session leaders and volunteers. It is the session leaders role to lead an activity in such a way, again, that it is not pressured. We often do this in a very relaxed way involving humour (sometimes very dark humour) but it feeds off the service users. Demonstrating an activity in such a way that those there feel like they want to have a go rather than feeling to daunted to even attempt it. The group look to the session leader  for the skills, understanding and artistic techniques but they also look to the session leader for confidence, reassurance, empathy, awareness, permission and approval.

Once the activity is underway it is the volunteers who then take up the role alongside the session leader of working beside individuals, supporting them and keeping their attention or confidence going. Often as a volunteer or session leader it is easy to forget that you are there for the service user. Your artwork is the most unimportant in the building. Volunteers in amongs the group will be looking to the service users around them to make sure all of them are included and have what they need. Some volunteers will be hanging back ready to be there or help if anyone needs more support or maybe even needs time out to go and talk quietly.

The session leader also clocks up the miles. They should not be static in one place but moving round. This is where the skills of teaching come in. Being able to use differentiation in how you suggest and advise each individual. Some may just need approval to keep doing what they are doing. Others might need a suggestion of where to go next. This is where the opportunity is to develop skills and learning. It is often unplanned and is very much dependant on who is there and what they are doing.

That’s the way it works. A vulnerable person attending sessions irregularly at S2C will slowly over tie accumulate a range of learning and skills but not in any particular planned way. This also includes social skills and life skills as well as artistic. Over time this all adds up to help an individual move forward and when they are ready move on.

So I say a very big thank you to all the S2C volunteers who sacrifice their time and creativity to help those vulnerable people who come to S2C.

This weeks creative snapshots.

Gagging orders, silent screams and the need for communityism…..

Yes I did quite possibly just make up that word maybe. One of the difficulties I have as the head of a charitable organisation such as S2C is being as non political as I can. It is not easy. We have a policy of not getting involved and of not favouring any particular party as an organisation. There are very good reasons for this, particularly in the last year or so. Our aim is to create a friendly, welcoming and stress free environment at S2C and one thing that does not lend itself to this is politics. Partly because the vulnerable people we work with are very sensitive to people’s views and opinions as it is so to be sat in a room in a place you have come to escape full with split allegiances to one party or another and strained debate just adds to the stress.

At an organisational level we are not set up to be politically active but more to deal with the consequences of political decisions. Like any organisations we have a relationship with various politicians at different levels because unfortunately you need to play the system sometimes to do the best for your service users.

I think politicians across the board should come and listen to the stories I hear though. One of the hardest parts of running S2C is the things that people tell you. It’s those ill considered political decisions that have impact on people’s lives and in particular the vulnerable. I admit I am at a loss for words at times and can only rage silently at the injustice faced by some of those we are involved with.

And that is what we at S2C do. We help those who need some space, need to tell their stories and need to feel welcome and safe. So we can vote how we feel and we can rage at the things that are wrong but we seem to be entering a time where “Democracy” is a dirty word that has been manipulated into systems which ensures the needs and opinions of the every day ordinary individuals are whitewashed by mass media misrepresentations.

So I leave you with a final observation. In this town, in Kendal and other places too, you can increasingly rely less on the state to solve problems. So we see the rise of communityism, where the local community stirs and those in it strong enough to act, do. They start charities, give their time to  create opportunity, provide the missing services. It should not be this way but if communities do not act then those in need will suffer more. Maybe if enough community happens then the politics will change too and we wont feel like it is too stressful to mention but will celebrate our freedoms once again.

This weeks non political artwork at S2C….

Put on your thinking caps…………

There are good dilemmas and bad dilemmas. In running S2C  we have encountered the bad ones and they usually revolve around money or at least a very definite shortage of it. recently we have been starting to encounter some of those good dilemmas. For example, we recently employed a couple of reprobates to help make links in the local community with local services supporting vulnerable people as well as local business. It appears they have been doing a good job. We have increased numbers of people using our services and developing new ideas for projects and sessions through the week. We have also started some very exciting projects alongside other groups and have plans in place to develop new services.

Great. All good. But then you get down to the nitty gritty. All those activities need resourcing, they need volunteers support, they need staff maybe, they all need training and appropriate clearance and of course they all need space. For the first time in three years I looked at our Unit last week and thought “Gosh we could do with a bigger space!”

So it all adds to the pressure. But then that’s why we do what we are doing. The end results are worth the effort because you can see a tangible and real benefit to the people you are helping.  What can I say. expect a lot of new announcements, some new volunteer opportunities and for me some form filling. Well the form filling isn’t really increasing but maybe the figures on the “How much?” section have increased a little. Oh and if you find a lovely big building with potential to develop a first class creative wellbeing centre around town somewhere, let me know………

This week we started a project with Sedbergh and Casterton School Archive which has been funded by #hlffunded #hlfnorthwest the Heritage Lottery Fund. This involves our service users using material from the school archive to inspire artworks. The main thrust of the project is through Screen Printing though other artwork will be created alongside this too. We had a great session last Friday with a wide range of material dating back to the 1890’s of school photo’s, items and information that had everyone thinking of ideas. The plan is to now have six sessions led by printmaker Kevin Hankey and then screen printing sessions with local artist BenDodge in his professional studio to create a set of high quality screen prints. All the material created will be exhibited in the future. So if you would like to pick up some basic screen printing skills and then have a go with some serious kit do come along to our Friday WellArt sessions.

Some of the artwork produced this week:

 

 

This week I wrestled a beast and conquered a store room…….

Managers Blog: This week I wrestled a beast and conquered a store room…….

So as usual we had a break over the Easter period, which is something that as an organisation we need to do just to catch up and get some jobs done. Of course the plan is also to give the volunteers a bit of a break and allow the many volunteers with children to be free of any responsibilities during holidays. That was the plan.

In reality it turned into a bit of a slog. Well the store room for a start….. It was a mess. The trouble with setting a week for cleaning is that as that week approaches everyone starts to think along the lines of “oh well we will be cleaning in a week r so so I can just dump it for now.”

End result is that when you walk into the store room on the first day of the week for cleaning you are greeted with a sight of post apocalyptic looting, mass earthquake damage and a minor civil war down among the fabrics. I took four days have hard work by volunteers to clear, sort, rearrange, throw away and put things straight. But, for the moment, we have and organised and tidy store room.

The other major trauma was the arrival of the beast……….

Now there needs to be a bit of history here. We have always, at S2C, really needed a drying rack since we were created nearly five years ago. When you have a lot of people creating and end a session with twenty wet paintings you really need somewhere to put them to dry. We have made do with putting them on tables in the “other room” but as we get busier “the other room” quite often has a course or a meeting in it. So I asked our resource manager volunteer to look at getting us a drying rack, especially as we are about to embark on a major screen printing project. They had a budget of £150. They found a drying rack, second hand, that new would cost around £800. So we went for it on ebay. Delivery was arranged and of course it is as the van is pulling up to the door the question arises “Will it fit through the door?”

The four of us who were there attempted to move it but required th additional help of two nearby builders. It went through the door. With the racks up and by pushing the legs through first and twisting the rest round the corner. Just fitted. Then we left it for a day. Mainly because the diabetic among us were busy stuffing sugar down their face to recover.

The next day the maneuver was repeated through and internal door then several people nearly injured themselves putting it upright. It now sits in the corner of the biggest studio, a glowering ominous presence that promises to swallow vast swathes of artwork and possibly never, ever, return it.

The morals of this tale. never tell anyone you plan to spend the week off cleaning and tidying but that it’s going to be a volunteer “get together” and when you resource manager finds a bargain, have it measured.

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