Well-being through creative activity

In a bubble………

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

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

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

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

Some bubble bursting artwork from this week…….


Which box do I tick?

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

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

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

This weeks inclusive artwork.


The ghosts of positive interaction……….

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

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

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

A selection of this weeks artwork………….


Creating social engagement……….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This weeks achievements (some!)

The Kindness of strangers…….

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

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

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

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

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

This weeks stones…….

The Final Countdown…………………….

Well it’s getting close to the closing date for voting in the Epic Awards. It has been great to be nominated for the various awards this year and we have certainly gained a lot more contacts around the UK from similar likeminded organisations who use volunteering to give back to their communities in creative ways. Voting closes at 5pm on Tuesday April 11th.

Space2Create is rapidly coming to some tricky decisions about it’s future. One look at this weeks timetable show the creative community centre we have become, and all the different organisations we work alongside to benefit the local community in many different ways. Increasingly when people say to me “So, what do Space2Create do?” it is getting to be harder and harder question to answer. There are so many different aspects to it from the drop in sessions to room hire to supporting groups to exhibitions to outreach and more.

We start looking at the space we are in, brilliant as it is, and start thinking if it meets our needs anymore. But then what do you do, pay more rent for a bigger space, get a second home, Do we do more, less? Ahhhhhhhhh! Answers on a postcard. One thing for sure is that it is a group decision. We have and always will be more of a collective where everyone who uses S2C as some ownership of it and helps run it. Anyway, answers on a postcard.

Meanwhile, please do, if you have not already, vote for us in the Epic Awards. The link below takes you there. Some people have had trouble as the full list of nominees doesn’t always appear so look down list, if we are not there then click on the link below the list to find the full list.

Thankyou for those who have supported us, it is much appreciated.

Vote here: http://www.voluntaryarts.org/epic-awards-peoples-choice-voting

Some of this weeks creativity:

The Sweet sound of silent creativity and the healing sound of laughter………

Sound has been in the forefront of my mind this week for some reason. The odd thing is it is very powerful as an indicator within the groups we run at Space2Create as to what the state of play is within the group. The first sounds we get are those of greeting and the chatter of people reconnecting after not seeing each other for a week. That is a good sound, it is a welcoming sound. It is the sound that says those people who were isolated are not so isolated anymore as they have or are building relationships. It is of course difficult to come new into that but in that initial chatter there is the welcoming of the new people, the invitations to show them round and enquire, tho offers to make drinks and show the ropes. All these sounds are the sounds of a healthy group.

Sometimes the group is so healthy and chatty you have to tell them to shut up to get started and get on with the session! In sessions there is a gentle buzz of conversation and you can scan round to see everyone is included. Even those people who maybe want to just sit back from it and be quiet, you can see they are in the group, part of the group even if they are not in the chatter. It is very satisfying to observe because this is the healing, the support and the comfort that the vulnerable people, those low in confidence and lonely, it is the atmosphere that they heal in. We are making the space for them to be and to help rebuild.

Then every now and then there is a ripple of laughter. Sometimes a minor ripple and sometimes a tidal wave as everyone in the room falls about in laughter. At those moments you know you have a healthy and supportive group that can share those moments and laugh together in good spirits. It means that people who have so much to be sad about in their lives have, for a time, cast that aside and opened up to a little bit of joy in their lives.

Then on other occasions the opposite happens, the room falls silent. You look around and you see everyone working away at the creative task at hand. They are lost in those moments of creativity that remove you from here and now and release you from the burdens of daily life and you are somewhere else creating something new and original. And what is good is that everyone respects and shares that. Being in that creative moment doesn’t have to be an isolating thing but a shared moment across a room full of people who respect and trust each other enough to be able to be part of that shared creative healing.

When I say that the art is the least important thing and the most important people often are puzzled. It is the mos because it is the vehicle to achieve social interactions and it is the least important because the people in the room heal each other by those interactions. You can do art sessions but if you don’t achieve that healing then its just another art lesson.

This weeks healing outcomes:

Giving is easy…….

I am always amazed by how generous people are. We are lucky at S2C that we are supported by so many generous people who give. When we talk about giving to a charity people always seem to assume it is about giving money, always nice and helpful, but not everybody has money to spare. To be honest giving in this form is probably the smallest way people associated with S2C give. Giving, is, I feel a very important element of being part of the community. It is to be noted that the five ways to well-being, those five things recommended you do to keep your mental health good, has giving as one of its strands. And by giving we mean all sorts of things.

At S2C that giving takes so many forms beyond dropping some change in the donation box or writing out a cheque. One of the biggest gives is time. Those people who volunteer their time to take on the jobs that keep s2C going. That might be a big commitment over several days or just an hour here or there. It all counts. From those that run sessions to those that clean, those that support service users to those that go off to shows and events, those that run sessions on the hospital ward to those that look after accounts. All giving time to help people.

Some people give to S2C donating materials. Many artists give us resources and equipment, things they don’t need anymore or have too much of, things they have bought for us or are left over from a project. Some people donate advice, taking opportunity to support us by giving advice and information we might otherwise have to pay for. Some people give us opportunities. Making space for us at events or including us in meetings, that kind of thing. Some people give by promoting S2C, from a simple share on Facebook to telling people they meet about what we are doing.

Space2Create always needs people’s help.  Now more so than ever as we look to exciting new projects ahead and ever-expanding what we do. We can only do that with the support of our volunteers and the people who give things so generously.

The results of this weeks generosity:



What to say……….

So, don’t get me wrong here. I am not having a go at praise, ok. What I do want to talk about is how we praise in the context of a mental health or wellbeing creative session. I have been thinking about this over the course of the last week and taking care to listen in to conversations about work that’s been created. Remember that some of the people we work with at S2C have very low self esteem and confidence, are feeling very vulnerable and sensitive. Also I am coming at this as a trained educator and assessor so I feel qualified to speak on the subject and have a lot of experience behind it too of helping people develop, grow and improve.

The reason this is going to be controversial is that we all do what I’m moaning about, even me. That moment when somebody shows you something they have created and the response is “Awesome, that’s amazing”, “Stunning”, “Beautiful”. And that’s it just those kinds of words. This is fine and to be encouraged, especially among friends sharing on facebook etc. No problem. I begin to have questions in the context S2C are working in. So what do I feel are the problems with this.

Firstly, with the people we are working with, if I always tell them that every piece of work they do is “Amazing” then this leaves nowhere to go. There is no opportunity for growth or progression. I can repeatedly tell somebody that their work is amazing for ten consecutive weeks. Apart from a short term buzz in week 1 or 2 there is nothing to show improvement or that they have gained anything through attending. Yes, I hear you, for some people that they have walked through the door and attended is amazing talking about what they do when they get to the session.

Secondly, if they repeatedly hear that their work is amazing then one of two things starts to happen. Vulnerable people remember. They can either believe this and gain unrealistic expectations of their ability or they can begin to lose confidence, observe what every one else produces and compare it or they begin to doubt what you are telling them because it is all you are saying. Dangerous. Remember S2C is about building confidence, esteem, skill, opportunity, wellbeing.

Thirdly, the work they create uls a pile of amazing artwork. Vulnerable people. It’s all amazing, there is nothing special about anyone piece. Where is the motivation.

So, how do we praise the creative work. We are looking to build for each individual. So of course there must be an element of each bit of praise being tailored to suit the individual. Taking account of that then, general approach to praise should be that your praise has a number of component parts to it.

Part 1: the intitial reaction, not too over the top but clearly indicating you are impressed. “Oh so and so, that is looking really good……………”

Part 2: Identify one or two key elements that have impressed you. “………the way you have blended those colours / how you have used thirds to compose / the brush strokes in this part / the way you have built up the layers / the great texture……”. you get the idea.

Part 3: How this particular piece of work could (if it can be) be improved. “Maybe add a touch of colour that’s different here / perhaps you need to have a focal point / this area is a bit dark can you lighten it up/ is there a way you can add some texture………….”

Part 4: Next time. “Next time maybe you could think about starting with a darker base colour / maybe you could try to keep the same tone…….”

Part 5: Tell or ask them. Don’t always tell them what to do. Ask them what they think they could do.

I very much believe that this will help them improve their skills and their confidence, motivation, self esteem and confidence.

So have a think next time you are about to tell somebody something is amazing. Is that what they need to hear. Some yes. But not always.

Some “Amazing” artwork from this weeks sessions.


It isn’t no popularity contest…….

Just a short pause for thought. I realised the other day that what I was actually doing was flogging S2C like some cheap kind of media porn. What I mean by that is the pressure to publicise what you are doing and get people’s attention. It always feels like you have to make a song and dance about how great you are and how fantastic what you are doing is.

Is that what being a charity is all about. I think that if at any point I am doing more selling S2C than I am helping people then the whole point of doing it is gone. And yet that is the world we live in. To get funding you have to be savvy and sell yourself, to get people coming you need to make a big noise, to get exhibitions noticed you have to get more attention than the other stuff out there.

I just look at the people we work with who leave happier than when they arrived for a session, the comments we get about how we have helped people, the stunning artwork that gets produced and the amazing artwork that people bring to show on our walls. That’s what is important to me, not how many people have heard of us or how we compare to somebody else.

There has to be a balance. Yes its great to be recognised and celebrated for what you do. Maybe get the award. So here I am publicising hat we do and selling S2C. But I hope we can do that without sounding boastful or removed from the people we help. Yes we do need money to keep going and yes we always need the people. We need them for then for the right reasons, not for a popularity competition.

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