Well-being through creative activity

Dickensian Christmas in all the wrong ways………

I am a great fan of Dickens. If you have never read one of his novels then I suggest you do. It might just open your eyes. If you look past the comedic larger than life characters and note the detail of life in Victorian England, not to mention the sometimes heartbreak stories that thread their way through each novel, then you might just begin to look around nervously.

Not all his stories have happy endings. In the grim reality of Victorian Life, abject poverty, high infant mortality and child poverty, a broken and over crowded prison service, limited access to health care, poor living conditions, a vast gap between the poor and rich, a ruling elite blind to the needs of the poor, no social care, then you might read his novels with an air of deja vu.

Dickens was one of those great illuminators and communicators, throwing light into the dark places and telling it to the world in a manner which the masses read and discovered. Oh we could so do with a Dickens for our modern times. But all we have is the Penny Dreadfuls of sensationalist news telling us how great the Empire will be again……for those who can pay.

One of those in charge, member of our government representing the people and with responsibility for their and their countries wellbeing reportedly said that the less well off should work harder like they did. In equality gives those in power the luxury of believing they are right.

This week I have witnessed the doctors and nurses in a local A&E working damned hard. With a corridor full of trolleys with ill people lined up its entire length waiting to be seen. I witnessed individuals with debilitating mental health problems fighting to get out and cope with life. I have witnessed the people on the streets with nowhere to go and no food. I have witnessed families relying on food banks to put food on the table. I have witnessed people holding down three jobs to keep their families with the basic needs. I have witnessed people being scared to walk the streets because ignorance about their ethnicity brings.

At some point in my life I reached the conclusion that stuff is all very well. The most important thing in all our lives are the people around us. If we can’t treat them with respect, have our basic needs met and care for them regardless of who or what or where, then I think maybe this country needs a Dickensian reality check.


Artwork of the week:

Aspirational failure and a perfect storm……

I came across a report  this week done by a number of organisations involved with children’s psychotherapy asking NHS staff involved in delivering children’s psychological services about the state of the services. The survey report that 84% responded that children needed to show more severe symptoms of illness in order to be seen than previously, that waiting times for treatment have increased, a third of children’s psychological services face downsizing or closure and three quarters responded there were not enough staff to meet demand.

This seems pretty standard now across the NHS so in itself not surprising. However this sits alongside the reporting of a rise in Children’s mental health issues. I find this extremely concerning. I think, from my own experience, that issues in childhood profoundly affect an individual into their adult life so if those issues are not effectively tackled early those problems are going to stack up in the future putting increased pressure on adult services which cannot cope with the current levels of mental health problems.

S2C, at the moment, works with over 18’s. We do what we do to support a whole range of individuals coping with their problems, a small cog in their support but one that helps. In the last 12 months on a number of occasions it has become clear to me that there is need for a service such as ours for the under 18’s. This comes from the direction of NHS services, family support services, schools, County Council Services all under pressure and reducing.

We seem to be now in a perfect storm. We are running an education system that, in my opinion, is racking up children’s mental health issues while at the same time running down the services to support children in crisis. Somewhere in the last twenty years we have gone from a system which encouraged children to achieve the best they could to one where they are told you are a failure if you don’t achieve A**. There is no room for elitism in education results. The plain truth is that there are always those who will not achieve the top grades. The pressure being applied to children to achieve those grades from a ridiculously young age is appalling.

More than ever young people are aware of the expectations of society. Along with pressure from education there is enormous pressure from social media and advertising to attain a certain look, lifestyle, career or fame where to not do so means you are a failure.

Maybe its time we had a think about what we are doing.

Some S2C artwork from this week:

The Season of good understanding…….

For many of the people who attend Space2Create the Christmas period is extremely tough. It brings with it a whole host of added pressure at a time in people lives when their ability to cope with such things is very low. In the current climate of poor support by the state it also means that more people and families will be getting more distressed as Christmas approaches than for a long while.

If you are coping with a long term illness, mental or physical, then the Christmas season can be very difficult. It’s the pressure of being more sociable, expectations of being with family or that you are happy (or should be). You should, apparently, be off to a Christmas party with your mates and off doing your Christmas shopping and above all the pressure of all that advertising with lots of happy people having a good time. This is so difficult for those who are struggling. It adds an extra burden of expectation on them and it can literally drive some into more despair.

So when you encounter somebody who doesn’t respond to your Christmas cheer maybe stop and think why. It often is not because they are miserable buggers. They may well be really struggling. Maybe just a smile is enough. Maybe they might want to chat and for you to listen. Things like that can, in some cases, make the difference between a person slipping quietly and unnoticed into suicide or having somebody listen enough for them to keep going. We make assumptions at Christmas.

The individual in desperate need of help can slip by unnoticed. The thing with Christmas is everything shuts down. Services get reduced and people who are vulnerable very easily slip through the underfunded system. It is not just health related. Of course there are increasing numbers of families struggling and those being driven onto the streets by housing, benefit and social care systems now designed to victimize the people it was supposed to help.

So please. over the festive season, think how you treat others. If everyone in a good position for Christmas can do one small kindness for someone who is not then the whole Christmas can be better for everyone. S2C is opening more this year over Christmas where in the past we have closed. It’s a little, means that people who are lonely or struggling can be with supportive and caring people for some of the time. Manna House always support the homeless amazingly at this time of year with the Winter Night Shelter and Christmas away days. The Kendal’s Peoples Volunteer Café are open and serving Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day this year. It is there for those who maybe can’t afford to have a special dinner or why not just go and support it even if you don’t. They need your support financially, in food donations, presents and just to be there for those who are less fortunate.

Make that extra Christmas present of time, money, donations or just empathy or listening. It will be the best Christmas present you give this year.


This weeks S2C artwork…..

The art of achieving something……

I often think that one of the reasons art works so well in helping people recover from illness is the way that it can replicate real life situations in a seemingly inconspicuous creative activity. Twice this week sessions at S2C have done this very clearly done this and it has been very interesting to observe how people have dealt with it and the real life skills it develops.

One of the things about mental health issues, or indeed many kinds of illness, is the way it drains your ability to cope with new situations or decision making. I can speak from experience when I refer to the fear and inability to function that literally feels like you are being boxed into an ever decreasing and limiting space. This is where you can end up spiralling inwards and becoming very isolated. Breaking out of this is very difficult and trying to do it in the “real world” can seem almost impossible.

That is where S2C and many services like it come into play. We can create an environment that feels non threatening, is supportive and welcome. Most importantly, a place where everyone is in the same boat and feeling in very similar ways to differing degrees. This means that we are all able to support each other. So, back to the art.

How is painting a picture like real life? Well it’s not but it does recreate some of the same feelings a person needs to deal with in order to get out of that downward spiral but in a microscopic way. For a start it may well be something new, a new technique, a new style and new ways of working.  Having a go at something new is a terrible ordeal for some people and these art new things are not threatening.  It’s safe because if it goes wrong the only issue is a messed up bit of paper.

In attempting this new thing, at S2C, you have others around you. Some of them will know how to do it and can help you, others are in the same boat as you and you can help each other. The point is though, that in taking these small risks you build up resilience and reduce that fear of failing, fear of the new. With others around you, you can take on new challenges. Over time this resilience builds and suddenly some of those things that felt big scary barriers in the real world are not quite so threatening and you can begin to face them.

We have amazing people at S2C. Some are amazing because of what they have been through and survived, some are amazing because they are surviving and some are amazing because they are willing to give their time and support others. achievements don’t need to be big. Getting up in the morning, getting outside, getting to S2C, joining in and having a go, creating something new and unique, smiling and laughing. These are all great achievements for some of the people the come to S2C.

Some of this weeks achievements…….

Stats, approval and a pre-announcement announcement……..

My mind has been on stats recently. We collect stats where we can because funders and those who monitor our activities are always wanting evidence. What we do is very hard to evidence because lets face it a lot of people we deal with are in very ill health. We are not the cure but we are part of it. In some cases the people we deal with have degenerative illness which means they are only going to get worse. We aim to make the time they are with us happy and a relief from that. How do you measure that. Anyway, we try as unobtrusively as possible. Some stats are great. I posted earlier last week how, in a moment of idleness, I calculated that 96% of all Fridays for the last eight years had  a WellArt session running. That’s both as S2C and at Workbase where we started WellArt many moons ago.

We ask people to drop a bead in one of three pots as they leave session at S2C. One says they feel the same, one says they feel worse, on says they feel better (their mood, not expecting to cure and diseases or illness). Very crude and simple but it works if people are honest. Overwhelmingly the response is that they feel better. It works out at something like 98.8% of responses over the year are that they feel happier, in a better mood or place and more positive on leaving S2C after a session than when they arrived.

What is interesting is that the stat is across the board as it were. Not just those attending sessions register their mood. We get professionals who are bringing their service users to our sessions who join in the session and end up leaving feeling better, more relaxed and in a better mood. Our volunteers get that too. If everyone involved is happy, in a good place and participating then everyone benefits.

Enough of statistics  I hear you cry, what about that pre-announcement announcement? Well just a small thing. From the very start we have asked for a £3 donation for attending a session. We have been chatting about changing this and so next week we will formally announce that from thereon in we will operate on a pay what you think/want/can basis. We feel we want to remove as many barriers as possible to people attending sessions and know that those who need to occupy their time and be in company in a safe and secure place cannot always afford it especially if they come to more than one session.

So from this week we will be asking people to pay what they can or what they think. They can consider their own situation and can think about the costs we incur in terms of resources, refreshments, running costs, how much they enjoyed the sessions. Whatever. So it’s not an issue. One day we may be in a position that everything is free but not there yet!

Some fab artwork from the last week:



As it is the 11th of November we of course turn our thoughts to those who have given their lives in conflicts across history and the world. From the World Wars to more recent conflicts fighting to preserve the security and principles we all hold dear and sometimes take for granted.

Being involved with mental health and the benefits of creativity I also look to those who have served in our armed forces who have struggled to integrate back into society. It is understandable that the traumas, stress and horrors they witness in active service stay with those when the move into life outside the arm forces. It must be a terribly difficult experience to go from being with comrades and friends in the close knit community of regiment and unit to then being alone with only yourself to rely on and cope with such traumatic illness as Post Traumatic Stress. We see reports of so many people from the armed forces ending up on the streets or in dire mental health need as they attempt to reintegrate with society. It is also notable that there is a long history of service personnel returning from conflict to little real support.

The number of times people recall grandfathers and fathers who served in the two World Wars recounting stories of their struggles which they tried to keep to themselves or away from their families.

Some clearly cope but others are left very isolated and vulnerable. As we celebrate the memory of those who have fallen, as we thank those who have served, let us also ensure that those same people are supported. Supported to deal with the traumas they may have witnessed. Supported to enter back into society and find meaningful and useful purpose. Supported to build and lead their lives without stigma and suspicion.

So maybe we should remember today. And also remember throughout the year as we help those from the services and all our society who are struggling with issues in their lives.


Some artwork from S2C people this week:

Important News……(No really!)

Okay, if you read last weeks blog about change then you just knew I was going to drop something out there. Well, okay, there is something to tell!  have been the Chair of S2C since we started forming the organisation amid the collapse of Workbase. Having started and run the WellArt Group as part of Workbase with my friend Jo  a couple of years before that it seemed a very logical thing to do to save that format and start over so I guess in total we have been doing our particular brand of art for health for nearly 8 years.

One thing about growing an organisation is that at the start you can do it with a small team at first but then as it grows and develops you need to get more people involved. We have some fantastic volunteers who work their socks off to help our service users and we have amazing service users who defy their illness daily to do amazing things.

We have a big project in mind in the coming year which is going to take a lot of work. For that reason I have decided to step down as Chair of S2C. I will be remaining a Trustee but will be focusing on my roles as Creative Director and Manager. In fact you probably wont notice much difference!

So, the empty Chair. We are very fortunate to know some ace people and are very happy to announce that our good friend Julie Tait has agreed to take over the role. Julie brings a wealth of experience in running creative events and fundraising. Julie is one of those people with great connections and the will to drive projects forward. In the past it has been Julie and her team who created and delivered Mintfest and more recently The Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

Julie will be looking to help us move forward and supporting me to provide a better service for those we help. We are all very excited about  working with Julie and I am sure it can only mean bigger and better things ahead.

There that was to bad was it as changes go!

Some of this weeks fabulous artwork.



I can hear the thought processes out their already, churning away in pre-anticipated fear. “Oh no, he’s writing about change again, he’s up to something!” Yes, well, change is an invevitability of  being human. I don’t do it on purpose but when I change things it is because the change is going to mean improvement, or it means growth, or it means opportunity and new adventures.

One thing above all drives any change we make at Space2Create and that is the people involved. Ultimately every decision or change we make has to mean better opportunities for those vulnerable people we support or an opportunity to support more people. So decisions about change with careful planning and thought….mostly.

You know how life is. it throws up the unexpected.

Change takes many forms. Organisational change is one of those corporate concepts and whole books have been written on managing that change. I think to the days we first started at Workbase. An amazing charity that unfortunately closed down. Space2Create started from it’s legacy. The thing here is how different people reacted. The individual who refused (and still does) to attend S2C because it is not Workbase. And of course when we moved into the Factory that was another big organisational change, which proved to be a good move and has allowed us to grow.

Having suffered with and worked with people with mental health conditions I am very aware how difficult change is to cope with. As a charity that is involved with many people in this position I am painfully aware how difficult change is for them. I always found that in order to cope  I had to take at least one familiar thing along with me in the change, something to hang on to. I remember when I first went to Workbase as a service user. The initial fear was overcome for me by taking a painting I was doing at home and doing there. I sat with hood up concentrating on the painting and in a way kept myself at home in a new location. It worked for me. It enabled me to take that first step to get out again after serious illness. From there I have just steadily grown (with a few wobbles!).

So I offer you the reassurance that we are looking to get better, do better and do more. It is nothing to be afraid of. We will not abandon anyone and we will support our service users better  and better. Watch this space.

Some of this weeks creations:

Acorns and all that…….

I have often talked about collaborating and the benefit a community can gain from building close ties to work together towards a better community. Sometimes that needs to be driven and pushed forward. Often in the creation of something it is the drive and determination of a few people who carry others along to create something amazing. I give you three example:

Space2Create is a good example of this. Eight/nine years ago a good friend of mine Jo and myself were in a charity that was struggling to survive amidst budget cuts and funding from statutory bodies being withdrawn. As volunteers who had been service users we appreciated how creative activity had helped us recovering and saw the same in those around us. We started an art group called WellArt which met once a week. When the charity closed that group formed the basis of creating S2C but it was Jo and I pushing it, bringing on board a small core to form the trustees of the new charity. These sam people drove S2C on to grow and reach where we are now and that same core (with additions as we grow) pushes us on to bigger and better things..

I see that same drive and care in other organisations. In Kendal the Peoples Volunteer Café takes unwanted food donated from local shops and people then turns into meals for local people, many struggling to afford to feed themselves or their families due to unfortunate circumstances. Helen had the vision and again a small team was created to drive the idea through with passion and belief. The People’s Café currently run on Saturdays serving lunch at the Foyer next to the Bus Station. They would very much appreciate your support, time and food donations.

Another Kendal based organisation, Creative Arts, does amazing work supporting adults with  disabilities through creative activity. Lana has driven this with a dedicated team around her building this from a small group to the Creative Arts Hub in the Westmorland Shopping Centre and delivering some amazing community projects.

All three organisations share a common thread of that driving force of a dedicated team with an individuals passion for what they are doing at the core. We all need similar things too. Volunteers, resources, space, support from local authorities, funding, presence, advice, admin…….the list goes on. What is great between the three organisations is that we are increasingly working together. Sharing volunteers, people who volunteer for two or more of the organisations. Sharing skills and knowledge. Sharing resources. Most importantly sharing support so that none of us is ever isolated and alone.

Working together we can build better communities reaching out to the different people who need help for all the different reasons and providing them what they need to keep going at their most difficult times. I celebrate all three organisations and look forward to working ever more closely with each other.

Some of the artwork from this week:

Have you met the Moomin Lawyers?

I don’t have much to say this weekend as it has been a week of long ranty posting in defence of Kendal and the Comic Arts Festival. It is here now and it’s great because a diverse range of experiences and people hit this old grey town with a big splat of colour and joy. Get out and support the festival. And while you are there maybe drop by and see or do some of the things that support the vulnerable in our community as well as raise awareness of issues such as food poverty, homelessness, mental health and conditions.

Between 11 and 3 Saturday you could head along to the Peoples Volunteer Café in The Foyer next to the Bus Station where they are holding Moomin Café with pay what you can food (always fantastic) and activities and prizes of a Moomin nature for kids of all ages. Also don’t forget the Comic Art Windows Trail through businesses across Kendal. Space2Create are number 1 on the map in the Kendal Antiques Centre with our very mental health take on the Moomins.

I think my favourite point of the entire week was the discovery of Moomin Lawyers…….anybody want to draw one. These made a polite enquiry (apparently) having seen S2C twitter posts regarding our windows trail and the legality of it in terms of copyright. Also regarding the Moomin Café for the same reasons. This is why the Comic Art Festival Organisers are so good because they immediately pointed out a few realities about both and just how silly complaining looked. All good now, the Moomin Lawyers have headed back into Moomin Valley………….

This weeks artwork selection:


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