I was going to write a blog about all the nice things that are happening in our current project,Our Health Your Hands. It is an exciting collaboration between Bounce, Anstee Bridge and Its Not Your Birthday But…
The project marks eight years of collaboration between Bounce & Anstee. We are proud to be involved with an innovative programme that is in essence using principals of co-creation and social prescription with young people.
Our Health Your Hands celebrates 70 years of the NHS and Kingston Hospital. Through the project young people are leading the way in researching the history of the hospital. There have already been eight workshops at the National Archives and Kingston Hospital. They have met countless people through a number of community tea parties, bringing in local people to talk about their NHS experiences. They are currently working with a visual artist and musician to document their thoughts on their learning.
Amid thinking about all these nice things, I watched the BBC Two documentary School, driving home the incredible pressures schools are under to deliver our education system.
It made me instead appreciate the financial fragility of projects such as ours against this national picture.
Take Anstee for instance. It is an alternative learning programme, working with young people facing challenging circumstances impacting on their emotional well-being.
Entwined within Anstee, is the principal that confidence can be built through creativity. It makes a lot of sense. There is SO much research into the benefits of the arts and creative practices on mental health. A quick google will give you more examples than I could summarise in this short blog. Anstee has for 10 years essentially socially prescribed the arts to improve the mental health of hundreds of vulnerable young people.
In a time where there are pressing financial pressures on education, mental health and arts services, it sometimes feels like a luxury to be involved in this sort of work. It shouldn’t be but frankly it becomes a luxury because you feel lucky to do it.
Naturally, you are often asked to justify it. “What’s the point?” “What’s the value?”“Is it going to make great art?” “What are they learning?”
From my experience at Anstee, some are genuinely just learning to stay alive. An English G.C.S.E is a million miles away from where your headspace is if you’ve never told anyone about experiencing an assault…
Over the years I have worked there the programme has nurtured young people who have been abused, neglected, assaulted or developed an addiction. Some have parents in prison, are carers to parents. Others have been bullied or are dealing with effects of living in relative poverty.
Beaten down by life before they are legally entitled to vote, they are nurtured for one day a week to have the courage to believe in themselves. Some will make leaps and bounds, others will take just a tiny enough step to get them through their G.C.S.Es and into the next stage of life.
We see it in the small contribution we make. Young people enter with their eyes to the ground. They might challenge you with their behaviour or frustrate you with their reluctance to participate. However by the end of the project they might look you in the eye, smile or sometimes laugh. You recognise that the tea party gave them an opportunity to make eye contact and talk to a person ahead of their college interviews. The theatre show allowed them to vocalise thoughts they don’t know how to about their life experiences. The sewing activity gave them a release that mellows their attitude.
These are the things that draw you back year after year. It’s more than a theatre production. It’s the life skills inherent in the arts. The ability to find something mindful to help you manage your emotions. The platform to have a conversation with someone you thought wouldn’t listen to you. The responsibility of managing money when you have spent six years hating maths, so switched off.
This creative engagement and nurturing from the inspiring programme leaders makes them believe that underneath everything, there are people and perhaps even a community that care about them. Sometimes it’s genuinely been the difference between life and death.
When you consider the value of funding programmes like Anstee, I think you have to ask yourself more, what is the value of not having them.
This autumn, all of our work is themed around the idea of Comfort. We’re paying homage to the tiny acts of kindness that light up the dark. These range from celebrating small actions of self care through to the national treasure that is the NHS.
The conversation started after our Creativity Matters projects began to come to an end. We knew after a year what we knew at the start – Creativity Matters. During the year, we were drawn more to the impact access to creativity has on hearts and minds than anything else.
Due to the nature of the work we were making we had multiple conversations with children, young people and sometimes parents about mental health. Things that cropped up included coping with emotions after years of witnessing violence, the pressures of being a young carer, the impact of benefits, bereavement or generally feeling unsure if they could cope with G.C.S.E’s.
Increasingly for us, our role in making work is about understanding the broader benefits of creativity. It means making work with people that isn’t about theatre. Theatre has and will always be at our roots but each year we move further away from focusing on inviting people to come and make performance with us. Even more so this year, where we have programmed a strand of work solely about the benefits of feeling well through creativity.
As the world changes, technology evolves and politics divides us it’s impact can be felt in the non traditional spaces we work in. It seems even more crucial to make time for creativity. To not invite people to create with us to make theatre but to share their ideas – for themselves and for their communities. Excitingly, this approach has led to our first project created with a former participant.
Mum Plus+ has emerged from working with Natalie, who was part of our work with Anstee Bridge. Together we have created a brand new project for young mums. It combines storytelling for children and parents with wellness coaching, in a partnership with Silver Linings Coaching and Consulting.It’s aim is to give young mums a chance to meet in a space where they don’t feel intimidated. Also, an opportunity to consider the possibilities in balancing motherhood with ambitions to work, or study or travel still in the future.
Alongside this we have Happy to Chat, creating a network of people in a community that come together to craft. We deliver our biggest ever creative learning project looking at 70 years of the NHS. We’ll make new theatre tackling loneliness from a young persons perspective and stories of comfort that get us through the hard times.
It’s broad and its varied as each strand is personal to the people we are making stuff with. Yet they all celebrate the principals of comfort. It’s the comfort of meeting someone new, striking up a friendship, celebrating the people who have been there for you and being able to share feelings, ideas or opinions. Or its simply the comfort of good cake and conversation.
In September 2017, we set out a year of work that would allow us to discover why creativity matters to the people we work with. Our programme highlights included
One new piece of original theatre – Emoji
Mounted an exhibition around Loneliness in urban living at the Saatchi Gallery
Put an installation inspired by mental health and Hans Christian Anderson into a local library
Regenerated a run down military welfare community room into a pop up cafe for creative arts
Hosted numerous sharings of work and joined community events across Hounslow.
We worked with 1674 people. A happy mix of children, young people and families. We created 73,000 opportunities for them to participate in sessions, projects and workshops. Over 30,000 people would have seen their work.
100% of participants asked said they felt more creative through the projects. 94.6 from one project alone identified had learnt something new from joining in.
Consistently, there was a theme that the benefits of creativity included interacting with others. The interactions ranged from the benefits of getting out of the house to the building of new friendships. An increased sense of well-being and happiness ran across many of our projects, in particular the Big Holiday project. Notably, in young people there was an increased sense of confidence. This was born out of trying something new or being in a different environment.
Creativity Matters to them because
they learnt how to work in a group
make closer friends
how more than older people experience loneliness
to be more open
being around people isn’t something I should be afraid of
that my ideas have actually been heard
putting ideas into perspective
Over the year we have
given 128 children and young people an Arts Award
offered one young person volunteering work next year
helped realise the library as a space for culture and exhibition
put 7 young people into first time employment
Supported 8 parents to return to work or take up a new hobby
worked with a former participant to design a new project for Autumn
Launched an Arts and Wellness strand to our programme because of what we’ve learnt from our participants
There are so many reasons why creativity matters in the politically and economically fragile times we live in.
A child on our holiday project added to our evaluation ‘I like doing creative things. It feels like it fills my heart when I’m creative.” Wise words, as on that note, the question is not that it matters, more ‘What would we do without it?”. Creativity is joy, hope, change, conversation, imagination, ideas, potential and more. It is intrinsically linked to our wellness and sense of self.
In wellness, there is comfort- taking us neatly into our next programme of work.