What has creativity got to do with well-being?
I questioned whether to write this post as it's not really that related to interiors. However, on deeper reflection I realised that the link between creativity and well-being is at the core of my personal beliefs and business philosophy and that actually you might find it quite interesting! I was asked to write up a reflection about the event below and felt that I'd like to share it with you my avid readers. It might just shine a bit of light and hope into your day. All photos of the event by Stevan Borthwick.
Featured Fifteen is a concept that is hard to define. It shouldn’t be as essentially it’s storytelling about the strength of the human spirit, but the difficulty is finding words for something that is so deeply felt. Part TED talk and part testimony, sitting in a small room in a pub listening to inspiring stories may seem like an odd idea for a Thursday night out. But is isn’t and really the only way to understand it fully is to experience it for yourself!
Community curators of the creative, Helen and Maya’s goal is to inspire and uplift and make us feel good about community we live in. With the hashtag #makelondonlocal, there is no reason why these intimate Featured Fifteen sessions shouldn't be happening across our capital, inviting the brave and humble into our shared lives. The diversity and yet connectedness of the stories told in this Courage and Community themed event do not fail to achieve what the FF ladies set out to do. Her-story and his-story become our story too.
Standing tall with bare exposed sleeves, Liz engaged the listeners as she describes dermatillomania, a challenging condition she’s lived with as long as she can remember. Although physically expressed through skin picking, it’s the way that she unfailingly encounters an inner mental struggle every single day that allows us to see this as a mental health issue. What is striking is that in her darkest hour her fidgeting fingers sought to alleviate the inner mental struggle by picking up some charcoal and pressing it onto to her sketchbook and replicating the physical movement pattern of the scratching and picking and turning it into art. To calm the anxiety that would hit its peak on long commutes, Liz started drawing on the pages of a nearby metro newspaper when she ran out of pages in her sketchbook. What evolved from those moments, is that she began to give these newspaper drawings to other passengers and in turn engage in conversations about her condition or similar mental health issues. She hasn’t stopped since! Liz has been interviewed by press around the world, invited to speak at mental health conferences internationally and is now recognised as a powerful advocate for the role of creativity as a tool for recovery. This story speaks to my heart - the healing power of mindfulness and art and that beauty that can arise from the ashes. Liz continues to create art in public every single day, in spite of the weird glances from commuters. She believes that this artistic expression has saved her life. Standing last night with uncovered unscarred arms is testimony to the extent of her restoration and well-being. This story is one of kindness, creativity and courage and this re-imagining of the therapeutic healing power of art and creativity would be a thread that would weave it’s tale through all of the FF stories.
Picture a fireman slouching on his sofa with a beer, a few days after the Grenfell disaster, unable to process the burden or mental scars that the trauma has left him with. Overcome with emotion he starts to write words, words that begin to rhyme (something he accustomed to in his younger years) to express how he feels. Little did he know that this frantic attempt at understanding his own pain could unite and strengthen a whole community in grief.
A fireman, whose strong physique takes his place in front of the mic and straight away we are transported back to the 14th June last year when the whole of London stood still in sadness for Grenfell. Ricky mentions very little about the actual experience of that night or fallout that’s happened since but we are drawn very close to him and his personal perspective of the event. Ricky knew that he was far from okay within himself but it took the harsh yet kind words of truth from a friend to help him realise it (thank God for friends like these) and actually do something about it. Through counselling, he underwent an awakening that helped him become strong and empowered from a lost and hopeless place. As he continues his moving account, he is punctuated with screeches and cheers of the England spectators in the pub below, reminding us of the community still out there.
Ricky’s poem became a powerful vehicle to bring emergency services together and unify them in their grief and shock. His creativity elevated him to receiving opportunities to unite and connect with others involved with Grenfell in ways that he could never have imagined. The very words he wrote became a way to experience the pain together and open up the path to that important journey towards healing. Ricky could never be the same person he was before Grenfell, but through facing up to that pain, a better more empowered version of himself has emerged. In the words from his own poetry about Grenfell from an “emotionally ruined and broken man”, Ricky found strength in his vulnerability, and a new courage to face whatever is thrown is his path next. This is a story of hope - how Ricky’s truthful dealing with himself and sharing that with the world has brought so much light out of a devastating experience.
The tone swiftly changed with Riccy performing some soulful songs. This London-born singer-songwriter, interrupts the seriousness of the previous stories with some upbeat music from the heart. There is an optimism in his lyrics and yet also honesty that uplifts and makes you aspire to be more and to see more beauty around us. His lyrics about his relationship with his beloved music and his wife brought smiles to my face in a subtle thankfulness and had me daydreaming of the things we want out of life. Like the other speakers, his art allows him to express himself and make himself feel better. His music gently persuades us to reflect on our own relationships and makes us feel a bit better too! The lines “I move closer as time moves along” will haunt me for days to come as I reflect on being ever more grateful and live in the present. Riccy’s story is one of joy!
When two young men stand up in front of the mic and tell you that your kids don’t have to go to university to make a successful, creative career for themselves, you prick your ears up and listen! For the next fifteen minutes my jaw dropped in a awe with a little bit of a smile thrown in there in disbelief at the confidence yet humility these boys expressed as they talked about how they are carving their own career path in the music industry. Rebelling against the strict rigidity and lack of creative agency of the way the arts is taught in schools, they felt it a waste to time to sit in lecture halls for 3 years and opted for getting hands on experience and putting themselves and their talents out there in the world. A DIY career if you like. The result? A successful collaborative business and being invited to host a night with the Tate galleries to put on a gig where 19th century art is juxtaposed with their highly creative visuals and sounds. Innovation and creative collaborations. That’s what these guys are doing, in a ridiculously clever way. I can only pray my boys have that determination and fire in their belly when they reach that age! This is definitely a story of utter courage and actually following your dreams.
Having worked as a camera operator across the world in some pretty scary environments, Cassius returned home age 30 to be stabbed and left for dead on the street. This wasn’t a mugging but a cruel act of gang initiation. Mindless and pointless. Instead of responding with hate, he rose up in forgiveness and love to realise that young people around us need one of our most valuable resources - our time. As government cut youth services drastically, gun and knife crime is ever-increasing and Cassius found a way to bring creativity to this future generation. Accessing the stories of marginalised kids and building relationships through allowing them to understand the filmmaking process has helped them understand and create their own visual identity. Seeing their own life through a lens and enabling their own creativity has had a powerful effect. Cassius is bringing hope in one of the darkest places in our borough by helping young people see a way though through turbulent teenage years and helping them realise that they really do matter. After viewing some hard-hitting short films, he concluded with a call to action. Who will respond and nurture this lost generation? Who will bring hope? This is a story of standing up for a lost generation.
Vulgar and undignified mum jokes in the best possible way, making fun of the roller coaster journey of becoming a parent! We laughed til our faces hurt at the Wider Vagina song and nodded at how we all really feel about World Book Day (with the creator of WBD in the very room)! I also discovered what a Children's Party Puritan was but my favourite bit was their own rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart (remember that 90s classic?) reworded to ‘I hate the bloody park’. As well as cunningly devised lyrics, it was a poignant reminder that when the teenagers have left home, we will yearn for the day we could take the kids to the park again. Ladies I salute you for your brutal honesty and bravery in making fools of yourself to uplift our spirits. Job well done!
Celebrations of the first year of Featured Fifteen concluded the evening and a surprise cake (yellow of course) appeared for the lovely sparkly hosts Helen and Maya who reminded us to never give up on ourselves or the community we live in. No one could have left that hot, humid, crowded night in Forest Hill without a glimmer of hope and optimism for the power of the human spirit and creativity for the next part of our own story.
The next Featured in 15 event is on Thursday 30th August. Get your tickets here!