New festival takes creative approach to support mental health in Swindon

By Claire Dukes - 5 February 2019

Arts and CultureFamilyCommunityHealth

People dealing with mental health issues are set to receive a new kind of support as Swindon launches its very first Wellbeing and Arts Festival.

A group of artists and local organisations have come together to launch Swindon Wellbeing and Arts Festival this month.

As part of a new initiative to raise awareness of mental health, and break down stigmas, collectives across Swindon have come together to demonstrate how engaging with artistic practices can have a positive impact on wellbeing through what organisers hope becomes an annual festival.

Swindon Wellbeing and Arts Festival launches at Artsite & The Post Modern 9 February followed by a series of exhibitions, coffee mornings, workshops and talks in venues throughout the town until 17 February. Local organisations hosting and supporting the festival include Darkroom Espresso, Artsite, Wyvern Theatre, The Olive Tree Café, Richard Jefferies Museum, Baristocats, Create Studios, Gateway Furniture and John Lewis. 

An organiser of the event, James Osborn, said: “As far as I am concerned the festival will have been a success if one person leaves each event knowing that the creative way they try to improve their wellbeing is acceptable and valid.

"One of our other aims to showcase what different types of creative outlets and support are available to people. A lot of people are trying to deal with mental health and wellbeing problems on their own, so a major part of what we want to say is that there is a whole community of people who want to help.

“Swindon, in my opinion, is one of the best places in the country for access to mental health provision. Charities like IPSUM, Mind and many others provide so many creative ways to improve wellbeing and there are some amazing individuals in the NHS, - locally both at Sandalwood Court and Chatsworth House - who are encouraging creativity. The problem is many people don't realise what is available to them.

“One of the things we aim to do is show off how great Swindon is. We understand that Swindon is a DIY town, meaning that if Swindonians spot a need or have an idea we just get on and do it, we don’t wait for someone else to solve our problems for us, we provide our own solutions. If we want more live music then we organise a gig, if we want more art we put on an exhibition, if we want to improve our wellbeing then we connect with others locally and create opportunities to thrive. One example of this is one of the events we are putting on, Rusty Goat's Poetry Corner Artsite Takeover for SW&AF, two years ago myself and Scott, - aka The Rusty Goat - decided to start a poetry/spoken word event in Swindon. Instead of waiting for funding or trying to raise money from some outside group we approached Darkroom Espresso and asked if we could Put on an event. Will, the owner, said ‘yes’ and we have been running Rusty Goats Poetry Corner for over a year and we have been given the opportunity to bring six of the area’s best poets to perform at an event to raise money for our friends at IPSUM.

“A lot of people don't realise that Swindon has such a strong poetry scene that welcomes open discussion in the area of wellbeing and mental health and even more they don’t know that they are allowed to be part of it. That is one of the major themes of the festival ‘you can be part of this’.

“We also have a whole pile of volunteers including Beatrice Mar who is heading up the exhibition team, Swindon Borough Council’s Charlie Paradise who has been advising us, and many others. I have been co-organising with support from Charlie, Beatrice, IPSUM, Artsite and Justin Smythe.

“We have been privileged to connect the charitable sector and local businesses as part of the festival.”

The festival looks to explore different creative ways in which people can discuss and express their mental health, as well as create a network of support for people living within the Swindon area.

Councillor Brian Ford, Swindon Borough Council’s Mental Health Champion and Cabinet Member for Adults, added: “Mental health is something which affects each and every one of us so it is important we take positive steps to look after it, and support others to do so as well.

“As a council, we want to spread positive messages around mental wellbeing across the borough and we really value the fantastic partnership work taking place, of which Swindon Wellbeing and Arts Festival is just one example. I’d urge more organisations to get involved and help get people talking about mental health and take steps to help themselves and others around them.”

For further information about Swindon Wellbeing and Arts Festival, including upcoming events, visit the group's Facebook page

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