” … Valley and Vale Community Arts … recognise that creativity irrigates the nursery fields of our psyche and our imagination, preparing the ground within which wellbeing and sustainability can be nurtured and take root…” (Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Wales, March 2015)
Valley and Vale Community Arts has been working in Creativity for Health for over 30 years.
This programme is the main and over-arching theme of all the work that we do. We believe that all our creative projects are, in different ways, extremely beneficial to the wellbeing of the people we work with. This feeling of increased wellbeing may emerge for participants in the creative ‘flow’, when they are actively involved in the creative process itself, or it may be discovered through the process of exploring specific and often difficult life issues through creativity.
We believe that creativity is an essential human right and that it is fundamental to our physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves creatively, and that through creativity we can create opportunities for individual and community development, stimulating personal and social change.
We approach our Community Arts work with a respect for others, a commitment to people, with empathy, integrity and the ability to provide participants with a safe place for sharing creativity and creative expression. We offer participants a sense of belonging, security, purpose, continuity, achievement and significance. Having the opportunity to be creative, to reflect and to challenge previous patterns, gives participants the chance to dream up a ‘possible self’ and the opportunity to develop a map of how to get there, helping them to create positive goals, which when achieved can reinforce their sense of control of the future:
‘Build something. Share something. Craft something. Make more art. Your health and happiness will improve and we’ll all be better off for it …’ (James Clear, Creative Healthy habits)
Projects are based on a Person-Centred Creativity approach. Sessions are grounded in participants’ needs and interests and use a creative arts and activity-based approach to explore the themes identified by the group. Many of the people we work with find it difficult to verbally express themselves, and the creative sessions offer a range of different mediums and support people in dealing with a range of issues that may be affecting their lives:
“ We all have the potential within us to be creative in our own individual way. From our earliest years we learn through play. And to play is to engage in the first steps of creativity and experimentation. It’s a journey that can transform the way we learn and explore the world around us. It can change the way we see ourselves – even what we dream of for the future – as well as helping us to develop the wide range life skills that twentyfirst century living seems increasingly to demand of us.” (Nick Capaldi, ACW, 2015)
When participants are ready, the sharings of the creative work they have produced acts as a further catalyst for change because it widens the impact of the message they want to share, and inspires future change. It can also give the participants increased motivation to continue in their own journey, taking new challenges in their lives, taking risks with support, and receiving positive affirmations in return from the people we share it with (family, friends, funders, stake-holders, communities) – and this in turn stimulates increased dialogue personal and social change.
One of our key aims and proven achievements is in the ability of our creative workshops to inspire and motivate our participants. This is of high importance, because many of the people we work with come to our projects or training sessions with low self-esteem and low confidence levels, so being motivated through the creative process can be extremely inspiring and life-changing. This new feeling of a possible and positive self image and identity can help participants move towards more pro-active life choices that might include re-connecting with education, further education, employment, developing increased social networks, taking on new challenges, continuing with creativity, and more creative and less inhibited thinking.
This programme continued to go from strength to strength, with a wide range of training courses delivered throughout the year under the Social Care Workforce Development Programme, and working with managers and care staff teams in Day Services, Residential and Domiciliary settings. We also worked with adults with mental health issues and a wide range of groups. Feedback comments made on course evaluations included:
‘An outstanding course, learned a lot about myself and how to move forward with confidence.’
‘Thoroughly enjoyed the course, refreshing and looking forward to adapting to include in working practice.’
‘The best training I have attended in a very long time–truly inspirational.’
‘Fabulous, meaningful, non – structured, fun, fun, fun.’
‘Enjoyed the 3 days, did things I never would have thought of doing.’
‘It was the best training I have ever been on.’
‘I am really enthusiastic about taking and using a lot of this in the workplace.’
‘Very good for team building’
We can tailor our Person-Centred Creativity training courses to meet the needs of a wise range of user groups, from Social Care Worker staff teams, Community Artists, Health (inc. Mental Health) Workers, Voluntary and Public Sector Workers, and mixed groups. This feedback gives us proven evidence that this training, which we have developed over many years, gives participants a positive learning experience as well as personal and professional development tools.
The areas that participants tell us they have found useful include: understanding the relationship between creativity and wellbeing; innovative working; experiential group work; creating safe environments, and designing, implementing and evaluating creative programmes.
‘Up for It’ – a new Youth Drama piece which was commissioned by Healthy Schools Bridgend for presentation at a Substance Misuse Training Day for young people in Bridgend at the Hi-Tide in March 2014.
This piece was co-written by our young drama team Brandon Ashford and Doug Gray, working with our partner Tamse Preece, Head of PSE at Bryntirion School in Bridgend, directed by our Applied drama Practitioner Ali Franks, and was performed by Brandon Ashford and Doug Gray. ’Up For It’ charts the impact of substance misuse on the friendship, aspirations and physical and mental health of best friends Jimmy and Dan.
“ Using their choice of music, some of my dance facilitation, some old time dances and their dances … we will see where this lovely journey takes them. The ladies are having so much fun and I cannot hold them back! …” (Elaine Bennett, Dance Development Worker)
As part of our programme of working creatively with older people, we were pleased to be able to continue this work in Bridgend again. This project was initially developed in partnership with Anna Evans, Planning and Partnership Support Manager at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board. We were supported by Bridgend County Borough Council, The Arts Council of Wales, and also donations from the residents themselves who were so keen to keep the project going.
This creative activity programme aims to promote emotional and physical wellbeing. This year we worked with Valleys2Coast (V2C), our local not-for-profit Housing Association, offering their residents at Llys Cynffig in Pyle and Llys Ton in Kenfig Hill the opportunity to enjoy spending some time being creative through the medium of arts and crafts. We also worked with other residential homes and Centres in the area, including Glanogwr House Retirement Housing, where dance and movement was extremely popular.
We plan to build on this work into the future, with more opportunities for people with dementia and other illnesses. Workshops are run by experienced facilitators and aim to help participants express themselves creatively, increase their confidence, learn new skills, work as part of a team, make decisions and have fun. The creative process we offer participants is a healing, positive, therapeutic experience. It is not Art Therapy, but it aims to help people reflect on their lives and often explore the possibilities of making steps towards positive change that may help them in their future.
We have been working in partnership with Barnardo’s Cymru Seraf Service for several years, offering a safe environment and creative approaches to support young people dealing with trauma, building confidence and self-esteem. The Seraf Service provides support to those who are at risk of or are abused through sexual exploitation. In workshops the young people have the opportunity to explore different art forms; the sharing of their creative work and stories promotes greater awareness, understanding and dialogue around the issues raised. On Thursday 6th November 2014, at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, we supported Barnardo’s Cymru Seraf Service in the launch of the ‘Hear Our Voice’ project which was officially opened by the Deputy Minister for Health, Vaughan Gething AM.
We had excellent feedback about this exhibition which expressed young people’s experiences of growing up, their relationships, the dangers of sexual exploitation and how they have been able to explore, process and overcome traumatic events through the therapeutic arts. The event included music, dance and drama, all produced by young people, with an exhibition of artwork and short films:
“The arts provides a fantastic opportunity for children and young people to tell it as it is … It provides all of us with an opportunity to really think through how we can support children and young people to get positive relationships. To deal with things when things have not gone as they should have done or when bad things happened … the arts have relevance right across the whole range of Welsh Government activities and lives of people in Wales and young people in Wales. I think what we learn from today is another aspect of that relevance. The way that The Arts Council of Wales, Valley and Vale Community Arts and Literature Wales have been working with Barnardo’s to allow young people to express themselves and communicate their experiences around sexual exploitation…” (Keith Towler, Children’s Commissioner for Wales)
“This work is so important, we are using creativity as a way of helping young people to deal with difficult issues in safe and supportive environments …” (Alex Bowen, Director, Valley and Vale Community Arts)
As part of our Drama for Emotional Health programme, we were excited to announce a new and groundbreaking participatory theatre project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and supported by The Arts Council of Wales and Bridgend County Borough Council – #noblurredlines.
Aimed at 16-24 year olds #noblurredlines is a powerful theatre performance addressing issues of sexual consent and compliance. Our research and ongoing work with local young people continually unearths a culture of confusion, entitlement and compliance around sexual relationships. Given that this is a risky area to address, as professionals we tailor-made this project to create a safe dialogue between our young people and professionals who can help. Key discussion points for the audience debates after the performance included: Safety; Alcohol and recreational drug use; Drink spiking; Reporting a sexual assault; The Law; Legal definitions; The role of alcohol; ‘Fair Play’ and respect; Giving and receiving sexual consent; Exploitation – sexual activity when there is a power/emotional imbalance.
This project addresses many key issues that we believe need addressing and discussing with young people. Many of our partner projects have expressed the need for this type of project that creatively tackles often difficult issues with young people, to help promote dialogue, awareness and understanding, in a safe and creative environment:
“ …educate, prevent, and raise much-needed dialogue around the issues emerging…” (Ali Franks, Applied Theatre Practitioner, Valley and Vale Community Arts)
The tour started with the Bridgend ‘Thinking about Sex’ event at the Hi-Tide, Porthcawl on March 19th and 20th 2015, and then #noblurredlines went on to tour Bridgend 6th Forms before Easter.
This project was developed and devised by Ali Franks (Valley and Vale Community Arts) and Dr Tamasine Preece (Head of PSE, Bryntirion Comprehensive School and Freelance Social Media and Sexual Health Consultant). #noblurredlines has been endorsed by Keith Towler (Children’s Commissioner For Wales) and Bridgend Police Community Safety Partnership, and has been funded by The Arts Council of Wales, Communities First, and The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
#noblurredlines Participatory Theatre Project
For several years we have been running drama sessions for patients in Caswell Clinic, a medium-secure unit in Glanrhyd Hospital in Bridgend, funded through a range of sources including initial development funding from The Lankelly Chase Foundation, The Arts Council of Wales, Bridgend County Borough Council, and now through commissioning from the Clinic itself. The facility provides specialist healthcare for patients with mental health problems who are offenders or who have a potential to offend. This programme is currently being facilitated by Drama Worker Karen Steadman.
Participants in our workshops have a wide range of conditions and issues and are at different stages of rehabilitation; some patients have been recently admitted and may be institutionalised for some time, while others are ready to move on to a low-secure unit or supervised accommodation. Because of the varying abilities and issues in the room, workshops need to be flexible and patient-led up to a point. The aim is to give patients some time away from the ward, which may be a stressful environment at times. Working as part of a group is essential in the rehabilitation process as it develops tolerance and understanding of the needs of others. We do not work towards specific goals, performances or skills. The main aim is to create a safe, supportive environment in which to have fun, develop confidence and try out social skills.
The project ‘Where are the Boys?’ was a collaboration between Valley and Vale Community Arts and Barnardo’s Cymru Seraf Service, which works with vulnerable young people who are at risk of or involved in Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Our project ‘Where are the Boys?’, funded by Children in Need, made us aware that sexual abuse is still such a taboo subject for boys. The aim of the project was to identify and work with vulnerable young boys at risk of sexual exploitation in a way that would enable them to talk about their experiences and raise awareness of the risks attached to sexual exploitation. This was combined with the ethos and values of Person-Centred Creativity, which is based on a belief in creativity as a powerful tool for individual and social change.
We were trying to find ways to reach more boys, raise awareness and engage them into a creative and therapeutic dialogue. Through the use of art, music, poetry, songs and films, the boys were encouraged to talk about relationships, both healthy and unhealthy, expectations of boys in relationships, peer pressure and the risks of child sexual exploitation. Some of their artwork was exhibited for one month at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay in February 2015.
In Partnership with Barnardo’s Seraf Service, at the early stages of the work, we used creativity to raise awareness of sexual exploitation at the Health and Well Being Conference at Fitzalan High School in Cardiff. During the day we worked with more than 100 boys. Sexual exploitation is a very difficult subject to approach especially with teenage boys and we are also aware that some of the young people in the sessions might be affected and so we made sure that we had enough staff present to talk to individuals; as part of the sessions we signposted to organisations and people who can help.
Where Are The Boys?
We took part in this partnership event, working with with Barnardo’s Cymru, and sponsored by Deputy Minister for Health Vaughan Gething, AM. The event took place on Tuesday 3rd February 2015 at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff, and included music, dance and drama by young people sharing their experiences of growing up, their relationships, and the dangers of sexual exploitation. This is part of a programme of work with Barnardo’s Cymru Seraf Service in association with the Cardiff Council Cultural Scheme, The Arts Council of Wales, the Welsh Government, South Wales Police and Bawso.
As part of our ‘Building Bridges’ project funded by Cardiff Council we then planned to take the play ‘What’s Happening Frankie?‘ to schools across the community to raise awareness of sexual exploitation, to listen and to improve dialogue between young people, and people working in education, health and social care, and criminal justice.