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  • Olivia Bladen

Fostering partnerships: A first look at our arts and wellbeing programme for young people

In our previous blog post we introduced part of our preliminary evaluation from the development of our Junior Art & Soul project, made possible by a £8,000 grant from the Baring Foundation. The project aims to help children and young people in South West London who are facing mental health challenges, encompassing partnerships with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) through Achieving for Children's Emotional Health Service, the South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust Adolescent Outreach Team and the Priory Hospital. We have been researching and developing responsive models of working, forming new partnerships and engage in important knowledge-sharing and learning. Having shared some of the participants’ views on our sessions, we are now pleased to report back on our new partnerships. This blog is written by workshop assistant Olivia Bladen who worked on Junior Art & Soul sessions at the Priory Hospital and took part in the evaluation process.


External evaluator Siân Hunter Dodsworth has been leading individual and group interviews with the Art & Soul team and partners about Junior Art & Soul. This has included games of ‘Cards on the Table’, a resource designed to evaluate artistic collaborations in a more creative way and support everyone to collectively listen and learn from one another. This listening and learning has been key to ensuring the partnerships are sustainable for the future. As one partner put it:


"This was a new project for all of us and our organisation had never done anything like this before, so it was about going with it and learning as we went along... It was also reassuring to hear that some of the challenges we were facing…were similar [to those faced by other organisations] not because of anything that we were doing. It is just the nature of the service and the people that we're working with, really.”


Another partner expressed that: "As soon as I met you, I realised that we're all on the same page...The kids definitely had a good time.... They especially enjoyed the process. It is quite hard to have an outcome to work towards because of the fluid nature of attendance and the young people's mental states, like, how they're feeling that day or if they fancy coming in [or] not…That's just the reality of the service [we work in].”


Prompts from a ‘Cards on the Table’ game - © 2021 by CARDS ON THE TABLE


A key theme that emerged from these discussions was the importance of flexibility and responsiveness to the children and young people, and the unique environments they are in. Another partner said: "I think when you're working with a group of young people, confidence and feeling comfortable is key... I'm really glad that we all got on so well and that we formed a relationship that then went on to positively benefit the kids that we are working with."


The artist facilitators also echoed these sentiments, with one of us saying: "I feel as though we've made a new team [out of] these projects that involve all the partners…by understanding each other we've developed new ways of working that are really specific to each partnership...We've discovered that by preparing to create trust, we can enable change to happen [and] fulfill our shared aim to support young people."


There was reflection on our own practices:


"I think my perceptions were changed about what the young people would take to... by slowing it down and going for a more minimal approach we were able to be very responsive to them... I think it's about fluidity. [I've learnt] to be more experimental and that it's fine to let things go."


There was further agreement that it had led to new perspectives:


"The project allowed for lots of collaboration with the partners and it was hugely valuable to have partners that... bring different strengths and ideas."


A full card set - © 2021 by CARDS ON THE TABLE


Having taken part in a ‘Cards on the Table’ session myself, speaking from the perspective of a workshop assistant, I was struck by the honesty the game allowed us all to bring and how useful this was. We were able to bounce off each other using prompts from the cards that helped us find common threads and make sense of the full picture. It reinforced for me the importance of a robust evaluation process, and why this will allow Art & Soul to continue to build on what we have learned in a truly meaningful way.


Cards on the Table was co-created by practitioners Ania Bas, Sophie Hope, Siân Hunter Dodsworth, Sophie Mallett and Henry Mulhall


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