creative:tandem is our multi-artform programme empowering children and young people who have a serious mental health illness. For four years, we have been delivering projects at Snowsfields Adolescent Unit at Maudsley Hospital in South London. Our professional artists have been using creativity to help young patients develop their artwork and social skills, a creative means of increasing self-expression, self-esteem and confidence.
Here two occupational therapists tell us about the project’s impact on participants.
An “agamograph” from the first day of the Easter workshops at Snowsfields, 2021
“It allowed him to focus, and gave him an opportunity to build relationships”
Told to us by Charlotte Ellis, Occupational Therapy Apprentice
“During the Easter project with Create [in 2021, via Zoom], we had a new admission. We invited him and he came in. He was taking in some instruction, but not all of it. But he saw the materials and was like, ‘I’m just going to take this and this and this and this. And I’m going to draw and draw and draw.’
“We saw that he was absorbing more than we thought, because he was occasionally answering questions from the artist. That was day one, and he showed off his work and was very proud. He loved holding it up to the camera and showing the artist what he’d done.
“Then on day two, [when we were] making the tote bags, he much more followed the brief, and stayed for longer. He was spraying the bags. And he was very creative again. The bag was too wet for him to touch because it was covered in paint, so we put it in the cupboard, and he’d forgotten the next day. Then we gave it back to him and the joy was wonderful. During the week, every art piece he did, he put in his bag, and then he walked around the ward with it, very proud of all the stuff he’d achieved.
“He was saying at the end of the week how amazing it had all been and how he really loved making the bag in particular. That was his absolute favourite.”
One of the tote bag stencils from day two of the Easter project at Snowsfields, 2021
“By the end of the week, he was sitting down, he was engaging with his peers who he’d been unable to form relationships with at the beginning, because he was so unwell. Having the shared experience had built a rapport with his peers – and drinking the cups of tea. He’d gone from being able to sit down for about 15-20 minutes to do that first drawing to joining in with sessions for the full two hours.
“He was saying at the end of the week how amazing it had all been and how he really loved making the bag in particular. That was his absolute favourite. He uses the word amazing a lot. ‘It was amazing. It’s really amazing. It’s just so wonderful.’ He was saying how he’d really enjoyed just sitting with others, and being creative and getting to know each other, but not having to talk and just being with each other.
“It really allowed him to focus, gave him some outlet, but also gave him an opportunity to build relationships with other young people. And he was really proud of what he’d accomplished during the week.”
“She was using photography in a really mindful way”
Told to us by Dionne Monarch, Lead Occupational Therapist Inpatient CAMHS and Day Patient Co-ordinator
“There was one girl, she was really struggling. As well as having a low mood, she also had ADHD, so she used to find it really hard to join in and stay focused. I don’t know if you’ve ever met anybody with ADHD, but it can be a real struggle to concentrate and stick with something. Often they’ll come and be like, ‘Oh, I can’t do this’, and leave.
“This girl took part in the first photography project we did with Create, and she was really good at it. I think Create’s photographer realised that she had a real skill. This was good for her self-esteem, but it also made her want to stick at it. It was really engaging her, and the project was different every day, which kept her interest.
“She said it really helped her to focus, to notice things and to slow down, which was a skill that was really hard for her with ADHD.”
“She got better and better at it. Mindfulness gets used a lot in mental health but she talked about photography in a very mindful way. She said it really helped her to focus, to notice things and to slow down, which was a skill that was really hard for her with ADHD.
“Because she was so good at it, and we wanted her to continue, we put in for some money from the Simon Walker fund through the Maudsley charity. The fund helps people with projects or with interests, to be able to use them in a kind of rehabilitation way. We managed to get her the money to get a camera of her own. And she was delighted. Her family didn’t have much money and she had little siblings who often took up all the time and attention. She always had to share everything with them. This was brilliant because it was something of her own, and she was delighted that she had something just for her.”
creative:tandem is supported by:
John Horniman’s Children’s Trust
The Fitton Trust