We have been working with Reed Smith since 2008, running creative arts projects together across London. Currently, our work focuses on adult carers and adults with mental ill health.
As a corporate partner, Reed Smith not only funds these projects but also sends volunteers to take part, benefiting both the participants and Reed Smith staff.
Here we chat to Carole Mehigan (pictured above), Responsible Business Manager EMEA at global law firm Reed Smith, about the value of these projects to the organisation and participants.
What was your first project with Create?
I started working with Create on a project called creative:u~turn, which supported vulnerable women within the community in and around Bethnal Green. It resonated with us because it was such a sensitive area, focused on women who had gone through a huge amount of trauma. It was a lovely way to connect with women who felt completely isolated, traumatised, and unsure where they fit in the community. We saw them develop and, as they got used to our volunteers, their confidence started to grow, and they started to connect with the volunteers.
“Businesses put a lot of emphasis on professionalism – but we need to look after our staff. What better way to do that than doing something creative?”Carole Mehigan, Reed Smith
Which projects are you working on now?
I wanted to find projects where we could have both male and female volunteers attend. We decided to support adult carers. It was a really good opportunity for all our volunteers to get involved, it was local, and it was working with people who give so much of their time to others – whether family members, or friends – and they just don’t have enough time for themselves. That’s taken off really well, and we’ve been working with that particular centre for a number of years now.
Recently Create wanted to partner with a MIND centre. Mental health is a very big thing within our firm. We have a mental health task force. Even before the pandemic, we were keen on making sure people understood how to look after their mental health and wellbeing. So when the project came along, and we were able to sign up for that, it was kind of a no-brainer.
How does volunteering on Create projects help Reed Smith’s staff?
Coming from the corporate world, being very professional about everything, then to find that you have a creative side to you, and to see that in the form of something you’ve made, and to see the benefit you provide to the project, and the results that come out of that, the volunteers are very proud of that. And they should be, because they have contributed to that end result, not just for themselves but for the participants as well. It’s good to see our volunteers proud of what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished outside their comfort zone. They also get to meet people they wouldn’t get to meet in normal circumstances.
When you put an added bit of creativity into the skill-based staff, it helps that person to develop even more. For me, putting a sprinkle of creativity in people’s professional lives helps them to develop as a person and helps them to realise that there’s more to them than just their professionalism. Creative people can be very innovative, they can look at a bigger picture. Rather than just seeing black and white, they can see the grey areas.
How do you mark the end of a project?
I thought it would be a nice end to the project to make the adult carers feel special for few hours, a bit like they’re royalty or celebrities. So we decided to host an event in our London office over a couple of hours.
I organised taxis to pick up the adult carers from the centre, they were dropped off outside our building, then bought into one of our conference rooms. Create brings some of the project work so they can see a display of their work and take it home with them as well. I organise a lunch, and we sometimes have a kind of cinema performance, where we show on screen what the activity was. And then I say a few words, Create says a few words, and the centre manager might do that as well. And then we give them certificates and gifts. Taxis then take them back to the centre.
“Putting a sprinkle of creativity in people’s professional lives helps them to develop as a person and helps them to realise that there’s more to them than just their professionalism.”Caroline Mehigan, Reed Smith
What does being creative mean to you personally?
Reading was my big thing when I was a kid. I love reading and I love writing. When I’ve gone through various traumas, I found writing a really good way to express myself. I’ve always loved dancing. I’ve danced since I was able to walk and talk. I take part in a massive global dance called Ceroc. It helps your mind, body, soul, the whole thing. Also singing – I found singing later in life. I started singing with the Reed Smith choir when we put on Christmas concerts. That then got me involved with a local choir.
That helps me release tension, relax, forget about my mental illnesses. The dancing, the singing and the writing have helped. I’ve gone back to knitting as well. Last year I got re-diagnosed with bipolar depression, complex PTSD, severe anxiety and OCD, which is a large amount of stuff to be dealing with in one go. I had a mental breakdown last year. I ended up in the Priory psychiatric unit for five weeks. Coming back out, getting back into the work I do, and in particular the creative stuff, has really helped me. Continuing with our creative projects is something I really want to make sure we do in the firm because I know personally how beneficial it can be.
What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a corporate partner with Create?
I would encourage them to do it. Working with Create you have such an expansive and wide variety of support that you lend to the community. There are lots of different opportunities that can align with corporate partners who are looking at particular areas that they can help within the community.
You work with young people right across the board to elderly people. Your projects are amazing. Your artists are incredible, the way they bring stuff out of people, whether it’s the participants or the volunteers. Create is a fantastic organisation and every year you seem to be getting better and better. It has been amazing to watch your growth and the amount of support you’re providing to the wider community.
I really think that as a corporate organisation, we put a lot of emphasis on our professionalism and our jobs, but we need to look after our staff, and what better way to do that than doing something creative?