Our Story – Part 1

Creative Studio

A smoke filled room in the heart of England in the 80’s. A room full of ‘mad’ people, people who suffer from mental health problems and therefore need to be ‘protected’. The management of the day centre take on the role of parents and treat them like their children.

A young artist (Jo) from London, who studied at one of the most prestigious art colleges in the UK, enters the room. She has just been employed as Technical Assistant. Her role is to ‘entertain’ the group with creative activities, arts and crafts. The young artist can’t see any ‘mad’ people behind the smoke, but instead recognises individuals with lots of potential who together can create beautiful things. She has no intention of running an arts and crafts class. After a lot of hard work (not caused by the ‘mad people’ but by bureaucracy and the system) Jo builds up a social enterprise. Not over night and not on her own.

For a while Jo worked with the group and managed to win contracts to create small scale public art commissions. While still under the umbrella of the NHS they started to earn some money and soon the limits of working within the public sector became obvious and insurmountable. It became clear that in order to grow they had to break free and become independent.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make. Having such a big organization as a backbone has lots of advantages. But we had to leave this safety net in order to flourish and move on”

With an ex-service user as her assistant, who still suffers from occasional relapses, Jo secured money from MIND to cover the running costs for the first three years as an independent organization. Designs In Mind was born! Today the organisation designs and creates public art commissions, offers outside workshops (often other marginalised groups) and is currently working on the development of a designed retail range.

“The most important components for the successful implementation of our ideas were”

  • The strong partnership with psychiatrists/the NHS (continued following independence)

  • Believing in people and their potential – even if they don’t believe in themselves

  • Infecting others with enthusiasm and motivation

  • Always remaining creative and continuously developing – individuals and the organization as a whole.

And this is what Jo achieved. A change in management within the NHS and a knock on the door from a business graduate just as the organization was ready to move towards a more business focused approach occurred just at the right time.

“This isn’t your average job, you fall in love with the place”

This was a comment from an NHS manager in his corporate suit, who on his way to his sterile office left a piece of his heart with the group, in the not always very tidy studio.

Partnership really is at the heart of Designs In Mind’s ethos. The group works with regional and national organizations in the public, voluntary, artistic and private sectors.

“The group was created before the era of new media. We started with corporate presentations using overhead projectors and meeting people face-to-face. This has certainly helped us to get our name out there, build up a reputation and impress some influential people. To me personal relationships are still very much at the forefront in this area, even if I might sound old fashioned. But we constantly move on and try to stay “with it”. We are now on facebook, tweet, have a you tube channel and use mailchimp for our email newsletter”

Jo laughs. She stresses that it is was a focused email campaign which helped the group to secure the ‘Future Friendly Award for Sustainability in the Community’ – an award voted for by the general public.

They have even visited the Queen when they were awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services. Jo, a young at heart alternative, walked through the gardens of Buckingham Palace without her shoes – the new shoes were too tight… The award filled all members, even non-royalists, with enormous pride.