So what should a group like DM be?

Creative Studio

We recently held our AGM- some people in a hall, some people on Zoom- you know what things are like these days!

Well each year we share something about how we have got to where we are now, and this year Jo Davis, Founder of Designs in Mind, shared some of her reflections of this journey, what now and what is the future?

From Jo…

Last year, seems ages ago, when I ran through our 25 year history.

I’ve been thinking again about those early days, what drove me , why did I think I could do anything.

For years I was crushed by the weight of the institution that was the NHS. I had never worked in a hierarchy before, never had a ‘job’ job that I hadn’t invented for myself.

The patients at the day centre were ‘cared for’, sheltered, the staff were parental ,over protective, condescending, stifling.

We played card games and made silly hats. No one was allowed an opinion. If any one had , what was ominously described as an ‘episode’ it was dealt with almost as if they were being naughty, misbehaving.

Mental Health was never talked about, we didn’t discuss peoples feelings or fears or hopes or ambitions, we just helped people pass the time.

The staff were Us the patients were Them. People were treated like children.

I was constantly in trouble – shocked to be told that hugging was against NHS protocol. No wonder we went on to build a group where hugging became a central pillar . One member said that walking into Designs in Mind was like walking into a massive hug.

Over the ten years at the Day Centre and the early days of The Project Group (now Designs in Mind) rules and taboos were constantly being broken, we bashed away at the barriers, confronted, challenged, looked outwards got pushed down stood up again.

During this time I learnt, that more than anything, that those of us experiencing mental health issues, need the belief and respect of others, the belief that things can change, that you can achieve and that being an active contributor to society is absolutely possible.

So what should a group like DM be?

We should be challenging and brave…

When someone feels they cant do something maybe ‘cant draw’ ‘cant stand up in public’ cant make decisions’ cant contribute, within an environment that is warm encouraging and dynamic , we should provide opportunities for people to take up a challenge, to see a way forward. There is nothing better than achieving something (however small) that you thought was impossible. Across the board we do provide these challenges and opportunities.

Since the old NHS days we have come such a long way – we have disproved all the convictions that we wouldn’t survive. We have contributed to the debate around mental health, and mental health services. Attitudes have changed – those arguments that we made from the beginning, about creating real opportunities, about entering the real world about trusting people to make decisions and make mistakes are now quoted back to us as the right way to be.

DM has grown, with the growth, we have had to become more organised better systems more robust procedures solid policies. Good and creative Governance. I am sure that there is still some way to go with this.

We have to constantly hold the balance as the pendulum swings between commercial and creative ambition and a caring and nurturing environment – We have to be both – the magic happens when we are both.

This is a difficult balance to achieve – deadlines and professional standards quality and innovation are hard work and scary and honestly sometimes stressful (not what you want in a mental health setting) BUT if the pendulum swings the other way we could become cosy and unambitious boring and condescending.

Lets keep the balance and we will flourish.

I said before that I was a natural rule breaker – at primary school I headed up The Naughty Gang.

In the current situation to break the rules is self indulgent – we have to stick to the rules to keep each other safe.

Covid has had a massive effect on Designs in Mind I have been bowled over by the creativity of staff and members during the lockdown. The variety and scope of the online offer was just what it should have been.

The use of the centre has been a lifesaver thanks to the persistence and hard work of Ruth and Cai – and the suite of workshops put together by the studio team has been exciting varied and ambitious.

The listen and connect team, the new referrals programme, the good egg project the public art commissions – all real achievements during this time.

We cant underestimate the creative and organisational challenge that this has demanded.

Right across Designs in Mind , members, volunteers and staff have pulled something out of the hat.

So maybe instead of breaking rules we should double our efforts to rise above those low expectations attached to mental health services, Think creatively about every situation- challenge the funders to move ahead with us surprise people surprise ourselves.

I loved it when Ruth said ‘designs in mind punches above its weight, It does, it must, if we are to make the difference we want to make.

So what now?

There is no question that covid is a blight and a bore scary and limiting – we have risen to it once and achieved so much. Its harder to keep rising to it to keep optimistic and to keep dreaming.

But to me it seems that we now have a focus lets imagine what having our whole building could be like.

We have dreamed for years that we could occupy the whole building – we now have the chance to make it really ours- covid safe and future proof .

We really need to improve our online capabilities and invest in our offer to new referrals and increase participation across our membership.

Its hard to see through the mist – Catherine has led us brilliantly to where we are now punching well above our weight (loads more to say about this but can feel Catherine’s antagonism rising).

Ruth and Cai it’s a real challenge to go on from here, thankyou for taking it on please don’t think we underestimate the task its massive.

Some days the mists clear, and I see a vibrant creative hubb in the middle of a weird small market town in North Shropshire that changes attitudes to mental health support, smashes stigma, and flies in the face of low expectations.