People in Mind
Posted Thursday 26 January 2012
Ruth writes about People in Mind, an oral history project and exhibition marking 25 years of Mind in Bexley.
In July last year, I began an oral history project for Mind in Bexley, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary. The project was commissioned to mark this milestone, so it seemed apt to record people’s memories of the organisation and the role it had played in their lives.
However, alongside recording interviews, I also attended a number of day groups and services each week.
There, very different stories were shared with me. These were not about the organisation, they were personal stories of mental health and distress, of journeys through difficult times, of ‘good days and bad days'.
I began to wonder whether these might be the stories people wanted to tell, as well as being the stories that needed to be heard.
I wasn’t sure how people would feel about this - I was proposing longer interviews, more personal sharing. I was moved by the positive response.
Everyone agreed to proceed, several more people asked to be involved and there was much enthusiasm for the project as one that might challenge stigma and misunderstanding around mental health.
By September we had recorded twenty interviews. These were transcribed in full and catalogued to establish a digital archive at Mind in Bexley. The collection included people’s first hand accounts of mental distress, their reflections on its causes, along with their thoughts on what had helped, or hampered, their journey to wellbeing.
Interviewing with a life story approach meant that birth stories, childhood adventures, working lives, achievements, passions and hopes for the future could also be recorded.
The project concluded with two audio visual workshops, lively days, full of tea, cake and conversation. We were joined by the photographer and filmmaker, Daniel Quinones. While Daniel took portrait photographs of participants, I recorded their memories around objects that had meaning to their mental health and wellbeing.
People shared stories of carpentry, songwriting, friendship, birthdays, Whitby and EastEnders, as well as several pieces of their own poetry and prose.
The project was exhibited at the National Trust’s Hall Place in November. Entitled People in Mind, it attracted almost 150 visitors in just two, very wintry, weeks.
Extracts from the life story interviews were grouped around the themes that had emerged during the project and these were displayed with the portrait photographs taken at the workshops.
When this project began, I thought I would be learning about the life of a dynamic organisation. Instead, through stories told with candour and insight, I have learned about the lives of the people who make up that organisation’s community. I’ve come to know them and have shared their journey for a short while. Visitors to the exhibition were invited to do the same.
Ruth, Daniel and Mind in Bexley would like to thank Penny, Arthur and their colleagues at Calverts Co-operative for their generous help in the production and installation of the exhibition.
They would also like to thank the London Borough of Bexley for funding this work.
This exhibition was small, but powerful. There was a cathedral-like peace as one entered the glass doors into an elegant room, where people were almost reverentially gathered around this stand or that. If they spoke it was in hushed tones, always of appreciation.
As I drove my mobility scooter inside, I felt I was intruding somehow, especially when it became necessary to reverse in order to get to the other side from where I'd started; mobility scooters sound like reversing lorries, and in that small space the shriek was dreadful, but caused a chuckle...
I was more than impressed with the quiet simplicity, and dramatic impact as a result. I felt I had been done good to, just by seeing people like myself, in some wonderful photographs, with their comments joined together to make the most telling statements and affirmations of what Mind in Bexley is about, and what, especially, it has done for them.
It was a humbling experience, and very worth while. Thank you Ruth and Daniel.
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