Orb’s evening classes, which began in October 2014, represent a significant expansion of what our charity can offer to the local community. “We’ve always been good at supporting severe and enduring mental ill-health during the daytime – that’s where we grew up as an organisation”, says Project Manager Leon Fijalkowski, “but we wanted to broaden our reach, and focus more on well-being.”
For Orb, the time has come to start addressing the needs of the whole community. As Leon explains, “We can do positive things towards our mental well-being, in the same way that we can for our physical well-being. Just as you might go to the swimming pool to do twenty lengths, or eat a healthy diet to keep yourself physically well, so getting involved in positive mental activity could also play a part in keeping you well. With us, that’s usually focused around the creative urge: music, art, IT, photography, writing, blogging – and even something quite practical like gardening, which is still a creative act.”
Last year, we were presented with a great opportunity to further these aims, thanks to a grant from North Yorkshire County Council’s Innovations Fund. In its own words, the fund aims to give the voluntary sector “an opportunity to develop services that enable individuals to become less reliant on [the County Council’s] services, by providing early intervention and prevention and reducing the need for referral to statutory agencies.” In other words, its intention is to help keep the community well, to prevent people getting ill, and to reduce social costs across the board by doing inventive and innovative preventative work in the wider community.
If we are to spread our charity’s benefits out to this wider community, providing opportunities for everyone to improve their mental well-being, then it’s important that we provide them at a time when people might be more readily able to access them. If you are particularly ill, then daytime services may be ideal – but if you’re struggling with a certain amount of depression, anxiety or social isolation, and you feel the need to work on your mental well-being, then you might still be holding a job down, or be limited by other family commitments. With this in mind, regular evening classes could well offer a more practical solution to your needs.
We have built our evening groups around three core creative activities: singing, music-making and art. They are intended to be fully inclusive, being aimed at all levels of ability and welcoming anyone within the community suffering from isolation, depression, anxiety, or any similar issue. To put it simply: if you feel you will gain a positive mental well-being boost from being involved in these groups, then we want you to come in and take part.
The diversity of these groups is striking. We have people with learning disabilities, older people who feel somewhat isolated, some people with sight impairment, and some with severe and enduring mental health problems (these are people at the more difficult end of the spectrum, with a formal diagnosis, who may also be getting support from community mental health teams). We also have people at the other end of the mental health spectrum, who are suffering milder symptoms of depression or anxiety. They are still holding down jobs, but they need to do something positive to keep themselves well, and to avoid getting into a worse situation. More recently, we were approached on behalf of someone with dementia, who retains a love of singing. Most of these areas are new to Orb, and we hope that this widening of scope sets the scene for how we’re going to develop in the future, placing our organisation at the heart of the community.
At the end of 2014, three months into the project, Orb held a celebration event for members of all three groups. “We had a great little party,” says Leon. “People sang, the field recording group played their recordings, the art group hung up their artwork, there were cakes, and it was a lovely ‘together’ moment. But we also did a feedback exercise, where we got people to write about their experiences anonymously. Consistently, they said: I feel really welcomed and part of the group – I’ve been isolated for such a long time – it’s the first time I’ve felt part of something for years. Across the board, there were lots of positive, genuine statements.”
With over half of the project lifespan yet to run, we are continuing to build on these encouraging foundations. As the initial funding is limited to a year, it’s important to prove that these groups are worth having, and that they should continue in the future. All sessions are free of charge, and although numbers are steadily growing, there are still available spaces for all of them.
Orb’s evening groups present the wider community with an important and exciting new opportunity – so please, do take full advantage of them!
- The Natural Voice singing group, run by York’s Soundsphere singers, meets on Monday evenings at 6.30pm.
- The Get Creative arts & crafts group, run by professional artist Helen Graham, meets on Thursday evenings at 6.30pm.
- The Fusion Orchestra, a mixed ability music-making group in which anyone can take part, meets on Thursday evenings at 6.30pm.
To enrol in any of these groups, call Leon or Mark on 01423 202028, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or just call into the Orb premises between 9am and 5pm on weekdays.