Aims and scope on the project
My hopes for Cumbria Partnership Year of Writing were that it would be inspirational, educational and above all inclusive. I wanted the project to benefit as many of our patients (service users), carers and staff as possible, and I wanted groups to meet on equal terms – with no sense of ‘us and them’.
I was sure that creative writing workshops should be included in the project, but most of all, I wanted to start writing sessions for patients in mental health wards (see posts called Writing Together: Therapeutic Writing in Mental Health). My hope was to inspire patients to start writing: to help their recovery; as a hobby for hospital and home; and so they might redefine themselves, if only in a small way, as writers rather than as people with this diagnosis or that.
To maximise the ongoing effects of the project, I felt I needed to include staff development opportunities, e.g., to develop skills in therapeutic writing. Through consultation with staff, I identified a list of workshop topics, and clinicians to lead them.
The Year of Writing included 30 events: nine creative writing workshops (attended by 65 people; mainly service users, carers and staff of the trust and local voluntary organisations); five staff workshops (52 attended); 13 sessions in an adult acute mental health ward (20 patients each attended one to five sessions); two short writing ‘taster’ sessions (attended by 19 carers, 12 trust staff and two staff of a local voluntary organisation) and a conference (Ross, 2011).
Creative writing workshops
The programme I developed for the creative writing workshops comprised: introductions; brief explanation of the Year of Writing and how writing can benefit wellbeing; 5- to 10-minute ‘freewriting’ exercises (with or without verbal prompts); journal writing exercises; longer writing exercises using stimuli such as objects or pictures; reading aloud (with no pressure to do so); and group discussions. A warm, informal approach was adopted, with an emphasis on forming safe, caring groups to encourage sharing and a feeling of acceptance.
These are some comments from workshop attendees:
“This has been brilliant! I would love more of this and would love to encourage carers to access this workshop. The sharing of ideas by people in this group has been inspiring.”
“It allowed me to be reflective and look at where I am at and work out why I had spontaneously written what I did and what I needed to do.”
“Once I had started things came back to me that have been locked away for so long.”
“The written word can be very powerful, vicarious experience gained from reading a book can be the means for the release of a range of different feelings which may be not just be therapeutic but also offers hope and solutions. Someone has to write the book, it is a shared intimate relationship between the writer and the reader. A particular letter or story can have meaning for the reader as long as it exists. It can be read a 1000 times. To write can be a most rewarding and fulfilling task giving a person a sense of self and achievement. The written word can exist without a reader, the simple fact of writing thus becomes an opportunity for self-expression.”
In the first workshop we wrote this collaborative poem:
Life is breathing in and breathing out
an amazing journey
the road to your dreams
Life is so precious
not a rehearsal
full of ups and downs
14 years and out for good behaviour
Life is going out to the pub
the warm glow of a friendly fire
a mixture of emotions
Life is not what I expected
an experiment for the next chapter
the only thing that is truly yours
Life is what life is all about
To produce the poem I first asked each participant to write three lines starting with “Life is…” on strips of coloured paper. Then as a group we chose the line we liked best from each person. Finally my co-facilitator, Marilyn Messenger, and I arranged the lines into a poem, which we read aloud in the group and published in a Year of Writing newsletter.
Ward writing groups – see posts called Writing Together: Therapeutic Writing in Mental Health and Ross, 2011.
Ross, C. A. (2011). Evaluation of Cumbria Partnership Year of Writing workshops. Cumbria Partnership Journal of Research, Practice and Learning, 1, 17-20. Retrieved 27 May 2011 http://www.cumbriapartnership.nhs.uk/uploads/Journal/CPJRPL%201%201%20Spring%202011%20p17%20Evaluation.pdf