Palfrey – positive about mental health through poetry

In June 2017 Changing Our Lives delivered a series of poetry workshops in Walsall with a focus on mental health and wellbeing. The team worked work with over 180 young people from Palfrey Muslim Girls School and the local junior school, taking performance poetry to the heart of the Muslim community. We took this approach as we know from our local work and national research that mental health inequalities are prevalent within BME communities and myths surrounding mental health continue to impact negatively on people’s lives and communities as a whole.

Taking poetry workshops into these schools enabled the team to explore the ways that young people in these communities used creative arts to tackle issues around mental health, challenge myths and stereotypes and increase their own general awareness. Performance Poet, Dreadlock Alien, former Birmingham Poet Laureate tailored each poetry workshop to the needs of the individual groups ranging from years 4 – 11. MPs from the Mental Health Peoples Parliament opened each workshop through creative exercises that got young people talking. These early discussions around mental health, its relationship to physical health, what it actually means and the way people view it supported young people to understand more about what it means to them to enable them to be able to capture their own experiences within their poetry.

All of the sessions were explosive and exciting all the young people across the workshops challenged themselves through the medium of poetry by looking at some of the very difficult issues that society faces as well as personal issues like death, suicide and issues within the family. The feedback from all of the workshops was sensational.

“The event left me speechless, I was given mind blowing facts and I really enjoyed learning about mental health and how to deal with it. Dreadlock Alien’s rhyming was the best!”

Young person in year 6

“Thank you to you and your team for the workshop this morning. I found it really inspiring as did the children. Issues that are not always easy to talk about were tackled in a fun way, which engaged the children and made them think and empathise about their own well-being as well as others. Your team has brought an awareness of mental health wellbeing into the classroom in such an exciting way that the children will remember it as being one of the highlights of their school lives. Dreadlock Alien was an inspiration and had the children in the palm of his hands. As a teacher with over 10 years’ experience I learnt so much from this workshop. I look forward to working with your organisation again.”

Teacher, Palfrey Junior School

On July 12th a ‘Poetry Slam’ will see both schools joining together in large event with their families and wider communities to ‘battle’ against each other using the poetry they developed and the awareness from the workshops to bring together a showcase that will set the scene around mental health as a ‘continuum’ in relation to the very ordinary life experiences that happen to all of us. Young people from years 6 to 11 will perform their poetry to begin to tackle some of the stereotypes that exist with their community, increase people’s awareness around mental health and celebrate their own creative achievements.

On the back of this project a digital poetry book will be published, alongside inserts relating to the work.

This project is supported by an Open Access Award from Creative Black Country as part of the Creative People and Places scheme.


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