Why creativity matters Stories of creativity Meet, Make, Mend Bristol Textile Quarter, in partnership with peer support mental health charity, Changes Bristol delivered 16 'Meet, Make, Mend' sewing kits for participants to use during a series of slow stitch Zoom workshops. One of several micro-commissions funded by Creative Lives through our Get Creative strand, the project aimed to give participants living with mental health challenges the chance to connect, learn and share. “I’m convinced that sewing can be good for your mental well-being," says Bristol Textile Quarter’s Studio Manager, Saffron Darby. "It lets people take a breath and slow down, keep their hands busy and block out negative thoughts when things get too much. Particularly in the darkest times of lockdown, stitching can be so restorative, as you’re getting the chance to progress with something even when the rest of the world is so beyond your control." The team at Bristol Textile Quarter was able to access and invite individuals at risk of experiencing loneliness via Changes Bristol's trusted network. To make it as easy for participants to join in as possible, everyone was provided with a starter kit (pictured) that included a large swathe of linen, needles, embroidery thread and a little booklet of inspiring ideas and images. “In our first session, 17 of us got to know each other, discussed how much experience we had, went through the packs and we found out if people had anything they’d like to mend," explains Saffron. "For instance, one guy had a shirt that he loved and was eager to fix it. I also invited everyone to start their stitch journals - that’s where you do a small amount of stitching every day if you can, using it almost like a meditation. It’s about just letting your mind go and seeing where your needle and thread takes you. “Lockdown has affected all of us in different ways. If you’re living alone with no one to talk to and literally only four walls for company, you could end up making yourself completely invisible. I worry then that if you’re living with mental health challenges, lockdown could have made things 100 times worse. “I didn’t want to put pressure on people to finish anything in the workshop - this was about starting a journey, not about creating a finished product. The workshops were guided by the participants so that they felt comfortable sharing their stories about the clothes they own and felt proud of what they created. “Crucially I wanted them to have the chance to connect with one another through creativity. There has been so little human connection over the last year, so to be able to stitch as a group was a great way to come together.” The response from participants when they received their sewing kits through the post was very positive: "Thank you for sending the sewing kit - it's so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes! It has been done with so much care, I'm already feeling a bit better and look forward to the first meeting." "I just wanted to send a quick thank you for allowing me a space on this workshop. I am recovering from Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and also have a number of health issues that have limited my ability to interact with others over lockdown. I’m so excited to take part and spend time with others virtually." Each of the four workshops introduced a different aspect of mending and sewing, with Saffron leading the conversation but encouraging everyone to speak and share. A Changes Bristol volunteer and Creative Lives Development Officer, Sally Reay were at each session. Here's how they were structured: Week One Everyone was welcomed and the group was introduced to each other. They completed a short poll about well-being, and Saffron found out what skills people had and what they hoped to learn over the four sessions. The group was introduced to the sewing kits, the basics of splitting embroidery floss, threading needles, different types of stitches and examples of the Japanese art of Sashiko mending. The group discussed the well-being benefits of mindful slow stitching, the 'Meet, Make. Mend' concept and about spending time working on stitch journals (pictured) between each session. Week TwoThe group brought jeans and shirts that needed mending to the session and focussed on repairing these with patches, using a video tutorial (uploaded to YouTube) and a variety of examples. There was an open discussion about the items and the group's progress with stitch journals, people’s own techniques and visible vs invisible mending. The group then chose to focus on darning for the third session. Week ThreeThis included another video tutorial, with more examples and more open discussion, demonstrating how to darn a jumper hole and sharing progress so far. Week FourThe workshops concluded with a 'show and tell' format, sharing progress, discussing challenges and offering recommendations and encouragement. There was also an invitation for group members to join the regular slow stitch sessions run by Bristol Textile Quarter. The wellbeing poll and evaluation details were shared for completion. Outcomes "We were so delighted with the project that Bristol Textile Quarter brought to us for our members," says Changes Bristol Services Manager, Tara Robinson. "As a small grassroots charity it can be hard to offer creative experiences outside of our core service, but the demand is there so partnerships like this make a big difference and are really welcomed. We heard many good things from our members who participated, and we wouldn't hesitate to work with Sally from Creative Lives or Saffron at Bristol Textile Quarter again." Within this short period of engagement, 80% of participants felt an improvement in their ‘sense of belonging’ and ‘connection to the community’. All reported that they had learned a new skill and had new ideas about things they would like to do in the future. Feedback testimony supported this, with comments including: "I loved the Slow Stitch concept, the skills we learned and the people involved. I would very much welcome another course like this to continue learning." "I have made different connections with people by sharing this new experience. I've enjoyed it and have felt myself thinking more creatively. Our conversations have felt more meaningful and our ties even stronger. I am also thrilled to learn a new skill that I can get relatively quick rewards from. It's so satisfying to be able to not only repair, but also be creative with what I have learned." "It's been great to hear from others and to appreciate multiple perspectives on day-to-day life. I feel less alone." "It's a great distraction from worrying about Covid and the future. Arts can be quite meditative and inspiring, too." "It has improved my well-being and given me hope and new practical skills, as well as inspired and empowered me to do more. It has given me the confidence to give back to the community." "It was a beautiful experience and opportunity! I hope that these types of groups can continue, especially art or creative based groups as it teaches skills, gives things to discuss and talk about and decreases loneliness, which is more prominent than ever in this pandemic. I'd love to be involved in future groups!" "I've learned new skills, been inspired to be kinder to the planet through finding ways to mend clothes in ways that I enjoy and are visually appealing. It's given me more confidence, helped me feel connected to the community and given me the courage to apply to volunteer after almost one year unemployed - the list could go on and on!" To discover the rest of the Get Creative and Make a Difference projects in England, read our interactive digital publication via ISSUU.