Let’s Talk – Exploring Mental Health

“Our Year 11 Prince’s Trust Achieve class wanted to make a difference. The week we were trying to decide the best way to do that, two of our local young people entered the river Foyle. That was the decision made, we had to tackle mental health.”

Let’s Talk is the brainchild of 25 pupils and their teacher, Mrs. Juliette Barber from St Cecilia’s College, Derry. Funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s National Lottery funds, the Education Authority and Urban Villages Initiative, this ground-breaking project is part of the Creative Schools Partnership scheme working with 10 schools and communities where there has previously been a history of deprivation and community tension.

Almost 200 pupils from secondary schools in Belfast and Derry took centre stage in a pioneering arts programme called the Creative Schools Partnership, a unique pilot project. We loved the fact this programme was designed to drive educational outcomes for students by bringing more creativity into the classroom.

At this stage we would usually provide a brief, but this project is better explained by Senior teacher, Mrs Juliette Barber of St Cecilia’s College.

“Our Year 11 Prince’s Trust Achieve class wanted to make a difference. The week we were trying to decide the best way to do that, two of our local young people entered the river Foyle. That was the decision made, we had to tackle mental health. So, we started to talk. We talked about what mental health is, isn’t, the stigma, the myths, the things that help and the things that don’t. It became obvious that a lot of positive ideas and suggestions for improving mental health were in the class already. We kept talking. Then we tried some of the ideas to see if they would work for us.

Throughout the whole process Bounce Culture were on hand to help us to film our experiences in the hope we could reach even more people and encourage them to take a positive approach to their own mental health. Our film is a candid record of our journey. The best bit? Being involved in planning, creating and editing a film has impacted on our self-esteem and self-confidence too. Some of our suggestions have become habits, better sleep, better diet, talking more openly about mental health. Some of them haven’t, but we are all talking about mental health more openly. Let’s talk, and let’s keep talking.”

The programme is based on research that demonstrates that access to quality arts experiences in school can benefit all aspects of learning. These include better engagement and attendance levels, improving results in other school subjects, increasing confidence and self-motivation, creative thinking and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing.

A celebration event at the Ulster Museum gave all the students involved the opportunity to come together for the first time to hear about each other’s experiences and sample some of the skills other groups have been learning at arts workshops.

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented, “We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the positive impact this initial pilot project has had on the schools and students involved. We believe creativity is essential to optimising success in the classroom. Through an independent review of the programme, principals, teachers, and pupils have told us how this programme has helped students grow in confidence, learn new skills and energise the wider school body.

“Working together with the Education Authority and Urban Villages Initiative, £120,000 was committed to this pilot scheme and we want to reach out to those in government who can help this valuable programme continue across even more schools in Northern Ireland.”

Sharon O’Connor Chair of the Education Authority commented: “It’s been a pleasure to hear the wonderful feedback from all the schools involved in the programme. Each of the groups have worked with professional artists to develop and deliver a unique arts project linked to school development priorities. Those involved have told about the sheer happiness students felt when they were engaged in the workshops. That’s a very important message for us in education and one that we wish to take forward.

“We congratulate all the schools who have been involved in the programme and hope that they continue to utilise the creative skills they have developed back in the classroom.”

Linsey Farrell, Director of the Urban Villages Initiative said, “The Creative Schools Partnership has supported young people from schools in Urban Village areas to learn about other cultures and strengthen community networks. It has also promoted an understanding of other perspectives and issues which connect our communities.

“Working in partnership with the Arts Council and the Education Authority, this programme has shown the value and the potential of creative and innovative collaboration. These partnerships can support community cohesion, deliver on government priorities and reduce educational inequalities.”