The One Northern Devon project used creative interventions to support the health and wellbeing of 120 people across four priority groups in Braunton, South Molton, Torrington and Bideford. Cultural, NHS healthcare and community partners worked together with a creative project manager. Facilitated by specialist artists, four participatory projects offered time and space to reflect, share and build deep social connections through creativity.
In the lead commission, Catherine West of Significant Seams worked with a group of participants from Bideford North Devon, cultural producer Claire Gulliver as well as photographer Jim Wileman and videographer and artist GIllian Taylor. Delivered in partnership with Beaford Arts and Northern Devon’s cultural sector, the case study was independently evaluated by Take a Part. It was funded by Arts Council England and Devon County Council. The project supported local people affected by health inequalities – the same people who have been worst affected by the pandemic.
Going with the Flow is a co-created artwork that emerged from the collaborations. The artwork is an installation featuring a photo essay, video, and wall-hanging. The wallhanging includes a specifically selected large ‘wibbly wobbly’ branch. Participants actively decided a) they wanted the textile piece to hang from something collected from nature at least 6 foot long and b) when presented with a choice of 5, had a conversation and unanimously selected the one featured in the artwork. Further, they found inspiration from it. Discussions, filled with empassioned moments and laughter, led to the naming of the pole: “the wibbly wobbly branch.’
These discussions also led to the final shape of the textile work. Participants had already been ‘auditioning’ ways of laying out the patches. Initial thoughts had been to create a dark to light spectrum with the patches, both top to bottom and left top right. However, participants agreed that the blue patches had a hopeful and mesmorising quality, evocative to them of water amidst the wood of the pole and the flowers represented in flower pounded patches.
Participants named a concern about ‘false hope,’ and potential sense of failure in the realm of mental health recovery. In reality, they shared, that happiness and dark days ebb and flow when one has experience of mental ill health or loneliness. The trick is remembering the better days in the dark ones. It also includes knowing what you perceive in others is not the full picture – just as they may feel darkness at the edges of their moments of happiness, they may also feel colour and beauty shining through the blacker moments. Allowing for dimension, and dark and light interplaying, would be important to the final design.
Participants responded well to the sense of solidarity patchwork embodied. It gave space for a bit more bravery in the sharing. It gave grace for an element they weren’t sufficiently enthralled with to consider an artwork for their walls at home. In fact, in the final production stage, participants drove a decision to unpick a number of pieces that had been made into their own wallhangings, in order for them to instead be added to ‘Going with the Flow.’
Nonetheless, participants revealed both doubts and elation as the pieces were stitched together. They loved the oneness and connectedness patching created. Though their commentaries also revealed their uncertainties. There was nervousness about whether the idea they had settled on would be apparent to the eventual audiences.
The group agreed they wanted a river of blue running through the piece. The overall shape should echo the arch of the wibbly wobbly branch. The edges should end where they ended. Life is not neat and tidy, it was right that their artwork had uncertain edges. The banks of the waterway would be dark. The water, nature, is a powerful force to cut a path through the darkness, enabling a brightening, an ability to see the flowers, filigree and broader details of the world around. A patchwork of connections help one to Go with the Flow.
The piece is installed on brackets enabling it to hang free of the wall. The co-creators discussed Tibetan prayer flags and prayer wheels when they were designing it. They wanted air behind it. They did not want it flat against a wall. They wanted it to ‘flow’ if it is rustled by a breeze, or people walking past.
This commissioned project, and the other projects delivered as part of the One Northern Devon project, led to a series of case studies and this downloadable, published report about the power of arts to “grow health, connection and meaning through creativity in Northern Devon.”