The Reader at the first National Arts in Health Conference
"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul."
A week ago, we took part in the first National Arts in Health conference, hosted by AESOP (Arts and Enterprises with a Social Purpose). Exploring the ways in which the arts can be harnessed to improve the provision of healthcare in the UK, the conference brought together leading thinkers and doers in the arts and health, and The Reader was lucky enough to be selected as only one of three organisations out of twenty eight to showcase in the opening plenary.
It was a truly inspiring day, attended by those including Arts Impact Fund amongst many others, and an honour to be featured alongside other organisations doing fantastic work to improve well-being amongst communities facing physical, mental and emotional difficulties. Our Communications Manager Emily Crawford was there on the day:
Last Friday I had the privilege of witnessing something pretty special. Three of our reading group members - all of whom had their own very personal journey with The Reader and mental health - stood in front of 500 people at the Southbank Centre and told their stories about how Shared Reading has impacted upon their lives. They actually did a lot more than that – they spoke eloquently and did a spectacular job doing something that would terrify most people. The power of the work we do is seen most through stories like those that our three readers - three of hundreds across the UK - shared, and as I stood backstage was reminded just how important it is. People who at times who have felt utterly alone, disconnected and afraid were able to take the leap to standing on stage in front of all those people and sharing all of that experience, as well as the huge distance they’ve travelled since then - and what's more, had the room in complete silence hanging on every word. "I’m sitting here now - as a well person" is one of the lines that still rings in my head.
Our Founder and Director Jane Davis, alongside our readers in that bustling space on Friday, finished our section by sharing William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus. It’s a poem that's been read in many of our weekly Shared Reading groups and so has a lot of resonance with many of our group members, including the three who shared their own stories. It's a poem and a performance that led Peter Bazalgette, the chair for Public Health England, to take to the stage afterwards and proclaim that we had just ‘opened his eyes’. It’s a poem that, after practising for this performance, led one of our readers to turn to me and say "I’ve been repeating those lines ever since you gave me this you know, when things get frazzled: 'I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul'. It reminds me that I’m in charge of me."
It was also great to have such a brilliant reaction from attendees of the Conference on Twitter:
A huge congratulations and thanks to our readers for taking part and being such spectacular spokespeople for Shared Reading!
Find out more about the Conference over on the AESOP website: http://www.ae-sop.org/