Julia Davey reports on a recent literary evening to raise funds for mental health charity, Havant and East Hampshire Mind and to raise awareness about the importance of mental health.
Havant and East Hampshire Mind (HEH Mind), affiliated to national mental health charity Mind, are based in Leigh Park, Havant, and recently hosted a thought-provoking literature event called ‘MIND MATTERS’, at The Great Barn, Titchfield. The aim of the evening was to raise funds for HEH Mind, and increase awareness about mental health.
The event took place on the evening of Thursday 3rd October and revolved around nineteen short stories written by local authors and members of the local community with direct or indirect experience of mental health issues. The stories covered a range of themes, including the isolation of old age, depression, loneliness, memory loss, psychosis, autism and Pica. They were written in various styles from comic, to poetic and memoir.
The evening was coordinated and hosted by the wonderfully amiable local author and HEH Mind supporter Charlotte Comley, together with her family, volunteers, and friends. Mike Lock, Community Development & Fundraising Officer at HEH Mind, provided additional support throughout the evening, whilst local author Christine Lawrence, was responsible for organizing the literature submissions and producing the storytelling by local actors.
Titchfield Festival Theatre donated use of the Great Barn to the charity for free and the evening raised over £500 for HEH Mind. Charlotte Comley said, ‘This event has raised money for a fantastic charity that saves lives. That is no exaggeration – Mind saves lives.’
Indeed, a sobering statistic highlighted by HEH Mind, is that 303 people in Hampshire took their own life between 2014-16, which equates to nearly two people every week – whilst more generally, mental health illness affects 1 in 4 people every year in the UK.
The Great Barn looked stunning and welcoming on arrival with a bar run by volunteers where hot and cold drinks could be purchased whilst the band Les Kazoos d’Amour played in the background. Raffle tickets could be purchased throughout the evening along with entry tickets and there were generous and useful prizes donated by the local community, writers and volunteers. The Great Barn is the largest of its kind in Hampshire and one of the largest in England, and was built between the years 1408 to 1411 on land belonging to the nearby Titchfield Abbey.
The first three stories were read by Frankie Patterson and comprised: The Night Before Christmas by Lynne Stone; Perfectly Matched by Eileen Phyall and The Stranger on the Train by Sue Harper.
The next set of stories were read by last minute and very adept stand-in, Abi Linnartz, the scheduled reader Mandy Wattmough, being unable to orate at the last minute, due to illness. The stories comprised: Day Dream Believer by Jackie Green; My Hero by Lorraine Cooke; and Angel by Kim Louth.
Actress Hannah Wood then orated: Preparing to Fly by Rachael Fagin; Nature Therapy by Sue Cornell; Pica by Sue Harper; and The Cherry Orchard by Christine Lawrence.
The large wooden doors of the barn, part of the wonderful medieval building, very occasionally, let the odd draft slip through – all part of the ambience – so, a supper break with a delicious bowl of hot soup and a roll was heartily enjoyed by all. It was served up by Abigail, Jessica and Simon Comley whilst Les Kazoos d’Amour entertained, and people caught up with friends and discussed and shared thoughts about the stories they had heard so far.
The hearty soup supper was followed by Christine Lawrence as orator for a further set of three stories: Thoughts of Walking by Rachael Fagin; Playing the Clown by Diana Ashman; and, Bounce, Grandma, Bounce by Carol Westron who explained more to me about her story:
‘Bounce, Grandma, Bounce was adapted from a longer work, which chronicles the challenges, fears and joys of loving and looking after a child with autism. I found the evening inspiring and exciting and it was clear that the organisers had put an immense amount of thought and effort into setting it up and running it. I’m delighted that so much money was raised for Mind.’
Christine Lawrence agreed, ‘I was delighted to be asked to help organise this event. After a long career in mental health and also with living with my own mental health issues, my heart is very much focussed in helping in any way possible to give back something to help others.
‘I believe it is so important to get people talking openly about what they are experiencing. When we all can treat mental illness in the same way as we do any physical illness, then I think that this world will be a better place. I thought the stories were all amazing. It was difficult to choose which ones to use for the event and the actors all brought them to life with sensitivity and humour where appropriate. The whole evening was a heart-warming event and I am proud to have been a part of it.’
Christine’s story-telling was followed by actor Duncan Randall who read: Affirmations by Will Sutton; Precious Sparkle by Lorraine Close; and A Merry-go-Round by David Hudson.
Finally, Georgie Gulliford rounded off the literature readings with: Father Christmas and the Gabions by Margaret Jennings; Millicent by Jules Garvey-Welch and last, but by no means least, Anxiety by Clare Campbell Collins.
Between each set of readings, authors had their photographs taken individually and were handed a printed certificate of their entry which was a lovely memento.
Charlotte Comley talked about her gratitude to all involved.
‘A huge thank you to Titchfield Festival Theatre for donating such a fantastic venue. For all of the hard work behind the scenes from Adam Feeley and Alan James – work like setting out tables and chairs, cleaning the venue and Janette Evans for opening the bar with Ross Dugdale selling raffle tickets all evening. I also wish to thank all those who have worked behind the scenes including members of The Writers at Lovedean, who provided raffle prizes, slow cookers, and arranged flowers for the tables not to mention selling the tickets.
‘Also, thanks to the fantastic Christine Lawrence, who produced an amazing show despite being away and having so many other commitments; and to the fabulous writers, who took the time to write their stories, buy tickets and come along to the evening. Thanks too for the artists, Jamie and the Jets who closed the evening and Les Kazoos d’Amour who donated their time and brought that special buzz only live music can bring. Not forgetting Mike Lock of HEH Mind who gave out leaflets and support throughout the evening and finally, as always, my special thanks to Abigail, Jessica and Simon Comley for managing the supper and for all their support.’
‘We need to encourage people to talk more openly about mental health and seek support at a much earlier stage. Importantly, mental health is not just about illness, it is about our wellbeing too. Acknowledging and utilising our own wellbeing activities helps to balance and manage our mental health. Conversations are a great way to recognise what works for us, share that with others and maybe learn some new tools/ activities too. Small things like writing, listening to music, walking the dog can all have a huge impact on our mental health.
‘Events like this help to reframe how people see mental health; increase awareness and support positive changes in our community. Your support and donations will ensure HEH Mind is able to continue to deliver essential free to access services. We at HEH Mind are focused on supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing and today, we are more equipped to do that because of your support. Thank you for supporting us and tonight’s event and helping to raise over £500.’
Havant and East Hants Mind is based in Leigh Park, Havant and was established in 1992. It is a local charity affiliated to the national charity Mind and its services cover areas such as Hayling Island, Waterlooville, Emsworth, Petersfield, Alton, Bordon and Bentley. For twenty years it supported and collaborated with Portsmouth Mind, before Portsmouth Mind sadly closed in 2016. Additional services of HEH are delivered in other local areas, including advocacy in Fareham and Gosport; and workplace wellbeing, fundraising and Ambassadors in Portsmouth. On specific projects within Hampshire, HEH also works with Andover and Solent Mind and collaborates within the national network of 130 local Mind charities.
Visit the Havant and East Hants Mind website, telephone: (02392) 498916; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or drop in at Leigh Park Community Centre, Dunsbury Way, Havant, Hampshire PO9 5BG.
Pictures provided by Charlotte Comley and Mike Lock (HEH Mind) unless otherwise stated.