Reflecting back on my experience of the conference, I am left with a feeling of warmth and togetherness, a sense of inspiration and creativity and images of wonderful spaces and fantastic food! The venues were wonderfully inspiring- it was exciting to be in artistic spaces where the aesthetics, atmosphere and potential space really came alive. There was a real buzz that ran through the whole event and shared ideas and creativity bounced between people who came from many different backgrounds, professions and countries. People were friendly, warm and genuinely interested in each other- there seemed to be a shared sense of understanding of how important and how powerful it is for people to tell their stories, to hear the stories of others and connect with the stories of our world; this is how we make meaning of our own lives... our own stories.
Having to choose what to attend proved a very challenging task...there was so much to choose from! On more than one occasion I felt torn with my choices and was left with a sense of missing out. I attended two series of presentations, focusing on mental health and working with children. I was taken aback by the amount of creative projects that are taking place throughout health care and with such diverse groups of people. It was exciting and I wanted to hear more but the short time frames only allowed for a whistle stop tour of these projects and approaches. Space was built in for questions from the audience and there were so many! There was interest and inspiration in the space but I also wonder whether this reflected an overall sense of needing more time to hear people and get into the ‘nitty gritty’ of the work.
The performances I attended focused on wide ranging health issues and each was very powerful. I enjoyed the intimacy of the small performance spaces and a small audience, a sense of getting ‘up close and personal’ with the performer’s stories of their experiences of ‘illness’, ‘disease’ and ‘conditions’. After Eirwen Malin’s then Jodie Allinson’s performances on the Friday, I found myself humbled and deeply moved; starkly contrasting performances, yet equally impactful.
I facilitated an experiential workshop on the Saturday afternoon, demonstrating how story is used as a clinical tool within our work as dramatherapists in the Arts Therapies Service for Adults with Learning Disabilities within ABMU Health Board. It was with curiosity and some anxiety that I awaited the workshop participants in the Volcano Theatre and when they arrived, what I found was a group of people ready to leap into the ‘potential space’ and play together! With limited time we quickly warmed up our bodies, voices and imaginations before a simple, yet powerful story was told, followed by a whole group enactment. From within the story landscape people shared their experiences before journeying back to the ‘here and now’, just in time for some reflection on the experience and to hear a clinical case vignette. I was struck by the open sharing amongst participants that unfolded within the space and was left with a sense of deep gratitude and respect and a desire for more time to share and to hear people! But we had to quickly move onto the following performance. The performance was also powerful, yet a very contrasting experience. I found it took me some time to adjust to the new space and to focus on the performance and I wondered if this was quite a challenging transition for the workshop participants too.
As I sat in the sunshine at the end of the conference, drinking a cold beer and chatting to new friends, I was hugely shocked and delighted to hear my name announced as an award winner for the best presentation/ workshop, it seems that participants from the workshop had found the experience powerful and were moved enough to share this with the rest of the conference. As a representative of the Arts Therapies Team, working with adult’s with Learning Disabilities in the community I am hugely proud of this award. It feels like recognition of the importance of the work that we do within the health board with a group of marginalised people who are rarely recognised or valued. ...I went home with a warm glow inside and out.