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Why school days need creative arts and what Three Minute Heroes is doing to help

2020 three minute heroes launch event poster

This month I’m delighted to feature a guest blog on Three Minute Heroes from Elle Douglas at the Warren Project. Elle is Creative Industries Facilitator, and tomorrow we’ll be meeting virtually at the online launch of the second Three Minute Heroes album (order here!), featuring never-before-heard music from the album, interviews with the people who experienced phase two of the project, and exclusive live performances from some of the Three Minute Heroes artists themselves.

There will be a live Q&A panel after the event, where you will have the opportunity to ask questions to the key people involved in the project – including some of the team behind Three Minutes Heroes Greater Manchester.

Over to Elle!

Some say that your school days are the best days of your life, while others would suggest if you peak at school, it is all downhill from there on. I, on the other hand would argue that although I would never describe my schooling as the best or the worst days, all of my memories of growing up in Newcastle Upon Tyne were creative based.

Whether I was singing everywhere I went, memorising and reciting selections of scripts in corridors between lessons, or tap dancing over my lunch break (yes, I actually did that!), I lived and breathed creative means. I was a member of the school drama club, ( I would have been in the choir too, but I wasn’t ballsy enough to put the little social credit I had on the line), I gained a scholarship to a local dance school at the age of 13, which saw me pirouetting, belting and jazz-handing three nights a week, as well as being a member of two external amateur dramatic societies. While I clambered through all my academic subjects, and gained good grades at the end of Year 11, I was always clock watching in these lessons, waiting for the time to come where I could be playing zip zap boing or singing a show tune.

I genuinely believe that, if I did not have access to these creative outlets, my schools days would have been bleak and my adult life would be so different.

That is why now, when I read headlines like ‘Creative Subjects Being Squeezed’ and ‘If We Don’t Protect Our Arts Education, We’ll Lose The Next Generation Of Performers” I am scared for the wonderful Arts industry, that in 2018, employed 77,000 people in the UK, me being one of them, but I also fear for the students themselves. I certainly could not have gotten through my school days without GCSE drama, and I wouldn’t have felt like I belonged at school without a friendship group of theatre nerds and singers.

How does this relate to mental health among young people?

Nearly 380,000 children and young people were treated for symptoms related to mental health through NHS commissioned community services in 2018/19. And that was pre-covid.

A very recent study by Young Minds saw that 80% of the young people who were questioned (2036 young people to be exact) agreed that the Corona virus pandemic has made their mental health worse. Young people truly have had their lives turned upside down, missing out on big milestones like having an official leavers assembly at school, not being able to see their friends for a long period of time, and having to study in a whole new way online.

These figures are frightening, and with arts subjects in schools facing creative funding cuts or having less time to dedicate to them or being taken out of the curriculum altogether, will children and young people have an outlet to express themselves and get everything out of their heads? Will they have a safe space to have their voices heard? Will they have the means to use creativity to help them and their mental health?

Three Minutes Heroes is a Warren Youth Project that aims to do just that.

As a mental health and music initiative, we bring creative writing sessions to young people in secondary schools to teach them how to use creative writing for positive mental health. Writing tutors as well as counsellors who work within The Warren support students to get everything out of their heads down onto paper, and create a safe space to really talk about what is on their minds.

But it doesn’t stop there. These young people are working towards a bigger creative goal in sessions. The Warren take the young people’s writings, anonymise them and then pass them onto local bands and singer/songwriters to create original music with a truly unique youth voice. We produce an album through our record label ‘Warren Records’ and make music videos using ideas from the young people. Three Minute Heroes gives the young people involved the tools to use creative writing when it all gets a little too much and gives them a collective creative goal of being a major cog in the process of making an album, and a high sense of achievement when it’s all completed.

The Warren Youth Project are passionate about empowering young people, giving local artists an opportunity to make music in a different way and fly the flag high for positive mental health.

And it is more important than ever for specialised projects like Three Minute Heroes to help and support young people.

Learning can be achieved in so many different ways, and creativity is one of them. My school days were some of the most creative in my life; it has shaped my career and brought me such joy, and I want to be a part of creative learning for students today. With schools and colleges opening up again come September, I really hope schools are given the time and funds to support their students mental health even more than before and I truly believe that Three Minute Heroes is a sure way to  really make a difference.

The most recent Three Minute Heroes sessions have created a brand new album: Three Minute Heroes Vol.2 which will be available from mid September. You can preorder now here!

Many thanks to Elle for sharing her experiences and views. Here she is – as child and adult – in performance mode!

You can find out more about the Warren Youth Project and their pioneering, youth-led and Hull CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) funded work here. 

I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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