The No Panic Book of Not Panicking

The No Panic Book of Not Panicking, Apples and Snakes
The No Panic Book of Not Panicking, Apples and Snakes
The No Panic Book of Not Panicking, Apples and Snakes

Aims & objectives:

  • Provide inspiring and uplifting workshops and performances aimed at people struggling with mental health problems to help them share and overcome their experiences.
  • Produce and introduce a wide range of stimuli to inspire a positive and creative response, which can be shared with the wider community.
  • Establish a trusting environment for all involved, where participants feel safe to express themselves, and leave the sessions feeling stronger and more whole.
  • Reduce exclusion through the workshops by bringing people together in a creative activity, helping to reduce loneliness, anxiety, boredom, and other forms of exclusion.
  • Produce a book that will share ideas, thoughts, experiences, and stories about anxiety, with local and national readers and audience (1000 copies for distribution plus an online downloadable version).

Funding sources: Apples and Snakes obtained funding from Awards for All - Funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund.

Timescale & delivery dates:
The project started in October 2015 and ended in June 2016.
It had nine two-hours creative sessions for the participants, at the beginning every fortnight and then once a month. The Book launched on 17 June 2016.

Context: The project was a collaboration between No Panic (Sutton & Merton) - a self-help group providing support for people suffering anxiety, panic attacks and phobias based in the London Borough of Sutton and spoken word organisation Apples and Snakes which has a long history of giving voice to a wide range of disenfranchised groups. Apples and Snakes is a national organisation, which recognise the difference the arts make within healthcare settings, enhancing lives, reducing stigma, and giving people of all ages a voice.

No Panic themselves initiated the idea of writing a book about 'Not Panicking'. The project is therefore an example for a participation-led intervention with users themselves recognising and utilising the benefits of arts engagement on health and wellbeing outcomes. Participants felt there was a lack of literature about panic attacks, depression and anxiety. In their experience, they could not find something written by people who lived with the condition themselves. 'The No Panic Book of Not Panicking' was written to communicate their own stories, in their own words, in an accessible and inspiring way.

Location & settings: The sessions took place at the Sutton Salvation Army, a space which was familiar and easy to reach for the participants. Participants were sat around a big table for their writing sessions and sharing of material together with Sally Pomme Clayton.

Description of the arts activity

The No Panic (Sutton & Merton) group participated in a series of six creative writing workshops, exploring poetry, personal writing, short stories, factual writing, and historical writing. The sessions were led by facilitator Sally Pomme Clayton, published writer and performance storyteller, who already had a relationship with the group through previous work developed by Apples and Snakes. The two-hour workshops were built around themes decided by the group, such as describing what it is like to suffer anxiety and panic attacks, writing about struggles and achievements, sharing coping strategies, writing about attitudes towards mental health.  

These sessions were followed by three sessions focussed on editing the material, which was collected to be published in the book, telling the story of No Panic and suggesting tools and approaches for other people suffering from anxiety disorders. The emphasis of the sessions had been on the creative act of writing stories and poems, rather than therapy, but it emerged that creative writing can help participants understand their own experiences and complement more formal therapeutic approaches.

Prior to the book launch, participants worked with Sally Pomme Clayton to develop presentation skills including the use of voice, facial expressions and eye contact. The book was launched in June 2016 during London Creativity and Wellbeing Week in Sutton Library. No Panic participants performed some of their writing in order to celebrate the publication with friends, family and the wider Sutton community. The event was an overwhelming success and demonstrated the extraordinary progress all participants had made.

Details of the project participants

The participants to this project were self-selected. Apples and Snakes and No Panic (Sutton & Merton) had previously worked together on wellbeing through creative writing project as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The participants to the previous project found creative writing profoundly helpful to their wellbeing and self-esteem.

The No Panic group is drawn from a diverse range of people from all backgrounds, ages, and communities in Sutton. The idea to write the book came from this particular group and the project was tailored to their particular needs.

Project management

Apples and Snakes provided a project manager to support the artist facilitator and the group, ensuring the successful delivery of the programme, evaluating it with regular conversations, overseeing all the practical arrangements and helping the progress and success of the project.  

The artists we work with are able to bring an open, flexible and down-to-earth approach and engage with participants creatively adapting their techniques to each situation and group.


The workshops were free to all participants. They initiated the project and gave consent for their written personal material to be published, reaching out to the wider community in fact contributed to the therapeutic.

Evaluation methods and findings

We applied a qualitative evaluation approach to the project, interviewing and observing the participants. We found that using creative writing, poetry and storytelling helped the participants to have better chances in life through:

  • Helping them express themselves, gaining confidence and developing self-esteem.
  • Improving their emotional health and well being, giving participants a voice through writing, performance and publishing.
  • Developing self-belief by sharing their remarkable stories and poems with other patients, carers and families, giving value to their experiences.
  • Reducing exclusion through the workshops by bringing participants together in a creative activity, helping to reduce loneliness, anxiety, boredom, and other forms of exclusion.
  • Developing spoken and written English and confidence with expression.

 

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England