People with mental health issues are being helped in Huddersfield by the healing power of the written word.
Serendipity Creative Writers was set up four years ago to use writing to help people struggling with their mental health and has recently become a registered charity. It now has around 150 members across Kirklees.
Serendipity was founded by Sonia Zoref who has suffered with mental health most of her life and then discovered that the power of writing and other creative arts can really help to improve it.
A leading volunteer is Martyn Haymonds, a former social worker who has also had mental health problems.
The group meets weekly in Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley and costs almost £20,000 a year to run so it is always applying for funding. The organisers make a point of providing free tea, coffee and cake to encourage people to attend … and many would struggle to afford to pay for refreshments.
The Huddersfield meeting is at the Full Circle community café inside Brian Jackson House on New North Parade in Huddersfield town centre every Friday from 2pm to 4pm.
Sonia, who has a creative writing degree, said: “We always meet in community cafes as this is the right environment. It wouldn’t be right to meet in more clinical environments. We want to normalise mental health. Everyone has mental health and, like physical health, it’s about keeping it healthy.
“We are all in the group together with like-minded people who have struggled with their mental health and we find that creative writing and then sharing our thoughts and stories is very cathartic and therapeutic.
“It’s all about expressing ourselves, building confidence and talking. People can get as involved as much or as little as they want. Even if they don’t want to write they are more than welcome. Some just want to listen. Some bring carers while others who are not able to write draw instead.”
The meetings usually start with a mindfulness session which involves deep breathing and relaxation techniques followed by five minutes of ‘free writing.’ People can write anything they want – it may even be just a shopping list – and then discuss it with the group.
They then move on to creative writing which may be topical such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day and members are encouraged to bring their own ideas in for these group exercises too.
They also look at books and how they’ve been written and have recently been studying Shakespeare’s Sonnet 105 and how that inspires hope and kindness.
It was National Chocolate Day recently which inspired lots of creative writing ideas.
Martyn said: “We are a very diverse group and have some members who would be classed as having learning disabilities and we’ve discovered that they are some of the most creative writers who write beautifully.
“Other people who come along have serious mental health problems which means the group as a whole learns more about mental health and its various stages which improves their level of understanding about mental health as a whole.”
The group is now a prescriptive service and so well-established that people are referred to it from mental health, medical services and care companies.
Martyn added: “We provide a service that is valued and appreciated and support people on our social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp if they can’t get to the meetings.
“We are trained so can signpost people to other frontline services if they are in crisis.”
Serendipity Creative Writers also run online sessions on Zoom and were a vital lifeline to its members during the pandemic lockdowns.
The group has published an anthology of poems written by 60 members called A Serendipitous Handthology and the 1,000 copies were so popular they have all gone. Another book is planned for this year inspired by the Queen’s Jubilee, Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.
The group also puts on Warming Words evenings where they provide a warm space and hot food with the members reading their own poetry. The next one in Huddersfield will be at the community café in the Brian Jackson House on Thursday, March 30, between 7pm and 9pm and everyone is welcome to come along.
For more information on Serendipity Creative Writers go to its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/serendipitycreativewriters/
To contact the group email Sonia at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone her on 07751 254609.
- Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.