Building up a project like this requires you to give everything – to live, breathe and sleep the project and to carry it with you at all times. The motivation has to come from within as there is no one above you to keep motivating you. The return on investment is big – not in monetary terms, not in this sector. But the non-materialistic return on investment, the life enhancing experience and the fact that you really can and will touch and change lives.
The running of such an organisation brings daily challenges. Involving adults with mental health problems in the management of the group and of individual art commissions isn’t always easy. On a day when someone suffering from manic depression wants to spend all her money in a betting shop the wellbeing of that person is more important than the executive meeting or the deadline for the current commission. This highlights how the organization is faced with the difficult task of finding the right balance between the recovery of its members and the sustainability of the organization as a whole.
Seeing a member, who on his first day could hardly enter the studio, never mind talk to another person, train someone else is a major achievement for all involved. Skills and knowledge transfer are a very important part of the group’s activities – skills are shares within the organisation, and also with other groups – through team building sessions with financial organizations, workshops with kids who are not in mainstream schooling, or reminiscing sessions with elderly with dementia– everyone works on the same level at Designs In Mind. Shoes get pimped, new things emerge from waste for a joint fashion show, stories are told and listened to and integrated into commission work.
“Everyone is challenged to contribute above their own aspirations”
Jo insists that the success of Designs In Mind is partly due to the paced growth over a period of time.
New developments are carefully considered, stakeholders involved and ideas discussed with mentors outside the group who are used as useful sounding boards. Growing organically, not rushing into anything, finding good partners, accepting challenges and believing in your idea – all of these things contributed to the development of the group, together with ambitious but achievable aims. Sitting down regularly and taking stock, talking to all the stakeholders and listening to feedback as well as a twice annual studio closure and physical sort out are all part of a healthy growth plan. Members are consulted through member reviews, members days and daily morning meetings, while feedback from NHS partners is received regularly. The group also makes a point to attend relevant meetings and presentations to stay in contact with important partner organizations – present and future. In order to reach as wide a range of people possible a variety of communication tools are used – talking, email, presentations, pen and paper…
“Sustainability and future financial security remain a recurring challenge”
The group has successfully negotiated a yearly service level agreement with the NHS to offer creative workshops for adults in touch with mental health services. This contract is renegotiated every year, a meeting which is always preceded by sleepless nights and a few glasses of red wine. So far so good because our partners within the NHS have so far recognised the value of the service to the National Health Service. The service level agreement alone is in no way enough to keep the organization running. Project funding, mostly focusing on the creative development of the group and its members, and most importantly earned income complete the picture. A variety of income streams which help to increase sustainability is constantly enhanced through new entrepreneurial ideas.
Why is it working? Why is the group so successful?
“Because we work as a team”
We all have our areas, our job descriptions, but we constantly cover for and support each other. We plan our days and weeks, but flexibility is the key. Almost every day works out differently to how it was planned. We also keep growing and developing as a team, as an organisation.
“It works because everyone operates at a level which works for him/her on that specific day. If Egon is having a ‘bad day’ and is only able to make tea for everyone, then that’s fine. If he returns the next day ready to lead on one of the largest public art commissions, then his ideas are listened to and integrated into the final piece”
Everyone participates, everyone is treated the same. There is no hierarchy. Visitors to the studio have no idea who is staff and who is a member as everyone works together on the same piece with one aim – to create something interesting and of high quality. When a piece is finished it is celebrated and the pride of every single member and the group as a whole is tangible.
“It works because people’s lives really are being changed”
The members of the group are the best witnesses for this: