Blue Cabin's Nic Golightly

Putting play into practice

Nic Golightly, Associate Artist, demonstrates how Blue Cabin uses play and creativity in all its work with care-experienced children and young people, while also providing a safe space for both participants and staff.

Last month, two of Blue Cabin’s team members were invited to speak at A Prescription for Life: a mental health and arts symposium organised by Manchester-based charity, 42nd Street.

Jenny Young, Blue Cabin Director, and Nic Golightly, Associate Artist, demonstrated how Blue Cabin uses play and creativity in all its work with care-experienced children and young people, while also providing a safe space for both participants and staff.

Here’s Nic with more on ‘the Blue Cabin way’.

Play takes planning

I have been known to witter on about the importance of play from time to time. I actively encourage laughter, joy and playfulness. It’s what gets me through the tough times personally and I’ve realised in more recent years that it’s also the magic I bring to the creative sessions I facilitate.

But, truth be told, laughter, joy and playfulness aren’t just random elements which don’t need structure, planning and thought. To do it well, it’s something that takes training, planning and precision. And, it’s one thing to say that’s what you bring to a session – but an entirely different thing to describe to a room of 80+ people!

The invitation to be part of A Prescription for Life came through Jenny Young, Director of Blue Cabin at the beginning of the year. When you get the email from Blue Cabin to attend something and speak, you’re pretty much guaranteed it’ll be a good gig! Meeting the 42nd Street team just confirmed things. There was a vibe of togetherness, shared values and a pinch of rebellion. The prompts we were given for the session included the question What are Blue Cabin’s ‘active ingredients’?

The Blue Cabin way

It triggered conversations between Jenny and I about ‘the Blue Cabin way’: facilitating and holding people safe in a space, whilst also looking after ourselves.

Conversations became plans and plans quickly became reality, as I boarded the train to Manchester on Wednesday 15 May. Jenny provided the snacks, I provided a heavy IKEA bag of 80 packs (and some to spare) for our session on Friday. We certainly weren’t travelling light. But light was certainly the key.

We had chosen to recreate a Creative Life Story Work session that mirrored those that we deliver with care experienced children and young people. And scaffolding that means we have to carry a lot of clobber, plan meticulously and ensure that we are ready to acknowledge and talk about the tough stuff. We have to ensure safety and security for those we work with and deliver with sincerity and honesty. That isn’t light at all.

Throughout Thursday Jenny and I heard from 42nd Street and our peers, in various cultural settings in Manchester. We’d restocked our ever expanding personal stationery collections in Fred Aldous and seen and heard from young people working with 42nd Street and The Horsfall (a creative venue which is part of 42nd Street). Sterling work which was so cool to experience. Not to mention the brilliant badge, pencils and prints available too. It was a multilayered, multifaceted event.

But so what?

Great. What a grand holiday for Jenny and I away from our usual caring responsibilities. But then our turn arrived.

We showcased our Studio of Fostered Heroes film (which is engaging audiences and award nominations far and wide) and then the stage was ours. The pre-session nerves finally dissipated and we were rolling. A chance to reflect and showcase how Blue Cabin works with care experienced children and young people and that the trauma informed practice starts from the first email an artist receives, is embedded in the training and throughout all aspects of the working relationship there on out.

I stand on the stage with close to 20 years experience of creative practice and I talk about the dad jokes I will undoubtedly blurt out, my social pedagogy training and the reason for my sharing of steaming glasses and clamminess. It’s all part of it. I build a story around the session we’re about to deliver and joke about Jenny being my ‘runner’ (which she is undoubtedly more than!).

We provide hard evidence of why we do what we do and the case for creativity within non creative settings such as prisons, residential homes and as a crucial part of Life Story Work. And I got a swear word in there for good measure.

It’s light and there’s laughter, but we also do the work. Through a session reflecting on grief and loss, we hold a space for thought and reflection. 42nd Street are there to support anyone who the session might up-skittle or upset. It’s all in the planning.

Jenny had noted at breakfast that those not ‘suited and booted’ at the breakfast buffet were likely part of the symposium we were attending. And we weren’t wrong. The bright colours, the smiles of acknowledgement and the willingness to engage in a creative session whilst asking questions and mulling over how this can impact them and the people they work with.

The takeaway

Manchester isn’t the same as the Team and Tees Valleys, but there sure is the need and the spirit to change things and the acknowledgement that everything isn’t quite right for all members of society.

And we can be the change. On a macro level even. To instigate, to raise the questions, or just simply to hold the space ready, for when the young people are.

And then I returned home to cuddles and kisses from my loved ones. Where have you been Mummy? And what presents did you get me?

Find out more about putting play into practice