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NHS patients have been given the opportunity to create their own photography and poetry, which is to be exhibited throughout Hampshire.

Their creative work is a result of Depth of Me, a project that has been delivered by Southern Health in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust. The project’s aim was to provide a platform for patients and carers to create their own photography and poetry to reflect their story.

Niamh Dalziel, who leads on patient and carer involvement at Southern Health, led the project. She explained: “The idea of Depth of Me came about when we heard of similar projects successfully organised in London and internationally. Being new to the Trust, I wanted to look at alternative ways for us to listen to patients’ and carers’ stories and this seemed perfect.”

The project was made up of three workshops, each consisting of both a practical photography session and a poetry session. The resultant work will be exhibited at three Hampshire Cultural Trust venues across the county.

Cat Cooke, Senior Cultural Engagement Coordinator at Hampshire Cultural Trust, commented: “I feel incredibly proud of and inspired by the creativity and engagement shown by each participant and by the support that they have shown each other. The partnership with Southern Health strengthens the Depth of Me project through sharing expertise to create a really safe, supportive and creative space for participants to express themselves.”

Professional photographer and Co-Director of InFocus, Xavier Fiddes, has worked on other community projects like Depth of Me and has led all the photography sessions. He added: “Throughout my time as a photographer and educator, I have seen a shift in the understanding of how art can be used to help people decipher their feelings, express themselves and hopefully start a conversation about breaking down stigma and preconception regarding illness.

“Using photography for this project has been great way for the people involved to express themselves. They may not fully know how to take the ‘perfect photograph’, but they have been given guidance and a safe space to create without judgement. The project has been extremely rewarding, everyone who has come to the workshops has engaged massively and it’s been amazing to see how ideas have developed over the course of the six weeks we have been with the group.”

Emma Moore, a service user who also works as a peer trainer at Southern Health’s Recovery College, is one of the participants in the project. She commented: Depth of Me has been a fantastic project to be involved in. I am grateful to have been a part of it and have been able to explore my experience of ill health through photography and poetry. Being guided along the way in a truly collaborative environment has benefitted everyone who attended. Art is a great equaliser and a really beautiful way for people to communicate.”

Another participant added: “I think that this is what is needed for patients with a desire and want and need to get better. It is different, new and exciting.”

The project workshops were filmed by Drop the Mask Productions, a local not-for-profit, social enterprise production company. An inspiring documentary video produced by Drop the Mask Productions will be shown at the final touring venue, Westbury Manor Museum in Fareham, and is available on Drop the Mask’s YouTube channel.

Greg White, one of the Directors of Drop the Mask Productions commented: “With the Depth of Me project, we were able to film the workshops and see the amazing results from all those involved. The project has allowed members of the team at Drop the Mask Productions to be creative and try something new without pressure.

“Drop The Mask Productions CIC was born out of the mental health difficulties experienced by both of the directors of the business and we pride ourselves on supporting those living with mental health issues. I honestly believe that filming the Depth of Me project and working with Southern Health has probably helped over 20 people directly or indirectly with their mental health.

The powerful exhibition of patients’ photography and poetry is touring at the following Hampshire Cultural Trust venues:

  • Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham: 20 July – 23 August currently open for participants in classes and workshops only and not to the general public
  • Andover Museum: Fri 4 Sept  – Thu 1 October: information on opening times and how to book is available at hampshireculture.org.uk
  • Westbury Manor Museum Tue 24 Oct – 28 November – open to public : information on opening times and how to book is available at hampshireculture.org.uk