- Co-create your work with the people who will benefit from it; offer opportunities to engage at different levels, including programme design and development.
Understand your agenda
- Spend time considering the change you want to see, and how this project might contribute to that longer process. Make sure you have built in ways to reflect on this throughout your work (you may want to consider a Theory of Change or Logic Model for your work to support this process – see for example these NCVO resources).
- Consider basic training you may need to practise safely and well. At a minimum we suggest training in safeguarding, equality & diversity, and mental health first aid. (Many local community sector hubs and national charities provide low-cost training in these areas.)
- Consider existing research and whether this can provide you with any support.
- Consider who your work is including and excluding, and to whom it is relevant (see page 6 of the full report for more information on Diversity & Inclusion).
- Consider how you will set boundaries for yourself and what support and supervision you might need to maintain them (find suggestions and ideas here).
Don’t go it alone
- Working to support mental health is both rewarding and demanding. Can you find partnerships or support that might ease the pressure? Are there other people or organisations in your local area who might be interested in achieving similar things? How can you be part of a larger movement for change? Partners might include other community organisations, other creatives or arts organisations, or local university departments interested in this work. Support might include informal peer-to-peer groups or more established networks (see NCVO advice on working in partnerships with community organisations, and CHWA’s Practitioner Support resource for examples of support and supervision.)
- Commit to meeting partners halfway by being open to different languages and priorities, and to researching the role creative practice has to play in a holistic model of health.
- If you’re working with people with complex mental health issues or working in challenging settings, make sure you are paired with a support worker or health partner to deliver work.
- Work with your partners or commissioners to ensure you have clear procedures, capacity and support to escalate and manage concerns or incidents when necessary.
- Don’t try to achieve everything in one project.
- Consider what funding you need to do this work, including preparation, administration, professional and personal support, relationship development with the people you are working with, partnership development, and space for the unexpected. If you’re being commissioned, consider what you can do within the timeframe and budget to avoid being overwhelmed and working more than you are paid for. We know that this is easier said than done; if you’re self-employed or working freelance you may feel particularly pressured to commit to more work than you are paid for, but starting from a clear and realistic position may ultimately build a stronger relationship with funders and commissioners.
- Investigate free project management tools that might support your work (see NCVO resources and the AMA’s CultureHive)
Ask for what you need
- Consider the financial, personal and professional support you need for each project (this applies to staff members at all levels, as well as contractors). This might include research and planning, training (see above), reflective practice, debriefing sessions, counselling, or supervision. Funders and commissioners may be more open to discussions in this area than you expect (find suggestions and ideas here). If they aren’t, however, you may want to consider whether you can work with different organisations.
- Ask for reasonable pay, using recommendations from Artists Union England or equivalent as a minimum.
Nurture your resilience
- We know this work can be draining. Consider what self-care measures you can put in place, whether this is informal networks, your own creative practice, or more formal training and support for your wellbeing when you can afford this or when you can build it into projects.
We acknowledge that without adequate measures being taken by the other groups in this model, this will remain a huge practical challenge for practitioners; the responsibility for ensuring wellbeing is shared across the sector.
We know that the power dynamics of funding and commissioning can make it difficult or seemingly impractical to ask for the support you need. We encourage you to use this document and other practice frameworks you may be aware of to support your case.