Chilli Studios is a mental health charity, providing creative opportunities for and with its members, who are experiencing or at risk of mental health problems and social exclusion. Classes include music, ceramics, painting and creative writing, and members’ work is displayed online and at events and exhibitions.
The organisation is based close to central Newcastle serving a variety of different communities. Locally, many community members experience high levels of deprivation, and can feel isolated from local service offers of support. This means engaging local community members has traditionally been a challenge. Chilli Studios has seen, and expects to see, further increases in referral rates for support- particularly sensing a delayed impact on the increased need for support coming out of the pandemic.
The Chilli Studios community is made up of creative professionals, volunteers and community members. The studio is a vibrant, creative, and community focused space. Together, Chilli Studios provides a sustainable service that engages people in creative activity, which promotes social inclusion and interaction, develops skills and ability which builds resilience, enables potential and improves wellbeing.
“Chilli Studios gives me a sense of meaning and value”
What’s important about Chilli Studios work in the community is how the support to local members helps develop skills and self esteem, whilst also fostering an inclusive therapeutic space.
Members and partners have described the importance of the social environment fostered by the studio, how Chilli Studios staff help members grow in terms of their self esteem, how the studio gives members something to look forward to and a place to learn valuable skills which in turn, can prove therapeutic both socially and emotionally.
Community members are normally referred for support to Chilli Studios through Primary Care- many of whom have experienced increased anxiety and social isolation exacerbated by the impacts of Covid-19. Chilli Studios also works closely with the Local Authority, through new initiatives set up to help individuals in the local area navigate different services and support, helping local community orgs or public sector bodies strengthen engagement with local community members.
As the organisation has grown, they have experienced the headache of trying to develop an internal infrastructure to manage the network of volunteers and members. They are seeking to keep this internal infrastructure centralised and information captured retained at a local level. The team is also growing in their digital capacity and capabilities, beginning from a place where founders were initially low in confidence in digitally engaging an audience.
As the organisation grew, they worked hard to bring in funding for hardware for people without, created how-to guides, and worked to help coordinate the network and help engage people online. Throughout the pandemic, Chilli Studios still managed to run 11 workshops and social events per week.
Chilis Studios recognises that the future could change unexpectedly again, and has focused on building partnerships with other partner services and support offers to strengthen a network within the local community. Their ambition is to continue to support communities in this way, but be able to engage more proactively on local community issues in contrast to responding and adapting to local impacts of the pandemic.
They are continuing to remain local in focus, through training more peer volunteers so community members who have become more resilient and long term members Chilli Studios can also then develop supporting, mentoring relationships with new members of the community.
Through maintaining a focus on developing a local communities creativity and wellbeing, and fostering a network of partnerships locally, Chilli Studios work intends to see a wider communities health and wellbeing, and community cohesion supported more sustainably in future.