Covid Creativity 3 Ways – by Emily Chilvers

Hello I’m Emily, a potter and basketmaker from South London and I have been running creative workshops for the community since 2011. I’m going to be honest I have found this year a massive challenge. I have worked closely with certain hospitals and elderly care homes for a number of years and feel very attached to those I work with so the physical disconnection from them has been really difficult. Knowing I haven’t been able to provide a creative platform for so many people that I really care about; where creativity is our conversation starter, a way to express, feel confident, safe and supported has been really heard. Where zoom just won’t cut it because you have to be there with them in person by their side. There have also been many sad losses of those I had worked with, a lot of whom I saw like grandparents. So I’ve really found that hard to deal with and at times like covid had undone all the care I have given to nurturing relationships within my classes.

So I think this year has become more of a personal journey for me, realising how much I have needed my creativity more than ever for self care and to stay connected with the community where I can. So here are three ways I have used creativity for care, connection and wellbeing this past year:

Wednesday Craft Club
One of the things I started developing this year were craft kits, compact versions of my clay or weaving classes to sell via my website or send out where possible to community groups, some of whom I used to teach. I worked hard at getting the tone and style of the kits right similar to how I would teach in person. I had a group of friends who were happy to be my guinea pigs in the early days and I would send them out kits and run a test session over zoom. It was a great help not only for the feedback but just for having that dedicated time to see everyone’s faces and have the focus of craft as our conversation. It has now become a weekly Wednesday evening event where for 2 hours we craft together on zoom, all working on our own projects but just having that time together to ‘knit and natter’ (other crafts are available). I treasure that time to focus, switch off and be back in a creative club.

Weekly Poetical Postcards
At the start of the pandemic I was part of a Poetry Exchange email thread where you sent out a poem to 5 people and received 5 back. I’ve always quite enjoyed poetry, dabbling now and again in a rhyming verse or two and found myself starting to write more over this year, some silly, some poignant. I enjoyed the format of a short, concise expression of my thoughts. My grandad-in-law is quite a poetry buff so I began collecting poems I was enjoying and writing them on a postcard to send him each week, some classics, some modern. I illustrated a few but most were postcards I had stashed away in a box from years gone by of collecting from places I visited (remember those days?!). It became a great way to stay in touch – even though he only lives round the corner! But it’s always nice to receive something fun through the post and it became a good conversation starter – moving the topic of phone calls away from what until then had been all about covid. Now he recites poems to me that he learnt at school and hasn’t thought about for almost 80 years, reminiscing about his childhood. After the first 20, I asked him to send me one back. He was hesitant at first but finally succumbed and indeed what I received was just so beautiful, not only a hand painted front but his own poem scribed on the back. I have loved this simple way of staying creatively connected and it will be something we continue to do now as a weekly ritual forevermore.

We can still BEE together
I have been fortunate to be able to continue my regular work teaching pottery at Nightingale Hammerson care home in Clapham. As part of the activity team we pride ourselves on the value of creativity within the care for residents and always try to create a diverse and dynamic programme that allows everyone to be expressive in some way. This year has impacted how we deliver our programme safely but it has been all the more important in a time of confinement and lack of physical connection with our community to offer creative outlets where possible. We are lucky to have the UK’s first intergenerational nursery on site and work closely with the children within our engagement programme. During lockdown we were unable to meet as normal but we developed ways to stay connected and maintain the important relationships between our residents and the children. I ran a project called ‘We can still BEE together’ themed around the bee hives that we have within the grounds of the home. The project combined educational and creative elements shared via videos filmed with the residents and workshops held in a room with a dividing glass door so we could safely meet at a distance and ‘bee’ together. The project focused on sharing and supporting each other so the work that was made would be swapped each week through the dividing screen so that the children would paint the residents’ work and vice versa. The final artwork is a honeycomb mosaic that will be displayed within the grounds of the home as a symbol of a community maintaining important relationships during this time through creativity.

For more information about the work I do please check out my website www.emilychilvers.co.uk or on instagram @makingwithemily

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