New Year thoughts on a year long project.

When I wrote my application for project funding to Arts Council whilst pregnant in a pandemic, I had a really clear vision.

It was to see mums weave more creativity into their days at home and at the same time find new ways to top up their wellbeing. We were all in a global pandemic at the time (still are) and it felt like we were finding a way out or at least a way away from the stricter lockdown rules we’d all followed in 2020.

At the end of 2020, I had already started planning the project responding to really helpful survey results from over 150 mums from across the UK.

‘Creativity Island – Through our Festive Window’ was brought to life by the incredible artist and illustrator Josie Brookes and over 100 mums created little scenes and festive canvases using windows in their homes in December 2020.

a cutting board with collage letters spelling Luna

(c) Josie Brookes

(c) Josie Brookes

Without warning everything with the pandemic changed again with new variants and confusing national tier systems and even more lockdowns. A few days later I gave birth to my daughter without my husband or a birth partner as a covid positive mother in a local hospital.

It felt important to draw on these raw and (shared) real life experiences and create from there. To strip back anything complicated and look at the most simple way to reach and send something creative to a new mum.

ad for festive window project

In February 2021, ‘Creativity Island – Picture Books and Postcards’ was born. You can take part for free.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was navigating my own very complicated postpartum journey and home school for my 6 year old. Still in lockdown, my daughter knew only her dad, her brother and me. We had circled a date in May on the calendar when we could take her to meet her 84 year old Grandad. Interestingly, he’d had covid in October 2020 and his immune system had fought it off like it were a mere common cold. The mental load of understanding HOW mum’s felt and WHAT they might have head space to engage in was BIG!

In May I launched ‘Creativity Island – This one’s Just for You’ to reach out to mums who were struggling with their mental health in lockdown. My vision for this set of tutorials was that it would be a collection of artist led videos, writing prompts and up-lifting podcasts with creative mums that would help mothers stay connected to themselves and find beauty in the world around them. This element stands at only 23 sign ups in comparison to over 110 for my first project.

Perhaps it found the people it was meant to? Perhaps this is evidence to perpetuate we are not very good at making time for ourselves. There is much written about the martyrdom of motherhood as there is the importance of self care on your mood and ability to show up with energy for your kids. I’d be interested to learn more from those who took part.

In Summer, after a wonderful mentor session with Annie Rigby I decided to be brave and try another project – ‘Creativity Island – Making Motherhood Memories’ as a hybrid both in person and online/ kit based event. Tickets were £15 each and mums could bring their little ones along to the in person event. The event made a loss financially due to costs of booking a venue but it was a really worthwhile experience for me to test this model and there was wonderful feedback from everyone who took part.

It prompted my husband and I to “go for it” and to invest in our very own tipi tent for our back allotment so we could host close to home and eradicate venue costs.

In Autumn, we put the finishing touches to the design of Creativity Island for Mums – The Journal. My first physical product which launched October and sold over 80 copies in the run up to Christmas 2021. I learnt (the hard way) about the world of instagram influencers as I plunged my marketing budget into that space plus one advert to avoid the noisy distraction of pop up ads. Perhaps a missed opportunity but a learning curve for sure. I continually felt lifted up by sales and super positive feedback on the journal.

Full circle in timeline we decided to try Festive window tutorials again for Christmas time 2021 – I tried this on the course platform but sign ups and shares were low. Perhaps perceived perfectionism trips us up here? Or perhaps we are burnt out with activity already with online fights breaking out over santa and winter wonderland experiences perhaps we are looking for the picture perfect life in the wrong place? I’ll explore the blocks further in my participant evaluation.

Participant Feedback

“I have valued reading your posts on the realness of mothering and how those moments of creativity can feed the mama soul (in amongst the spinning, emotional labour and load). It has got me feeling into what I need as me to be able to be Mama (to 4 kiddywinks). I have night scrolled your feed when struggling to sleep with worry/pressure of the constant juggling. It has met me on a level where I feel seen and in caring company when I felt alone. On Christmas Day I sat by the fire and started writing in my journal (a gift to myself). I wrote about 2021, the treasures, the letting go and the welcoming in of 2022. It has helped me dig deep and listen to those buried dreams and wants. We also did a festive window. One of my loveliest afternoons before Christmas. My 8 year old had been having a super tough time at school and I was juggling zoom calls and work. In between all of this walking we planned out a window and she made it. She won’t let me clean it so we have enjoyed it for so many weeks now. It was a true delight. Thank you for your work to reach out, connect and help the remembering of nourishment of self and how to do that as Mama. It is so needed in the world. Your project has made a beautiful impact on my life. Long may Mamas be nourished and connect in with their creativity, they are the most powerful beings and deserve the space to feel that. (Ps I also bought a journal for my friend and she had a big bath and wrote in it, having some space as Mama to a 4 month old and 2 year old. I am excited to hear the ripples of her having that time…)” Rima, mum to four.

“I think your project is brilliant. I love the journal, I bought one for a friend for Christmas! I really enjoyed the workshop, I loved making the letters from old baby cards – I have them up in my little ones rooms and will always treasure them. The online tutorials got me thinking about how I already was being creative without realising it and this was a real boost to my mood, it also encouraged me to try some new things out which was brilliant after so long of feeling like I had ‘no time to be creative’.

I think health visitors should be signposting new mums to resources such as yours. There isn’t enough out there like this. Thank you.” Grace, mum to two.

“These are a few things I have done because of your project: 1) I took up journaling in June, using some prompts from one of your resources at first. I have found it really mindful and calming at the end of the day and helped me to think positively about different outings each season for me and my little one. 2) I sent a letter with a children’s book to my pregnant friend (picture postcards activity). Both she and I benefitted from that feeling of connection. 3) Creativity Island journal – I dip in and out of different pages of the journal when I have some nice notebook time. It’s a great combination of giving me ideas for what to do now and letting me reflect on precious moments that I won’t get back!” Jennifer, mum to one

“Taking part in Creativity Island gave me the space and time to focus on something POSITIVE, that after a year where my patience and parenting skills were pushed to the limit, I needed more than ever. It was the gentle hand hold I didn’t even realise I needed until it was there. I loved taking part in the in person workshop and the effort Claire had put in was amazing. I’m still using my journal and love it.” Beth, mum to three.

I think the real strength of the project was that it was able to respond LIVE to how participants were feeling in the moment and shape artistic content and wellbeing connections that spoke to them.
I found other organisations who were supporting mums during the pandemic to connect with and got lots of traction on social media as well as support from my sector colleagues in marketing the project. Another brilliant thing to happen was that the WHOLE world went online so there were more eyes on my project and there was more willingness to try online things.
After the initial flux of people it was harder to market as there were so many unknowns with the pandemic and mums were burnt out, home schooling, dealing with covid etc… so it was harder to get my messages our there as a company of one without a big marketing team or budget.
Putting on in person events I realised I was frightened of catching covid and not ‘being safe’ enough and it caused me a lot of thinking, sleepless nights and rigorous risk assessments around serving tea and coffee and other things that we usually take for granted in offering in person events.