Do I KNOW you? 

There’s a deep joy to be found in REALLY knowing people (dead or alive) and knowing things about yourself but from time to time perhaps you need to put that knowing out there…..

Recently my Dad’s best friend died very suddenly – he was my Mum and Dad’s best man at their wedding (and forever after) – a man full of vivid living of and caring about life.  Chris was always a source of great entertainment and intrigue for me and my brother throughout his regular visits to our family home in Huddersfield.   He used to snack on pickled eggs and family sized bags of cheese and onion crisps washed down with a massive cider and bring us exotic pressies from far off places.  He lived in Honk Kong then Los Angeles and then on the Isle of Skye.  Chris fought corruption in Hong Kong, he wrote screen plays in LA, more recently he studied law in Hull and he was always coming up with ideas for screenplays and theatre scripts and organising group theatre trips.   He looked like Gandalf.  He had an artificial leg.  He was always so interested in our lives and our perception of world events.  He was proactively contesting Brexit on a daily basis and quite evidently baffled by why the rest of us weren’t doing the same with the same gusto.    In many ways he felt to me like one of the last living links to my Dad: he sat by his bed and read books to him in the hospice; he has religiously called my Mum for big long ‘phone calls every week during lockdown (every week religiously); he came to my PhD graduation (sort of representing my Dad too).  In short this was a blow, a horrible sad shock AND a flashback to my Dad’s death three years ago.  This isn’t going to be a blog about my expertise in dealing with death [1].  Actually, it turns out that I’m rubbish at coping with death.  We have yet to host a service and memorial for Dad, it was just too too hard at the time and we didn’t feel we could do him justice whilst in that state of utter sadness.  I don’t know how to talk to my children (now 5 and 2.5) about death and the constant sense of freefalling that is missing and grieving for my Dad and I don’t really want to yet.  To be totally honest I’m not good with bad news at all.  As a child I used to run away when I heard the news coming on the TV or radio at home.  I’ve been periodically dodging the news throughout the pandemic too which I realise is a form of immense privilege.  Edging out of my bubble back into the wider world of increased interactions, everydayness seems that bit more acute and tiny moments are full of magic.  For example, I was working from a local café (woohoo) last week and when someone complimented a woman at the till on her shoes I nearly wept at the beauty of the exchange.  I do find it very hard indeed to balance this experience of joy, the beauty of these sorts of moments, an appreciation of how beautiful fleeting and precious life and human relations can be with the awareness of just how awful life and some humans can also be.  I don’t know how to square that so I hope you’ll forgive me if I simply concentrate on something positive and on myself for now?

My experience of lockdown and grieving has made me realise what a joyous thing it is just to know of someone (even better to love someone) and that that knowing of someone can bring joy even when you can’t see the person for long stretches of time and even when you can never see that person again.  I’m not talking about knowing in the scientific sense like the three levels of knowing someone that psychology posits.[2] I mean knowing someone to the extent that they are always with you.  It’s an embodied knowing, knowing someone as another voice in your head, the absorption of someone into your subconscious mind. As you can probably deduce I’m at a loss for the perfect articulation but I mean to convey a sort of knowing that might be described as a co-presence, a real part of you – like a group of people you carry round in your soul, your very core (not to be confused with the sort of friendship imagery social media promotes – my Dad would HATE that).  It’s a knowing that means those people become part of your thinking, your thoughts, ideas, imagination – people that have truly made a mark on you and all other such phrases….I think you get the idea?  It’s taken me a while to cut through the grief to understand and experience that cliché of my Dad still being with me (it’s such a healing realisation when it comes) but he TRULY is!  And then blow me down lockdown brings me the realisation that this concept of deep knowing is not simply limited to those to whom you are related or have raised you.  So many of my other people that I know – family members, friends, and colleagues – are with me conceptually too so although it’s fundamentally sad I can cope with not seeing them for an extended, unknown period (zoom also takes the edge off). It is, of course, so much easier to deal with the notion of not seeing people for a period of time than the reality of not seeing someone ever again and (another ‘of course’ statement here) the people that I am lucky enough to see and know in real life / real time on a daily basis bring me deep deep joy – my partner, my Mum, my daughter’s childminder and her ‘bubble’ members, new found friends within my son’s school community but most of all my children (although knowing them can at times be brutal too).  

My blog started off as a PHD tool but that was a seven-year part-time endeavour which took different twists and turns and in the end the blog didn’t turn out to be the right tool.  My initial intention was to research and share insights about the development of Orangebox[3] but I left (you can read all about that in my PhD thesis)[4] and then got pregnant.  So, this is no longer an academic exercise but maybe it’s a still a form of research, it’s still a tool to help me learn.   I’m keen to connect and hear from people and compare experiences especially about grief, about what it means to know people and the joy of knowing people. Is anyone researching this sort of knowing? Is it related to phenomenology? I bet there’s a whole field of expertise out there and to members of that field I send a big apology, this must be making you cringe but please do put me in the picture!   This post is also about sharing some of the things I know about myself in terms of things I want to do.  I’ve carried some of these desires and ideas around for a good twenty years now and I think it’s time to put them out there if I ever want to realise any of them.  I currently work as a freelancer supporting a range of arts individuals and organisations with all sorts of creative engagement ventures.  I love my work and the people I get to work for and with.  I’m busy until spring 2022 but as most of my current contracts wrap-up next year there’s an opportunity to think ahead about new and different things.  I’ve got a bit stuck and reached the limit of my own thinking about how to achieve some of my bigger dreams within the confines of parenting. I’m only available on a part-time basis at the moment and work fits around child-care – my children are 2 and 5 and I do most of the drop-offs, picks-ups and holidays etc – but that too will change over time.  So here goes, I’ll just put this out there and see what happens….. 

…..I’m a middle age, middle class, neurotypical (I suspect) white woman but if you can get over that then over the next few years fundamentally I want to get into making theatre again – most probably for children and families but not exclusively.  It’s what I want to spend the rest of my years doing.  I love theatre people and theatre spaces.  More broadly I will support any endeavours to create plays, storytelling, experiences, gatherings and events.  I also like to research, write and tell stories about the arts and care. I like to help people think about what they are learning and what they might do next.   I want to make more of my PhD and research interests (applied theatre and children and young people’s spiritual wellbeing).  I love supporting young people’s creative ideas and ambitions.  I love the model of artist residencies especially those aimed at exploring how to embed drama provision within the work of an entire school, organisation or community.  I carry dreams of starting a children’s theatre of the North or an ‘Ideas Factory’ in my local community where people come for support with events, stories or happenings that they want to make happen.  I see a gap locally for regular drama -based work with toddlers and pre-school age children and their carers.  I want to learn more about immersive technologies.  I like the idea of creating rituals and helping people mark big moments in life journeys so I’ve thought about training as a humanist celebrant and combining that expertise with knowledge of applied theatre practice (but I can’t afford to that at the moment).  Politically I’m incredibly excited by the potential of ideas such as Universal Basic Income[5] and A Job Guarantee [6] – I would love to lend my support to anyone who is up for trialling or getting such schemes up and running in Yorkshire.  I’m aware that not all of these things sit alongside each other but it’s the mix of interests, ambitions and dreams that make me who I am currently and how I might make a more useful contribution with the time I have left. 

So if you know me you can now start to carry some of these things about me around with you and perhaps help me make the shift towards these ventures? Or maybe we could get to know each other through making some of this stuff happen together?  Who KNOWS eh?!

Thank you for reading! 

More about my work history here: http:uk.linkedin.com/in/madeleineirwin

Contact me on: madiirwin90@hotmail.com


[1]  See instead https://www.cruse.org.uk and https://whatsyourgrief.com and https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org/need-know-info/from-us-to-you/pop-up-good-grief-cafes/ and https://www.griefseries.co.uk/home

[2] See: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-personality-analyst/201011/three-levels-knowing-person

[3] https://orangeboxhalifax.org

[4] https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/jrul/item/?pid=uk-ac-man-scw:319662

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_basic_income

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Job_guarantee

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Mike White

François Matarasso

The most potent contribution that this new field of arts practice can make is the revelation of just how creative community health can be.

Arts Development on Community Health, A Social Tonic, Mike White 2009

Mike White, who died at home yesterday after a long illness, was a pioneer in community-based arts and health. His ideas will continue to influence the field for many years. He was working an as arts officer for Gateshead Council when I met him. His imaginative, creative projects recognised the real difference that participation in the arts could make to people’s lives. Sometimes that was very concrete, as in the campaigns against heart disease, but more typically it was a subtle understanding of how wellbeing affects the experience of life and therefore its outcomes.Later he went on to work at Durham University, where he was central to the establishment of the Centre for Medical Humanities

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Teaching in a Refugee Camp. Part 2

Teaching in a Refugee Camp. Part 2.

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Life Maths

Life Maths.

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Life Maths

It won’t take long for this to become apparent but by way of a disclaimer I will start by pointing out that I am not, and nor do I fancy myself as, a mathematician or a lifestyle guru. I just happen to be enjoying an intensely reflective, taking-stock phase having recently made the risky decision to resign from, what in many ways was my dream, job (and a job I was supposed to be researching as a professional doctorate student).  In the two years I was in post as Orangebox’s founder director we:-

  • Delivered a successful launch weekend
  • Confirmed a constitution for the Youth Board and appointed a Chair and Vice-Chair
  • Appointed independent members to the Steering Group, confirmed the terms of reference and formed effective working groups
  • Welcomed and settled tenants and facilitated monthly Centre User Group meetings
  • Hosted 4 theatre performances, 2 music festivals, 2 enterprise competitions, a silent rave, an open evening, a dance show in the skate park, a digital dance event involving a live-link to Paris, 2 club nights, a roof-top firework display, and the launch of the Piece Hall Trust.
  • Supported 20 young people to achieve an Arts Award (Bronze & Silver levels)
  • Won 2 awards and sponsored a local young people’s award
  • Supported 2 young people to successfully complete Business Administration Apprenticeships
  • Attracted 700 members
  • Worked with partners to offer weekly access to support services
  • Recruited 5 Music Champions to train as studio engineers
  • Established Orangebox as an active member of local, regional and national networks
  • Piloted a commercial approach to running the café with a local  partner organisation
  • Secured 2 two-year Department for Education commissions
  • Appointed and inducted a creative, vibrant team of sessional workers and duty managers
  • Ran a UNITAS summer arts college with Calderdale Youth Offending Team
  • Established a team of volunteers and systems to induct, support and develop this team
  • Secured private sector support from two local companies.
  • Established a system for managing and promoting hires
  • Trialled 3 children’s parties
  • Created a microsite, a strong social media presence and a fully-fledged website.

Furthermore we were starting to develop an interesting organisational culture at Orangebox based on blending the best practice from youth club and cultural venue management.  This was not of course without its tedious tensions especially at times when one practice was perceived to be being emphasised more than the other by some stakeholders.  Ultimately though this was quite a healthy tension as long as I could keep convincing people that Orangebox should be both and more; it could be (and here comes my favorite mathematical/philosophical expression) greater than the sum of its parts! Featured image

Politics aside it was a real honor to work alongside some fantastic young people to get their centre up and running but it has left me utterly exhausted! In order to achieve the activities listed above for me personally it has taken several 12-14hours days per week, rarely having dinner with my partner, missing gatherings with family or friends, ending all my voluntary commitments, irregular exercise, and a desperate attempt to keep on top of my PhD work at weekends. The irony of researching and promoting young people’s wellbeing at the potential expense of my own is not lost on me but if I had to do it all again I am not sure that I would or could have paced myself any differently – any new initiative needs such a huge and disproportionate amount of effort at the outset to get it off the ground.  In short I am really glad that I was able to be involved in the start-up of Orangebox, I had envisaged being there for a lot longer but it will certainly now benefit from some fresh energy to support it through the next phase of development

Featured imageFortunately I currently have enough money in the bank to survive for 4 months without working, so that’s 4 months to solve the problem of how I now earn a living.   So far the concept of time has been at the forefront of my mind in this unfamiliar transition. Initially I have been building a new routine that prioritises exercise, cooking, catching up with friends and family, re-framing my PhD and gearing up to be a useful freelancer to the cultural, public, and charitable sectors[i].

Featured image

I have also had a good long holiday, during which I came to quantify time entirely differently – in Spain 7.5 hours (the equivalent of the supposed average working day) can simply = 2 swims, 2 snoozy sunbathes, 2 meals and a couple of chapters (or a snooze) with no internet or social media to fill the gaps.

Featured imageIn stark contrast it scares me how much I expect to attempt to cram into exactly the same time-frame on a working day. When you have the luxury of some time it is not long before your musings on how short a day actually is turn to the brevity of a lifetime itself! As such I find myself overwhelmed by just how much human beings achieve.  Given my heightened awareness of time I am now more convinced than ever that human achievements are rarely made by any sole individual, rather it is collective effort that shifts and changes and progresses (or regresses) things. It’s back to my favorite mathematical / philosophical concept – greater than the sum of its parts!

Of course neoliberal champions don’t want us thinking these sort of thoughts. They want us to celebrate the power of the autonomous self, they want us to believe we have all we need in ourselves; that we can be our own mini-enterprises and (conveniently) solve all our own problems. Neoliberalism celebrates a heroic model of leadership rather than a distributed or facilitative approach and reduces the concept of anything public to an ugly and bureaucratic idea rather than one associated with togetherness and support. I can just about see how some uber busy, seemingly self-sufficient people might unwittingly buy into this but when you properly stop for a moment you really do sense the infrastructures that support our eating, heating, transportation, education, health, security, communication and realize the true extent of our interdependency (and incidentally that is why I think all of the above need to remain public matters and public systems). The structures that support social and relational aspects of life are equally hidden and undercelebrated at the moment but essentially the staff and volunteers of our charities, schools, cultural venues, and youth clubs are channeling their physical and mental effort on a daily basis to sustain and promote our interdependence.

And for those of you more scientifically orientated let me remind you that the latest developments in the world of nutrition revolve around the notion that even biologically we are not wholly independent. “Contrary to what most of us have grown up believing”, writes Raphael Kellman (author of the popular new Microbiome Diet), “ we are not autonomous, independent, self-regulating beings, free of dependence from any outside systems or organisms. Instead we are interdependent ecologies responsible for safeguarding the extraordinary world that lives within us.” And that is where I shall leave my ode to our interdependence; our shared humanity, because if you have found my maths shaky then you really don’t want to know about my science!

[i] I am currently available to support with creative and charitable endeavors!  I have particular expertise in creative and cultural education, applied theatre, change management, partnership working, action research, and young people’s participation.  I bring 14 years of professional experience in community arts as the Founding Director of Orangebox Young People’s Centre in Halifax (2012-2014), Development Director at CapeUK (2010-2012), Director of Creative Partnerships West Yorkshire (2004-2010), and Community Director at Interplay Theatre (2000-2004), I am a former board member and chair of the arts development committee at The West Yorkshire Playhouse (2010-2013), Chair of Chol Theatre (2008-2012), Governor at Guiseley Secondary School (2007-2011), and Trustee for the Manav Kalyan supporting a special school in Gujarat, India (2006-2012). I am currently undertaking a part-time PhD at the University of Manchester researching applied theatre and young people’s spiritual wellbeing.

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Every Day is Fieldwork

Hello and longtime no blog…. well in September we launched Orangebox (please visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CE9oWHg5xQ) and since then we have been open 7 days a week, welcomed our tenants, established a hires service, and offered 28 hours of Members Only access to Orangebox every week (we now have 400 members -young people of Calderdale aged 13-19). It’s been all the things associated with a start-up: hello 13 hour days; endless snagging lists; steep income generation targets; constitutions; policy formation; non-stop flitting from outright fear to elation; and goodbye: friends; family; voluntary commitments; domestic duties; the gym; healthy eating; and (in my case) enough academic reading! But as my supervisors keep telling me “every day is fieldwork” so this blog brings you a quick flavor of my field!

Fortunately the reminder of my PhD commitment is enabling me to stay reflective in the busiest and most professionally challenging period of my life to date (which is just as well because despite the world class facility mantle and the £3.5million capital investment we still face the familiar stresses and strains of any community organisation – everyone needs to muck in to keep on top of the cleaning, mending the printer and maintaining toilet-roll stock alongside doing the day job).  It also helps me to see that the pressures I experience in attempting to produce a space that focuses on young people’s well-being in this particularly precarious economic and policy climate are reflective of bigger questions about the relationship between culture, global economics and local practices.

We are now a staff team of five; myself, Centre Manager, Programme Producer, and two Business Administration Apprentices (aged 17 and 18), well supported by Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, Calderdale Council, Voluntary Action Calderdale, a Youth Board, and an independent Steering Group. We share the building with Youth Works and Project Challenge (statutory and voluntary youth organisations supporting young people not in education, employment, or training),The Cooking School (who support young people to run our café and catering facilities), and Calderdale Theatre School (a Youth Theatre active since1968).  We have just appointed a sessional team comprising people with backgrounds in climbing, skating, teaching and the arts. This team will staff the centre and facilitate activities during the weekend when we operate Members Only access to the facilities for £1 per week. At present we have an extremely limited budget for programming structured activity but we are of course working on that!  So we find ourselves in the unusual position of being engaged on a daily basis with lots of young people who would certainly fall into the infamous category of ‘hard to reach’ (I prefer hardly reached) before we have a programme.  For me this is of course the right way round; we can work with these young people to shape the programme they want rather than spend years pushing a programme at them. Furthermore it is these young people who are becoming actively involved in the day-to-day management of the centre – staffing reception, helping with hires, designing promotional materials, and supporting with recruitment.

Our Programme Producer is about to launch The 12 Membership Days of Christmas to offer a range of taster sessions and inspire the formation of a Programming Team (influenced by Signal, a Young People’s Arts Centre in Melbourne, Australia). Initially though our Members Only programme has been a somewhat scanty offer – access to the skate park, music rehearsal rooms, chill-out, and open-mic in our main atrium space. However this period has served as a striking reminder of the need to not over-programme and of our innate ability to play and make something out of very little.  In the Orangebox context offering open-mic to teenagers is almost the equivalent of giving a cardboard box to a toddler – I have watched our members spend hours together creating their own entertainment be it role-playing Jeremy Kyle shows, running pass-the-mic joke telling competitions or, of course, hosting karaoke! I also see signs that we are achieving a sense of sanctuary that the young people want to extend to others – earlier this week some young girls who regularly attend the drop-in came rushing in to ask if they could bring in a very old man they had come across in town who was desperate to use an accessible toilet! Being in a town centre certainly helps to create a cohesive space, it being a more neutral location than a housing estate (where many of the other myplace centres have been built) and attracts a broad range of interests.  As such I have led tours of the building for very varied groups of people, the best example to date being a tour with the borough’s school nursing team and some local young men searching for a space in which they could run their fantasy gaming club! Before the end of the tour both parties had found lots of common ground discussing how the painting of fantasy figurines is good for developing fine motor skills and how being in a space like Orangebox might support increased social confidence amongst the group of male gamers – our ability as human beings to find connections never ceases to amaze me!

I don’t want to create too glossy a picture here, it is without doubt risky, messy, scary, and exhausting but by clinging on to my commitment to reflexivity I can still make leadership decisions that are best suited to our ultimate aim.  So I will leave you with the argument that even at our busiest,  reflective practice is just as vital as the next fundraising application – discuss……

The Orangebox Atrium - where teenagers play

The Orangebox Atrium – where teenagers play

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Spoken word poets I have seen at TED – #SarahKay #ShaneKoyczan

Especially beautiful Sarah Kay’s If I Had A Daughter

Marcus Romer's work & blog

So – trawling through the archives of this blog I came across these two brilliant talks I saw at TED back in 2011 – with Sarah Kay and this year 2013 with Shane Koyczan. They are both amazing and worth your time.

enjoy…Sarah Kay – If I had a daughter…

and Shane Koyczan – for all of you out there

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Three Dirty Words

photoAs a form of therapy I highly recommend blogging to all PhD researchers. As opposed to academic writing, in a blog: I don’t need to unpack terms all the time – I can just say stuff that I think or feel without citing who might have thought similar things or influenced my thinking- I can reference non-academic texts that won’t make it into my thesis; and most importantly I can make connections between my research and my life.  When you also have a full-time job a lot of general life stuff gets squeezed and at times sacrificed for PhD activity hence the desire to explain my research to friends, family, and colleagues without giving them my thesis to read!

So if this is therapy, I can be personal.  Frankly my PhD research question could quite easily be translated in to what do I have to offer the world or what do I now know that’s useful? If this seems indulgent then don’t worry I’m not sponsored by anyone, I pay my own fees and use my own time.   Over the last twenty years or so I have developed three core life interests that I mainly keep on the down-low because I know how easily they can be misconstrued or perhaps even perceived as the type of interests in which only someone who has not experienced any hardship could afford to indulge.  Well regardless, it’s time to come out – I’m obsessed with: –

– theatre

– research

– spiritual well-being

I keep these interests under wraps because as explicit, stand alone terms they can easily be associated with elite or wafty experiences, concepts, and places and I am actually interested in how they can be incorporated into the everyday – i.e. theatre doesn’t have to happen in a dedicated theatre building, research in a university, or the spiritual in a place of worship.  Professionally I have mainly worked outside of such institutions because I think it is important to find useful ways of incorporating knowledge developed within theatre, research, and spiritual wellbeing in broader human development practice such as formal and informal education and community development. In my view it’s everybody’s right to have access to processes that could support their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Well if this was an academic piece of writing I would probably now need to turn to someone like Pierre Bourdieu to demonstrate that I understand how my interests could be explained by reference to constructs such as habitus and cultural capital and that as a child growing up around parents immersed in education I was privy to the code of academia thereby explaining my interest in research.  But this is a blog so I’m not going to go there! I will say that to a certain extent, Bourdieu has a point although I was arguably just as influenced by family members who had not accessed extensive formal education but conducted what could be classed as their own everyday research projects- I’m thinking of my Great Uncle Harry who meticulously documented the Redcar tides, weather, and daily observations not for a readership or a qualification but for the personal value of taking stock, reflecting, capturing and documenting.

Even though my current professional practice would probably be best classified as ‘management‘ I privately still think of myself as a theatre person. I don’t make plays or work in a theatre now but my management approach is influenced by what experience of theatre work has taught me about effective team work, empathy, perspective, problem solving and generally making things happen.  I am not interested in classic literary texts or imposing buildings but the transformative potential of theatre processes.  I think processes such as rehearsal and theatre games take us as near as a human being can get to “the sort of self knowledge that you can only get from experience[i] without having actually had that experience. As a theatre researcher I need to understand this better; whilst others are looking towards neurobiology I am interested in frameworks and theories that help us understand how involvement in these processes might enable a connection with a sense of a bigger picture; with self transcendence (and the key to spiritual wellbeing in logotherapy terms).

I was first able to articulate an interest in spiritual well-being having read Man’s Search For Meaning which a colleague gave to me whilst I was trying to cope with supporting my partner through cancer treatment.  In Man’s Search For Meaning Viktor Frankl lays out the fundamentals of logotherapy and describes how  “even in the degradation of Dachau Concentration camp he retained the belief that the most important freedom of all is the freedom to determine one’s own spiritual well-being.”[ii]   I now find myself undertaking a PhD project that revolves around Frankl’s definition of spiritual wellbeing.

Part of me is clearly caught up in concerns that by declaring an interest in spiritual well-being I will be perceived as a new-age fanatic, in theatre a cultural elitist, and in research a lofty academic. So where might my concerns about the associations these interests generate come from? Well Viktor Frankl would tell me that these sorts of worries come from the automatic self rather than the authentic self. By thinking about a human being as having three dimensions- the physical, psychic and the spiritual – Frankl helps us to understand that our worries and emotional responses do not come from a deep sense of self but from the psyche (automatic self).  To achieve a greater sense of spiritual well-being we need to put aside or go beyond these sensations to connect with our spiritual realm (authentic self), our true core, which is concerned with making meaning by acting for the sake of values or others beyond the self.  We really need to find more every day ways of exploring and expressing this side of ourselves through nonreligious (as well as religious) frameworks.

To a certain extent this is what I am personally trying to do by fusing my interests in a research project.  PhD study is proving highly effective as a process because you have to work really hard to name what you know deep down – first you have to understand what has already been said and how you are developing, extending or contradicting it (you can’t just say what you think or feel) – research is a highly technical and specialist discipline which does eventually pull out and give you confidence in all your hunches, intuition, and instinctual knowledge.  In turn this is developing my leadership capabilities and enabling me to make decisions that will ensure Orangebox offers a healthy environment for young people, so hopefully not too long now until the building is handed over….

That then concludes this month’s ‘therapy’, it has certainly helped me work through a few issues and I really hope it will be of some value to those of you who take the time to read this – thank you!


[ii] Frankl Viktor, The Doctor And The Soul, Souvenir Press, London 2004

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Halifax is not California

Halifax is not California.

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Halifax is not California

I have never been to the state of California but I suspect that it
– is a place in which it is more common for folk to talk openly about spiritual well-being than it is in Halifax, West Yorkshire…..
– would be a more obvious part of the world, than say Halifax, West Yorkshire, to focus on when researching spiritual well-being…..
Well firstly let me state that I would very much like to go to California and if this blog generates invitations then thank you very much indeed and see you soon….  If not then I need to press on with my quest to find acceptable ways of exploring everyday spiritual well-being amongst my Yorkshire kindred – specifically our Orangebox users.   In short I need to find ways of describing my research that are engaging and “avoid smacking of (with apologies to any Californian readers) California la-la land” (and yes this is an actual warning issued by a local friend)
At Orangebox we are aiming to create an environment in which young people can realise their ideas and realise themselves.  So what might realising yersen (1) look like when it’s at home (please note I have allowed myself only one use of stereotypical Yorkshire dialect in this blog)? Well this is where my main man Viktor Frankl comes in handy. As you know from my last blog I am using Frankl’s logotherapy as a framework for defining spiritual well-being.  Essentially Frankl considers human-beings to be spiritual entities motivated by the search for meaning, by self-transcendence – the ability to act for values and others beyond the self.  Logotherapy states that we bring our values to life by achieving tasks, by experiencing nature, beauty, art, and by loving another.  But even people who find themselves in the greatest distress  (such as Frankl experienced as a prisoner of second world war concentration camps) – in which neither activity or creativity can bring values to life – they can still give their life meaning by the way they face their fate or distress.  We all have the ability to choose our attitude, to determine our attitudinal values.    In order to act for the sake of your values you need to be alert to the voice of your conscience.  Conscience comes from what Frankl refers to as the noetic realm (or the spirit); the authentic self rather than the automatic self (the psyche).  Frankl argues that there is more to us than drivers, emotions and instincts – through the noetic realm, regardless of circumstances or conditions, we can determine our actions, our experiences or at the very least our attitudes.  Fundamentally we need to learn to go beyond the automatic self and tune into the authentic self.

So translating this into the Orangebox context we will need to offer a broad range of opportunities to support young people’s development and exploration of their sense of self –enabling them to try things out, to rehearse (whether it’s a play, a business idea, or a new sense of personal identity).  We need to offer space, flexibility, and be responsive to requests alongside programming activities and services that we know enable self- expression, personal agency, and responsibility.  If we’re offering programmes that claim to develop things like  ‘employability’ we need to think hard about how to take a holistic rather than a tokenistic approach; we must not stop at developing functional skills or writing a CV but also find ways of exploring with the young people how employment might meet existential needs and if it doesn’t then how can broader life practice be developed to meet these needs?  I am delighted that both sets of Orangebox tenants (a statutory and a voluntary youth agency) share these interests and are keen to collaborate on developing and evaluating young people’s sense of purpose.

In many ways the world is seemingly smaller today but growing up in the 21st century is complicated and uncertain. Meaning making and subsequent self-transcendence is clearly more of a challenge during a period in which ‘values are in transition.(2)’ – the material world presents multiple opportunities to succumb to the will to power or the will to pleasure.  As such we need to find and promote practices that ‘work towards an honest engagement in the world, focussing on the vital material that binds us to the world and gives our life meaning (3)’. Young people (particularly those growing up in a post-industrial northern town) are dependent on their own initiative, positive relations, and support networks to live healthy, confident, and happy lives. Orangebox will respond to the evolving needs of local young people.  Just like a teenager, Orangebox needs to embrace liminality so we can continually create points of connection for local young people to regional, national, and international networks and opportunities.
With all of this in mind I wonder why the UK has overlooked logotherapy when it has been embraced all over the world?  Perhaps it is because concepts such as spiritual well-being are still too scientifically unpalatable (although please note though that Frankl was not a California new-age hippie but a Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School and served for twenty-five years as head of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic)?  Even putting politics aside, the current attempts by the UK government to measure happiness completely miss the point in my view– happiness is a by-product of having achieved something meaningful not the primary goal.
So despite my opening with seemingly cynical references to the potential vast difference between California and Yorkshire I actually think the latter might prove a natural place from which a logotherapy movement could grow not least because we have amazing countryside to support experiential values and (excuse the generalization) a pretty humorous attitude to life(4), helping us triumph over adversity.  For Frankl humour is a way of self-distancing, seeing the funny side of your behavior but also something that comes from the noetic realm.
“You may be astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humour in a concentration camp; of course only a faint trace of one, and then only for a few seconds or minutes.  Humour was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.  It is well known that humour. more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” (5)
As such one of the first programmes we’ll be running over the summer at Orangebox is a stand-up comedy course with The Comedy Trust.  So watch this space or even better get in touch if you want to support us in ensuring that Orangebox is a spiritually healthy place for young people!
Thanks for reading, I’ll leave you with a view from the Orangebox rooftop…..
Image
Notes
 1.   Yourself in Yorkshire dialect
2.  Fabry Joseph, Guideposts To Meaning, Institue of Logothearpy Press, California, 1988, page 3
3.  Porubcansky Anna, Song of the Goat Theatre: Artistic Practice as Life Practice, NTQ 26:3, August 2010, page 271
4.   e.g.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm6VC5gdaFA
5.  Frankl Viktor E, Man’s Search For Meaning, Rider, London 2004, page 54
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