The Compass Project is an exciting new project linking the mental health of those working in East London pubs with the arts created by David Paulin. Here he tells all about it.
One morning, in the toilet of my London office job, I had an idea. It was one that burrowed deep, it grew, it developed and has now become an obsession.
We’ve all been to pubs and enjoyed a few (sometimes a few too many) drinks, relaxed, had a laugh, been welcomed in to the warm, friendly embrace of a boozer, but how many of us take the time to notice the people that work so tirelessly to let us enjoy ourselves?
Growing up in a house where my older brother suffers from long term mental illness, I’ve always had a huge interest in mental health. How can we stay healthy? And, if we aren’t feeling too good, how can we take a Lemsip mug for our mind in order to get back to peak condition?
These were questions that plagued me as I was stood in the toilet that morning, when I noticed a poster drawing attention to the fact that there was a trained Mental Health First Aider onsite. I was immediately drawn to the practical nature of the idea, if you’ve stubbed your toe on a filing cabinet, the first aider comes with a splint and a plaster, if you’ve been feeling down, the Mental Health First Aider comes with an ear and advice.
Inspired by this measurable, feet on the ground approach to mental health I began thinking of my other job, working as a barman in a local pub in Walthamstow. I thought of the panic attacks had by bar staff on a busy shift, the feeling of paralysis myself, and the other managers have felt in not knowing how to deal with this, the look of strain on an angry chef’s face in the thick of dinner service, the customers, wearily dragging themselves to a bar stool and looking for support at the bottom of a pint glass. I thought of how much that workplace could benefit from this fantastic scheme that FSB was doing. So, I did what all great innovators do, I nicked the idea and called it my own!
The Compass Project is an initiative that involves training 16 pub workers, in the north, south, east and west of London to become Mental Health First Aiders with Kelly’s Cause Foundation (a charity that specialises in mental health in the hospitality industry). With 70% of hospitality workers reporting a stigma on mental health in their workplace, I knew we had to create an environment where people felt safe to take the first step and open up about their mental health. So, with PostPieces, (a charity that offers a creative approach to mental health) we are running an arts workshop in 8 venues across London, inviting all the staff of these pubs to come along and dispel the stigma that can sometimes surround mental health.
From the PostPieces workshops onwards, the project aims morph slightly into something new. It becomes a way to bridge the gap between hospitality workers and the arts, more specifically theatre (linking into my background as an actor). Using the stories, experiences and materials we generate in these workshops we then will devise a theatre show to be put on in a pub theatre in London, inviting all the pub workers that have been involved in the process, in the hope that they will see themselves onstage, see their experiences and stories represented, which will hopefully engage people with theatre who may not normally feel involved.
But all this requires a lot of work and a lot of money. For the work, it means a lot of time on the tube, journeying around London speaking to different pub workers, hearing how this could help them, sometimes facing people who haven’t joined the conversation on mental health yet and sometimes people who are much further ahead than I am! The best moments are meeting someone that already feels like they’re working the role of a Mental Health First Aider, and hearing how this training can validate and support them. A humbling reminder that we’re not reinventing the wheel but creating support networks inside of an industry that needs it.
For the money, we have a JustGiving page set up which has been an incredible lesson in the positive power of social media, we are constantly raising, and raising the target as our friends, families and colleagues help us surpass it.
We also threw a fundraising night in The Queens Arms, Walthamstow on the 26th Jan, where nearly a hundred people turned out in force to support the cause. We had local live music, even our Hackney First Aider Lucia took to the mic to sing incredible music from her upcoming EP. The raffle, which was generously supported by a mix of local and London wide hospitality businesses, went down a treat and I managed to complete my run from the Brixton pub, up past the Hackney pub and into the Walthamstow pub for people to bet on, winning them a bottle of specially labelled Distillery Reserve Bushmills, one of 6 bottles donated generously by Proximo Spirits in support of the project. One of the stand out moments of the night for me was the roof raising round of applause for the staff that had been working behind the bar that night. Seeing a pub packed full of people, applauding their bar staff out of gratitude was hugely touching.
Now if you’ve gotten this far (thanks for baring with me!) you may be thinking; how can I help? Well we have an Instagram set up @the.compassproject so if you want to follow the project and see it develop and change along the way, then that’s the best place for you! Also feel free to fire me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved.
Thanks for reading!