01 Apr The Underground Lights at the end of the tunnel…
And that’s a wrap! Just like that, it’s the Easter holidays and the end of my very first term with Underground Lights. Thank you all so much for having me and here are some of my reflections on what it was like to become part of the team…
Back at the end of 2020, I was just emerging from a particularly dark, dingy and narrow tunnel that I’d been travelling along and dragging myself through for a while. I think I’d been scrambling around in the darkness for a long time, but I’d finally started to hover about near the end of the tunnel. I was just stepping over the threshold into a new part of the journey. It felt a bit like I was finding a way to step out from backstage; to move myself from hiding in the shadows of the wings and take my place on a stage where all the action was going on. I needed to find a troupe and let the curtain go up….
Enter – Underground Lights!
While I was hovering there at the end of my tunnel, I caught a glimpse of something that looked like light one day – a vacancy for a ‘Projects and Activities Assistant’, with a community theatre group that I’d been aware of and following for a while. I had often wondered about getting involved with Underground Lights, since I’ve always turned to theatre and creativity to help keep me going, no matter what else has been happening in my life. As soon as I looked at the application information in more detail, I had excitement bubbling up inside me and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I might just dare to dream of a place outside of the tunnel!
The biggest thing that stood out to me and spurred me on to push through all my anxieties and hesitations to apply for the job, was one of the points on the specification stating that ‘lived experience’ was particularly desirable. Finally, somewhere that the darkness of the tunnel would be welcome, even whilst you step into the light. I wanted to find a place of darkness and light co-existing alongside one another and I could tell straight away, just from the website and application process, that Underground Lights wanted to be exactly this kind of place. And I now know that this is absolutely true –it’s at the heart of everything that goes on. Darkness is welcome here because it’s what is used to shape and create the light.
I’ve now had a whole term to get to know just how much this lived experience and member-led ethos is embedded within and fuels the work of Underground Lights. From my very first week, through to our incredible end of term sharing event on zoom and with everything in between, I have felt incredibly inspired by a way of working and creating that feels so rare and so radically different to anywhere else I’ve worked or been a part of. Members, staff, trustees, volunteers and everything that goes into making up Underground Lights, are united by a common thread – our struggles are also our strengths. It’s been amazing to see how creative, resilient and productive Underground Lights are able to be in so many different ways, and it seems to me that this is actually because of and as a direct result of the personal experiences of mental ill health and homelessness that are so weaved within and alive throughout the whole organisation.
So many high-LIGHTS…
We’ve had a term entirely through zoom, phone calls and posted activities, yet we’ve managed so much connection, laughter and innovation. Who’d have thought you could learn salsa and cha-cha steps from a member over zoom or create a beautifully catchy song within an hour? That you could giggle your way through an old-school origami activity and be moved so deeply by many, many beautiful poems that have been written? Well you can – our Creative Café proved that this term and I’ve loved it all! Another highlight for me was that I had the real privilege (and challenge!) of putting together the creative packs earlier on this term. As I pieced each pack together, I really hoped so much that they could bring some inspiration to everyone receiving them. It was a lovely first project to work on, because during such a difficult and strange time, the packs felt like little packages of fun that could encourage everyone to enjoy something creative. As well as this, of course we had our Friday zoom groups, which, without fail, have involved creative sparks flying all over the place and such a strong commitment to just ‘having-a-go’ at everything. These Friday sessions have really shown me that you don’t have to be ‘fixed’ or have things all together to get involved and the magic just evolves when you all work as a team. Even if I’ve felt full of nerves or self-doubt beforehand, I’ve come away from all my Underground Lights interactions feeling so uplifted by everyone’s courage, ideas and effort.
It was easy for me to tell, from my first few zoom groups and meetings in January, that I’d found myself surrounded by some particularly colourful, bright and dazzling lights indeed! Then whizz forward to last week, when we were all smiling and dancing away on zoom to welcome in our audience for the sharing event and I realised that I’d become one of the lights too – what a troupe to have found and be a part of! My first term has totally exceeded my expectations and I’m so grateful to have found the Underground Lights at the end of my tunnel.