Current projects

Lost Letters

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 Jan 2020 - Dec 2020

We're so excited to be delivering our most ambitious project to date in 2020. Thanks to the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we'll be working with the brilliant people of Surrey History Centre to engage people across Surrey with their local history and the lost art of letter writing. It will highlight the universality of our experiences as residents of Surrey by bringing to life the lives and experiences of our predecessors and asking for a response, by letter, from current residents, who will be invited to take part. It will culminate in a book, touring exhibition and an online legacy, displaying the original letters alongside some contemporary responses. It will begin with a period of research at Surrey History Centre, involving a group of volunteers, to curate a selection of diverse letters that have the universal themes of humanity as a connecting theme. We’ll hold a series of workshops using the archive materials as prompts for creative responses with our four project partners at the Royal Star & Garter Care Home (Surbiton), The Princess Alice Hospice (Esher), Hinchley Wood Secondary School (Hinchley Wood) and The Halow Project (Guildford). The responses to our Lost Letters Inspiration Toolkit, produced in these workshops, will be curated into an exhibition and a book. You can get involved as a volunteer or by attending the exhibition, which will tour across Surrey in Autumn 2020. We hope to see you there. In the meantime, write us or someone else a letter because what can be better than an expected letter?


ANY QUESTIONS

Email  itsnotyourbirthdaybut@gmail.com


Image from Surrey History Centre Archive with permission. Details of the Collection can be provided on request.

HMPYOI Feltham Arts Programme

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 December 2019

We were back at HMPYOI Feltham this month to trial a more intensive 8-day art course with 20 participants, aged 19-21, thanks to the Novus Education team.


For the first time we trialled a soap sculpture workshop as well as weaving and incorporating words into the artwork. There was even an improvised bit of knitting, using pencils as needles. We also explored portraits, drawing, printing and painting, as well as our favourite subject of letters. We're delighted we've got over 30 entries lined up for the 2020 Koestler awards. 


As many of the young men we work with have been excluded from school and have had very negative experiences of education, we have to work hard to build trust and create and maintain a productive atmosphere, where they can explore their creativity. So it's not always easy but this makes the highs even more inspiring. We're so proud that 80% of the group are proud enough of their efforts to submit work to competitions, given the starting point for a lot of them was that they hated art, had never done art or did not think it was for them. A HUGE thank you to Erika, Nicole, Alex and Fiona for working so hard to make this project a success and a big welcome to Nadine who joined our Feltham team. 


We hope to build on this work in 2020 by running another course that culminates in a sharing of the work in the wider community. Watch this space.....


Artwork - Youth of Harlem by I - with permission

Previous projects

Dear Friend

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 29th April - 10th May 2019 

INYBB are teaming up with 64 Million Artists to ask the nation to write a letter. We're requesting handwritten letters sharing an experience you've had and offering advice to someone who may be going through something similar. What did you learn and what is the most useful advice you can share? We sometimes forget how amazing, inspiring and resilient human beings can be when facing difficult situations in life, from bereavement to moving to a new area, being a new parent or carer to suffering from anxiety or living with an illness. Sharing lived experience of something can offer support, hope and positivity to others and make a real difference to helping them through something similar. Put an experience you've had, big, small or life changing, into words and share them with someone who needs them. 

WHAT

Write a letter (or typing it is fine if your writing is difficult to read) sharing an experience you've had. Address it to a Friend (after all strangers are just friends we haven't met yet!) and sign off as a Friend or just using your first name. Do not include your surname or any personal or contact details in your letter. If you're feeling creative you can decorate your letter and/or your envelope. If you would like to be added to our mailing list and/or hear back from us, please do include your full name, email address and postal address on a SEPARATE piece of paper. If you need help with buying a stamp, please let us know and we can post one to you.

WHY

We'll send your original letter to someone who needs it and will benefit from it as well as use it on our website and social media channels. We'll work with local groups and charities to ensure the letters reach the right people. By sending us your letter you are giving us permission to use and distribute it as outlined above. 

WHERE & WHEN

Post your letter to It's Not Your Birthday But..., The Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Surrey KT10 0SR during our campaign period, Mon 29th April to Fri 10th May 2019

ANY QUESTIONS

Email  itsnotyourbirthdaybut@gmail.com

Our Health Your Hands

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 July 2018 – May 2019

We’re delighted to announce that we’re a delivery partner in a new health and heritage project, led by Anstee Bridge and Bounce Theatre. Our Health Your Hands will celebrate 70 years of the NHS in Kingston and the evolution of Kingston Hospital. The project, kindly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, offers a year of learning for over 300 children and young people. They will research, document and share the history of Kingston Hospital from workhouse to fully functional modern hospital. Through the project, the young people will be given a unique insight into the evolution of the hospital in response to scientific, technological and social evolution. Alongside this they will have an opportunity to find out more about careers in the NHS and how they can take responsibility for their own health. At INYBB… we have the delightful job of running the Gratitude Café and working with the Anstee Bridge students to gather stories, letters, memories and anecdotes of how people have helped each other at Kingston Hospital and sharing that gratitude and thanks in a range of creative ways. We can’t wait to get started! If someone at Kingston Hospital has helped you and you’d like to say thank you and contribute to our project, please email us info@itsnotyourbirthdaybut.com

Previous projects

HMYOI Feltham

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Feltham Arts Programme

October 2018 - March 2019

We were pleased to be one of three arts companies delivering activity as part of the inaugural Feltham Arts Programme. We worked with different groups of learners, aged 18-21, one day a week for six weeks and invited in a range of writers, poets and visual artists to work with the group and inspire them to create their own letters, poems and artworks. Work was shared at the end of the six weeks at a showcase for family members. With permission, copies of the work are shared externally to challenge assumptions people may have about young people living in prison. All work belongs to the creators and is kept in a portfolio which they can use, display and share to celebrate their achievements and highlight the personal development they have made through the course, some submitting their work to a range of creative competitions.


Introduction to It's Not Your Birthday But...

Project Introduction

HMYOI Feltham Introduction

Dear Mum - letter from participant

Letter from Alex Wheatle

Letter from Ray Kinsella

Project Director - Wendy Smithers

The Firs and Fenner House

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Dear Friend

February to May 2018

We worked with two groups based at The Firs in Claygate and Fenner House in Walton-on-Thames, both independent living schemes for those in later life. Some of the residents have moved into the area to be nearer their families and this project enabled new friendships within each residence, as well as build new friendships in the other setting. Each group worked with an artist, poet Maureen Jivani and artist Sarah Bennett, to explore aspects of life and/or creative prompts to inspire words, visual arts and crafts. Our prompts have included favourite recipes, our idols and what makes us laugh. Some of the group members have linked up with a person in the other group as a pen pal. We organised a special event for the two groups to meet at the end of May, some met their pen pals for the first time. 


Feedback from participants:


"Excellent project. Well structured. Fun and memorable. Staff are kind, pleasant and understanding."


"Fantastic ideas and friendly people. Great get-together work."


"I enjoyed getting together with friends and reminiscing and the activities."

Star & Garter

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Poems by Post

In 2017 we were pleased to be working with The Royal Star and Garter Homes in Surbiton. This programme was inspired by the thought that creative outcomes may differ if stimulus was sent postally rather than electronically. Twelve residents of the home worked with lead artist Tom Mallender to share stories and memories that were important to them. These were then used as a stimulus for poetry, which was posted to six other poets across the country from London to Newcastle, who produced work in response. The residents were also paired with pen pals from Hinchley Wood School, who worked with artist Rachel Turner of Bounce Theatre. The older and younger pen pals shared stories and compared notes on school life, fashion, work, friends and families. The project culminated in over 35 poems bring published in a dedicated anthology and the pen pals meeting at a tea party hosted by the local MP. 

“I started this project assuming I would be writing about total strangers, but as the weeks have gone by, I have started feeling very differently about them all. I know these people by name. They are familiar to me in a way they wouldn’t be if they were simply a few tweets and an emoji, or half a dozen Facebook posts. Even if we never physically meet, we are not strangers any more. We have travelled together. I had forgotten how good it is to write letters and how much these things matter.”

Catherine Edmunds, Poet in Poems by Post

Previous projects

Emberbrook Care Home, Princess Alice Hospice & Hinchley Wood School

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As part of testing whether there was a demand for what we could offer, we ran pilot workshops in a range of settings in London and North Surrey. We brought together Emberbrook Care Home in Thames Ditton and Princess Alice Hospice in Esher with younger pen pals pupils at Hinchley Wood Secondary School. All three groups enjoyed weekly workshops on different themes led by artists Yero Timi-Biu and Vanessa Kisuule and wrote letters to their pen pals. Some of the children walked past the care home on their way to school but had no idea what went on inside or who lived there. Connecting through letters proved to be a great way to challenge assumptions, on both sides, and find commonalities. At the hospice we worked with a group of day patients who were pleased to make new friends with their pen pals. One of the hospice patients commented, “It’s hard as you approach the end of your life as people want to do everything for you. It’s a basic human need to want to be useful and helpful to others but that’s taken away from you. This project gave me a real chance to help someone else by sharing my life experiences with a young lad and offer him advice. It was brilliant when I heard back how useful it was to him and how much he appreciated it. You don’t expect to make new friendships when you’re terminally ill. This was a breath of fresh air.” 

Anstee Bridge

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We were delighted to be working with this inspirational programme in both 2016 and 2017. Based in Kingston-upon-Thames, Anstee Bridge provides a weekly support programme for young people aged 15-16 who have become disengaged with education. It offers a range of support including creative programmes designed to boost self esteem and confidence. In 2016 writer Lauren Brown worked with the group to reply to letters from people in the community and create a giant thank you letter (and matching giant envelope!) for the Anstee staff. The group also articulated their dreams, hopes and wishes for the future, which were then tied to balloons and sent off into the sky.

In December 2017 a new group worked with artist Danielle O’Shaughnessy, they received and wrote back letters to people in the community and worked with local florist Johanna Pedrick Flowers to create Christmas themed flower arrangements. Accompanied by a note of kindness, their arrangements were then gifted to strangers that they selected in Kingston Town Centre. It was great so see the joy this brought to the shoppers and visitors who were lucky enough to be selected. More importantly, it demonstrated the power of giving a gift to a fellow human being just because it was a kind thing to do. It was empowering for all the participants to see social action in full effect and its positive impact.

Kingston Hospital

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In the summer of 2016 we worked with patients on the dementia and surgical wards of Kingston Hospital. One of the participants was a man recovering from a brain injury. Through exploring memories, poems and letters he shared stories of his time growing up in Ghana, which our lead artist, Tom Mallender, turned into evocative poems that he was delighted to receive. On the surgical ward we heard how the kindness of an amazing nurse made a huge difference to one of our participants, who felt less alone because of her actions. He had real pleasure in writing his letter to the nurse who had helped him. 

Response Community Projects

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Tom Mallender led an INYBB group at Response Community Projects in West Brompton. Response is a community centre which provides a safe space for social interaction, learning and improved wellbeing. For our writing group of ten, we created a link with the local homework club and set up some new pen pals for our participants, who had come to London from Iraq, Spain, India, Switzerland and France and had so many rich stories to share. We were bowled over by the stories of courage we encountered here. We enjoyed writing our own poems inspired by images and sharing words on the people and places that were important to us.

The Marylebone Project

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The Marylebone Project in West London provides long and short-term beds to homeless women and essential services for those women using the rough sleeper’s drop-in. It provides education, training and employment opportunities and a range of programmes to support independent living. Writer Lauren Brown worked with some amazing women at The Marylebone Project in Autumn 2016. We shared salutations in seven languages, wrote to our younger selves and wrote to women who had inspired us and told them the positive impact they’d had on our lives. 

Wellness with a Goal

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Artist Jennifer Seajay led letter writing workshops at Wellness with a Goal, a programme for adults living with and recovering from mental illness in Walton-on-Thames. In a workshop where we aimed to help others through a letter, one of the participants wished to write to a young prisoner. He himself had served time at Pentonville Prison and wanted to give hope to a young man in the same situation. This letter was to spark the start of our relationship with staff at HMYOI Feltham, leading to it being one of the key strands of our current activity. Snail mail serendipity in action!