How one Carmarthenshire social enterprise is helping local people look after their wellbeing during lockdown

Llanelli based arts, health and wellbeing enterprise, People Speak Up, has been offering a helping hand and a listening ear during the Covid-19 crisis, providing a space where people of all ages can connect to explore their thoughts and feelings during this challenging time.

People Speak Up (PSU) was set-up 4 years ago by its Artistic Director, Eleanor Shaw, previously a lecturer in performing arts at Coleg Sir Gâr. Through spoken word, creative writing, storytelling and the participatory arts, PSU equips people with the tools to express their emotions artistically as Artistic Director, Eleanor Shaw explains:

“I set up this organisation to create a space for people to find their voice and to connect communities through creative exploration, as autobiographical storytelling helped me to re-build my life.”

People Speak Up is just one of the creative organisations based at Ffwrnes Fach, the converted Zion Chapel next to Llanelli’s Ffwrnes Theatre. The Ffwrnes Fach was re-developed by Carmarthenshire Council at the same time the Ffwrnes Theatre was built in 2013. The main purpose of the building was to provide a space where social enterprises could base their organisations, bringing with them creative and learning opportunities for those living locally.

Before lockdown, People Speak Up was running a series of different projects from the Ffwrnes Fach; from an arts project at The Bwlch youth club in Morfa, to a storytelling series with care home residents and weekly Cancer Café, Young People Speak Up and Spoken Word Saturday sessions – these projects all ground to an immediate halt once the restrictions came in.

Determined to not let the lockdown limit PSU’s output, the organisation was quick to move as many of the sessions online using several different platforms depending on the needs of the group. From Zoom, to Google Hangout and Whatsapp video calling PSU connects with over 90 local people in Carmarthenshire every week during lockdown, something which has been especially important for those who were already struggling with feelings of anxiety or isolation before the Coivd-19 crisis, as Eleanor Shaw explains:

“When lockdown came, we went digital very quickly as people rely on our workshops. Our young people have shown high levels of anxiety during these times, they are struggling with this new way of life, missing friends and feeling very disconnected. The older people that we are talking to are feeling isolated but are showing resilience.”

For those unable to access online platforms, PSU has been picking up the telephone and gifting older members of the community with a story. This be-friending project has been born out of a collaboration with Beyond the Border, an international storytelling festival which has recently re-located to Carmarthenshire. Each week, the participants receive a phone call from Tenby based storyteller, Phil Ockwedy, who chats with them before telling them a story. One of the 73-year-old participants who benefits from these sessions said of them:

“I am really enjoying the connection, being told a story and then having the time to talk and have a discussion”.

Proving that age isn’t a barrier to using technology to connect with others, one of PSU’s regular participants is 83 years old but was determined to not miss out on her sessions and now attends each week via Zoom. Talking about how the sessions are helping her during this time, the octogenarian said:

This is my lifeline, you (PSU) are stretching me, this is needed more than ever.”

If you or someone you know would like to benefit from the sessions run by People Speak Up please get in touch by email info@peoplespeakup.co.uk  or calling 07972651920 and there is more information on the website www.peoplespeakup.co.uk