It’s been a year of holding the space for mental wellbeing at the second floor of 111 Customhouse Quay in the middle of the ‘business’ end of Wellington, for Co-liberate, a project the Urban Dream Brokerage service has assisted.
It’s not a typical hang out for theatre graduates, surrounded by small businesses, fluoro lights and blue carpet. Bop, Jody and Sarah have made it feel strongly welcoming with some simple paint and design solutions, cushions, plants and colouring activities. Now, after a year, CoLiberate are trying to work out how to make their popular workshops and activities, based around pro-active wellbeing, pay.
“Most mental health services in New Zealand are there for people after they’ve crashed - but preventative care is hard to fund,” says Bop. She mentions the bleak experience many freelance actors and performers have trying to keep themselves ‘up,’ and thinks they have a lot to share. “Artists have this underlying expertise - people care and building self-worth. As performers we needed a process that helped people feel buoyant – when the people are the work, you have to find a way to help them be well. Good theatre is so close to wellness.”
In this guest blog the CoLiberate team look back on their first year.
Not too long ago, an email popped up from the Urban Dream Brokerage team to let us know that it’s CoLiberate’s one year anniversary at the Studio, the space we have held on Customhouse Quay since the 31 July 2016. At first we didn’t believe it. A whole year?
The UDB team were among the first to get excited with us. Back then we felt like three little mice with a big vision. We were dreaming about a gym culture for mental health. We knew it mattered. But we had no idea where to start.
UDB are longtime believers in transformation, so they could see the value in drawing together a community around a radical idea - to invite all kinds of people to give emotional workouts a go. To open an ongoing workshop programme to absolutely everyone. To support people to prioritise their mental health just as much as their physical health.
Somehow they got their hands on the key to everything for us… 111 Customhouse Quay. It turns out the place to start was right at the heart of Kiwi mental health: in the middle of the CBD, where so many people struggle to find balance and stability in a relentless Monday to Friday 9-to-5 routine.
We barely had time to do an excited victory lap of the Biz Dojo before we set-to on transforming what had most recently been a law firm’s officeinto Wellington’s first mental health gym. Somewhere purpose designed to help all kinds of people feel at home as they take on a new bold and open attitude to their self-care.
A year ago, we were full of ‘maybe’s and ‘what if ’s.. A year on, we are proud to say that we are an organisation of 11 who have delivered over 250 wellbeing workouts, hosted events, taught programmes, advocated for positive mental health on the TEDx stage and to 2000 plus people at various events around the country. It’s taken us a year at our Customhouse Quay home to build a community around this idea. And now that we have seen the impact, we know how much bigger this needs to get, and fast!
UDB helped us make the jump from talking about real change, to actually doing it. Now it’s the individuals in the studio who are doing the transforming - and wow it’s been incredible to watch. We get to see all kinds of people developing self-awareness, new skills and habits, connections to purpose and identity, growing their sense of self-worth, and developing strong friendships. The transformation is personal and powerful and a privilege to be a part of - and it’s still only the start! The emotional workouts running every week at the moment are Reflective Writing, Wellness Wānanga (for sharing wellness hacks and verbally exploring our inner worlds), Creative Movement, Yoga, and our popular date-night relaxation choice: Mindfulness with Clay.
We can’t believe how much this testing ground has unlocked for us in a year - we look back on how telling people we ‘needed a mental health gym’ didn’t cut it. But putting out a timetable of emotional workouts for mind health is activating real change.
It has also tested us. More than we ever would have known when we first received those keys.
The perseverance and patience we’ve had to muster as we continue to learn hard lessons about how long change takes to create. About how to pick up and carry on after a no-show session in the early days when no one knew we were there. About how to fund the infinite cups of tea that are a must-have on either side of any good emotional workout! About how to value diverse or even opposite experiences in the very same moment. About how to curate a professional environment to prototype a business model, while still maintaining a homely readiness to host individuals in need of a sanctuary that doesn’t feel like their work environment. We’ve been blown away by how people from such different demographics and backgrounds can find common ground so quickly in a space like the CoLiberate studio.
We’re inspired by the brave individuals who keep turning up to discover with us. To play. To explore. To lean into the hard conversations that can make all the difference in their lives. Those who are proactive about their wellbeing. Who won’t accept New Zealand’s current mental health prognosis. Who want to be a part of a better way.
So what now? We’re working on preparing our community and workplaces to know what to do in times of mental crisis and to know how to invest in their business’ biggest resource: their people. Mental Health First Aid for the public is on its way, and we won’t stop until we have a country that knows how to cope with anything.
We’re on track to build the Les Mills of mental health so that we can make positive mind health available to even more Wellingtonians.