In summer 2022, The Jo Cox Foundation piloted a new project – Belonging in Batley and Spen – to explore what it means to belong locally, with a diverse group of community members.
After a sustained period of mental ill health, when Martyn signed up to participate in the project, he had no idea where it would lead. Following eight weeks of workshops, the group were supported to plan and deliver a Great Get Together event for their local community. Their final event, titled the ‘Great Create Together’, invited all members of the community to join together for a range of arts and crafts activities.
In this age of social media, maybe we have all become a little too antisocial. Throw that aside and dare to say hi.Martyn, participant in the Belonging in Batley and Spen project
This is Martyn’s story:
The whole idea that I could be involved with this would have, at times, in the last decade been a fanciful notion to me. I have had a difficult decade. My own mental health seeing me often in despair and hospitalised, feeling helpless and optionless. I spent five whole years trapped in the house, agoraphobia biting deep. I guess though, despite still often being hugely anxious, I am emerging from the debacle that was the life lost to the cursed mental breakdown.
Yet here I am writing about the positive, communitarian sense of purpose and belonging I saw in evidence from others involved too. All with different stories, all with personal goals and aspirations, all reflecting the rich, glorious diversity that is Batley, and indeed wider Kirklees.
It proves the strap-line ‘more in common’ has resonance and reality. Our hope from the Great Create Together event at Batley Community Centre was that just one new person from the neighbourhood might start to use the centre. An older gentleman who lives on the street opposite now does go to the luncheon club. He tells me it has served him well, tackling his feelings of isolation and helping his mental health.
Personally, I still feel a little shocked at how I felt in those planning meetings, so engaged and driven.
There was so much healing and recovery and reconnection with skills and experience I thought I no longer had, thanks to the encouragement, engagement and positive endorsement I got from those six or seven weeks being on that planning group.
To all of the team involved, I feel I owe so much to them. Tearful reflections really, considering the wealth of healing I took from the experience.
If I would dare to recommend just one thing it would be to say to everyone to try to be involved in your community, to own the streets where you live and show the nay-sayers that regardless of poverty, supposed poor education and dysfunction, nothing is more unifying or galvanising for change than an open hand to your neighbours.
In this age of social media, maybe we have all become a little too antisocial. Throw that aside and dare to say ‘hi, hello, have a good day’ to someone on your street.
Through the Belonging in Batley and Spen project, Martyn found friendship and healing. After the Great Create Together event, his creative writing group (‘Serendipity’) went on to establish themselves as a CIC, received funding to be able to continue their work, and are now working on their 5-year business plan.
Martyn’s poem about his experience:
“We draw a line under our right week endeavour,
Open hands, minds, hearts brought us together,
It was great to create an event to treasure,
Community, shared as one, memories forever,
The rub and hub of light and pleasure,
Batley’s all and each at leisure and
Sharing, caring, growth and measure.”
This project was made possible thanks to funding from Spirit of 2012.