A number of projects led by Amy Pollard can be retrospectively understood as precursors to the Mental Health Collective, and complementary to its mission:
The Whitehall Park Living Advent Calendar: Building community
Loneliness and isolation are key drivers of mental ill health, and people often them feel these particularly acutely at Christmas time. Since 2015, Amy has organised a Living Advent Calendar in her local neighbourhood, where 24 volunteers from different houses and community hubs take it in turns to reveal a festive window throughout December – often offering mince pies and mulled wine on the doorstep. With a warm invitation extended to everyone in the neighbourhood, feedback on the project has been that it has been highly effective in developing a stronger sense of community and neighbourly bonds.
The Coombe Wood Community Choir: Sharing music in a mother and baby unit
As an inpatient within the Coombe Wood Mother and Baby Unit (Park Royal Centre for Mental Health), Amy founded a community choir. With the slogan: “For all faiths and none, a choir for everyone”, it brought together not only mothers on the unit but also staff, friends and family, visitors and anyone else with a connection to the mother and baby unit. The choir was a powerful way to break down the steep hierarchies between inpatients and others on the ward, connect with the world outside and create a sense of shared experience. The choir continues remotely as a kind of ‘play’ choir – members of the choir sing songs for each other from their kitchens if they know that someone is going through a rough time.
Field of Screams: Revealing shared mental health struggles
In 2009 Amy published what became an influential study, Field of Screams, which documented the mental health difficulties of PhD candidates whilst undertaking anthropological fieldwork. It was republished in a high profile international journal, included on reading lists at LSE, University of Cambridge and King’s College, London, and inspired two major departmental workshops. Drawing together the experiences of PhD candidates in a systematic way, the paper transformed what had been seen as private troubles into public issues, which it was then incumbent upon universities to address.
Welcome to Kings: Creating a sense of belonging at an Oxbridge college
Going to Cambridge can be an intimidating and anxious experience. People often report feeling that they don’t belong and that they feel intimidated by the fancy buildings. As an undergraduate at King’s College Cambridge, Amy persuaded fellows who occupied one of the grandest and most prominent building in the college to let her put a huge display across the whole building. It spelt out ‘Welcome to Kings’ in large writing, and then every single fresher had their name displayed. The idea was that people could see their names in the window and know that this was their college. Putting up the ‘Welcome to Kings’ display was repeated for several years after Amy left the college.
Sciencewise: Bringing together experts, policy makers and members of the public around complex policy issues
From 2014-15 Amy was a Programme Manager at Sciencewise, a government programme to bring members of the public together with scientists, experts and policy makers together in meaningful dialogue around complex and controversial policy issues. There were challenging power dynamics between these different groups, and the techniques of facilitation and process design were key to ensuring that dialogue was meaningful. It was a formative experience in how to harness the expertise of very different types of groups around a complex set of issues, and help them engage with each to move a challenging problem forward.