Supporting our mental well-being through new West Sussex festival

Our mental wellbeing has come under unprecedented pressure during the pandemic.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 9:05 am
Dale Rooks

Chichester Festival Theatre has responded with a Winter Wellbeing Festival, featuring a programme of talks, discussions and practical sessions for all ages, to support positive mental health, resilience and wellbeing, running from November 10-20.

Dale Rooks, director of learning, education and participation at the CFT, has put it all together: “We are all coming out of the most difficult time and we know from the media and from the places that we work in, that our nation’s mental health has been in decline. There has been a significant impact and there have been significant challenges. I was looking at a work-based report earlier this year and it said that 80 per cent of our work organisations are worried about the impact of Covid on people’s mental health and I think through this, people are coming to realise the importance of looking after each other’s wellness much more than ever in the workplace and also just trying to address situations to build up people’s personal resilience. We are more aware of how much that matters now, I believe.”

To an extent, the pandemic has brought things to a head: “There were mental health problems before the pandemic of course but I do think this has all affected people in very different ways and we are all coming through it with a different head space, perhaps even on different days. I know a lot of people that have lost family members and that has been terrible. As a result of Covid I think children are very anxious and very worried. It is natural they’re worried about having lost grandparents and then thinking that their parents might be next. There is a big anxiety around that and around the school system and around the exam system. For people in work it depends around the organisation that they are working for, the organisation’s ability to provide working conditions where they can work remotely if they are not feeling sure about coming back into the workplace.

“We have seen an increase of anxiety and we are not through it yet. We are seeing rising numbers of infections and people in hospital. And I know more people who have had Covid in the last few months than I have in the last year, and I do think that plays on your mind.”

But things are opening up: “There is less stigma around the topic of mental health now if you do have a problem. People are perhaps a little more open about it. I have seen a change in people asking for support when they need it and that’s maybe one good thing that has come out of Covid. We know that there are a lot of people struggling so perhaps we more aware of the need to talk about it, and it is right that we should be encouraged to talk.”

And from all these thoughts Dale has created the wellness festival.

“We are looking at ways that people can meditate, ways that people might be able to connect with each other. We are looking at relationships and physical activity, maybe learning new skills, maybe giving each other more time just to pay attention to each other. We have programmed all sorts of things. We have even got yoga with goats! Sometimes they will sit on you; sometimes they will snuggle up to you. But it induces a lot of laughter and that is calming. It is pet therapy and we know that that works well. And we are doing things like knit and natter, just people coming into the foyer and sitting and knitting and having a chat. It is something that we could develop, I hope.” Dale would love this to become an annual festival: “We will have to look at the success of how this works and if it does then I would like to be thinking about repeating it. I have always thought that wellness and creativity are one and the same thing in some ways.”

When you are creating, you are doing something that relaxes you and it’s bound to have an impact on your wellness.”

How to Build a Healthy Brain, Minerva Theatre, £5, November 12, 6.30pm. Whatever your age, having a healthy brain is the key to a happy and fulfilled life. We all know how to take care of our physical health, but we often feel powerless about what we can do to protect our mental wellbeing too. Join Kimberley Wilson, chartered psychologist and author of How to Build a Healthy Brain, for this insightful talk. Her philosophy of Whole Body Mental Health is a com-prehensive approach to mental health care: integrating evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle fac-tors with psychological therapy.

Goga, Steven Pimlott Building, £10 (£5 Prologue tickets), November 13, 11am and 12.30pm

Hosted by Mucky Bucket Farm, this is an experience like no other, combining the benefits of yo-ga and their cute and cuddly pygmy goats. Escape modern day stresses and get that warm and fuzzy comfort from these adorable goats, all the while releasing tension and tightness the body holds.

Sleep Matters, Minerva Theatre, £5, November 16, 6pm. Sleep is our body’s way of staying phys-ically healthy and keeping our mind alert. This engaging, interactive workshop hosted by Chris Smethurst (co-director Institute of Education, Health and Social Sciences at the University of Chichester) will help you to understand why sleep is so important and guide you through strate-gies that will help you to sleep better.

Zen Den – Gong Baths, Minerva Theatre, £5, November 17, 2.15pm and 4pm. Created by DJ Goldierocks, a certified sound therapist registered with the Complementary Medicine Associa-tion. The Gong has been used in various cultures as far back as 16,000 BC and is an excellent tool for meditation, deep relaxation and creating a heightened state of consciousness - especially for people who struggle to meditate. We also work with tuning forks, crystal chakra bowls, drums, bells, chimes (it can change every session). Lie back, take some deep breaths and let the sound naturally take you to a gorgeous, warm, zenned-out happy zone.

Knit and Natter, Festival Theatre Foyer, free, but booking is essential, November 18, 11am. CFT’s senior community and outreach manager Louise Rigglesford is an amateur knitter looking to gain tips, tricks and secrets of the craft in this drop-in Knit and Natter session. Bring your needles, patterns and current work-in-progress to this informal space, and meet with fellow knit-ting enthusiasts over a cup of tea and a biscuit or two.

This session is free, but booking is essential.

Box Office 01243 781312; online