Arts and Health

Training to be a Service User

Training to be a Service User
Training to be a Service User. Colette Lewis.

Colette Lewis with RehabCare, Cork

Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme

In July 2001 the management of a number of Sheltered Workshops for people with disabilities in the Rehab Group transferred from National Learning Network (formerly NTDI) to RehabCare, which is the health and social care division of Rehab. These sheltered workshops were originally set up in the 70’s as a facility for people with long term disabilities considered unable for open employment. At the initial stage of this ‘changeover’ there was a lot of concern from people in these workshops as to what this change in management would bring. The primary change has been the closure of many of the sheltered workshops being replaced by programmes with a rehabilitative, developmental and therapeutic focus. For some this created a sense of ‘work’ displacement and for others an opportunity for self-development.

The concept for making this video art project was first talked about in RehabCare, Hollyhill, Cork with management and service users soon after this changeover while I was doing literacy work in the centre. I became interested in the political and social situation happening there and over the following year worked with the centre to source funding to develop the project. The main objective of the project was to creatively open up dialogue to explore and discuss issues of ‘work and identity’ and to facilitate giving voice and visibility to people’s concerns and experience.

The project took place over 6 months from October 03’ to April 04’. Workshops were organized for 2 hours on a weekly basis. 14 participants overall aged between 24-70 took part in the project. All of the video and sound recordings took place at the centre in Hollyhill.

The initial stage of the project was spent getting to know each other as a working group and learning to use the digital video camera to become familiar and comfortable with it. This led on then to using the camera to investigate self-image and portrait and discussions about ‘what the eyes mirror of the soul’.

The next stage of the process concentrated on recording conversations based around the changeover relating to identity and work. We discussed the ambiguity around the terms ‘trainee’ and ‘service user’ the former the old and the latter the new definition used by the centre to define people using the service and also the significance of doing work to help in maintaining ones health and wellbeing.

The image of the hand presented itself as a link to exploring the relationship between physical ability and work. Each person in the group explored their hands on video in terms of shape, form, mobility, improvised movement and stories remembered about their hands. The camera was connected to a TV monitor so that each person could interact with their own image making process. We then introduced some of the assembly work done in the workshop into same setup, which was interesting for people to look at their daily work in a different context.

The editing stage was carried out mainly outside of the workshops. One participant requested that their image and voice not be used, so as an alternative subtitles were used instead to tell their story. The editing combines still and moving images with silence and sound to create a sense of autonomy and interrelationship between sound and image. The final draft edit of the video is 15 minutes.

As well as learning new technical skills, many in the group felt that through this creative process they learned things about themselves, it gave them the opportunity to discuss things that they had not given much thought to before, some felt it was easier to talk about things working in a group and benefited from the shared experience with others. Using video also has helped to validate their experiences and offer a new perspective on the issues explored.

‘Training to be a Service User’ is currently being used in-house as part of training for new staff in RehabCare in Ireland.

related programme
Artist in the Community Scheme