Lived Experience in the Workforce

Inkwell Arts Media

Inkwell Arts Media is the digital creative arm of Inkwell, creating films, animations and posters both in-house and for external organisations. It is an exciting and ongoing development and has now become a volunteer led emerging enterprise. So far, the team have worked on several NHS projects, creating films and documentaries for the Trust, for conferences and NHS staff training, such as The National Flu Campaign. Inkwell Arts Media have also created a music video with Leeds rock band CUD and collaborated with Theatre in Education making an animated short film.

media team 2

Filming the Flu Campaign

One of the biggest recent commissions was the Lived Experience Project in November 2013.

We talked to Stuart, Creative Director of Inkwell Arts Media to find out more…..

Q. How did Inkwell Arts Media get involved in the Lived Experience project?

We were approached by Alison O’Connell who is the Recovery and Social Inclusion Worker and Chair of Lived Experience Network for LYPFT (Leeds and  York Partnership Foundation Trust). Alison was involved in the “Lived Experience in the Workforce” conference, which aimed to tackle the issue of mental health stigma within the NHS workforce. She was giving a talk at the conference and wanted to make a short film highlighting these issues that could be screened at the event.

She had seen various other films we had done for Leeds Mind and other NHS services and felt our work was ideal for this project and we have been working with LYPFT for quite some time now which has been a very symbiotic relationship.

We too were very passionate about the project as it fitted within our core values of promoting positive mental health and tackling stigma. The Inkwell Arts Media team is made up of volunteers and service users with lived experience.  We provide an excellent final product but the benefits from creating that product for us are enormous. Not only do any fees we charge go directly back into our service but the well-being for everyone involved is vastly improved, be it in confidence, self-worth or just by being creative and achieving something worthwhile.

 Q. Why did you choose animation for the film?

I think animation is quite a subversive medium. Most peoples first experiences of animation are through cartoons and as such it can be seen as quite a safe medium. I quite like the fact that, especially in the West, animation is viewed as simply for children. I think that’s where it’s strength lies as it has the ability to turn that notion on its head and tackle huge adult subjects in a visual language that is accessible to people of all ages, languages and backgrounds. Animation can get under the skin and penetrate the psyche easier and more effectively than live-action sometimes can. It’s no surprise that throughout the years propaganda and public information films have used animation to get their point across for this exact reason.


Q. So animation was the ideal medium for this film?

Alison had sourced a large number of staff from within the NHS who were very interested in the project and were willing to share their experiences. In this case, anonymity for all the participants was paramount so animation helped us to provide that. Inkwell arts media has  been using animation to tell people stories for quite a while now. We originally started using this method in order to get our service users stories and experiences across without the need for them to be in front of a camera.

A lot of people, myself included, find talking into a camera quite uncomfortable and unnerving. Lights, reams of cables and a big dark camera lens looking at you doesn’t really help you to open up. We found that by using animation it could give the participants an avatar in which to openly and freely express themselves. Everyone has an interesting story to tell, unfortunately for various reasons people may not want to be identified on film so these stories can be left untold.

Q. How did you get the artwork for the film?

I find this the most interesting process in this kind of filmmaking. When we interview people we get them to draw their own personal portrait or persona. Basically this kind of film is just a standard “talking heads” film, but this personal artwork gives it the edge you don’t get with live-action.

We give all the participants paper pens etc and ask them to draw a portrait or picture . We only specify it has to be something with eyes and a mouth so other than that anything goes. Almost everyone will say they haven’t done any art since school, but everyone has a go and produces something quite special and unique. Some of the artwork could be perceived as quite naive but I really like that aspect. It has an honesty and a genuine sense of the individual.


The Artwork can also be quite revealing about where the person is within themselves. I think it gives people the freedom to explore how they want to project their image and the infinite variety of forms this can take, such as an animal, flower or other object. I find it fascinating to see how instinctively creative everyone is, whether they believe themselves to be so or not.

Q. You mentioned anonymity being paramount in this film why was that?

I think that is one of the things I personally found most disturbing and particularly eye opening.

Alison had found some fantastic people with lived experience working within the NHS who were willing to be interviewed. These are professional dedicated NHS staff  with a massive amount of experience providing support and care to service users with Lived Experience yet all were concerned with being recognized. One participant even wanted their voice distorted just in case and another was deeply concerned that their position and respect within the NHS would be compromised by any disclosures.

I am quite open about my own lived experience and am aware of the vital work organisations like Time to Change do to break down the stigma associated with mental health. I suppose I was naively only looking at the general public as the target for this and overlooked that mental health professionals are human too and despite their training and experience are still part of the 1 in 4 equation.

There is still stigma associated with mental health but organisations and campaigners, including those within the NHS,  have made vast inroads towards dispelling this towards services users. It seem a shame that these inroads don’t necessarily mirror back towards the service providers.

Q. What do you hope this film will achieve?

I hope this film helps us tackle the issues on how we treat and value the wellbeing of the people who are on the frontline of healthcare.

One of the participants told me that “As an A&E nurse I can openly sympathise and connect with a service user by sharing my personal experiences of a physical condition but I cannot do the same as a mental health nurse”.

There are no easy answers to how to resolve this. There are professional boundaries and limits to disclosure, but I feel that by openly accepting there is a problem and by tackling it with sensible and sensitive discussion most things can be resolved. I just hope that this film goes someway towards opening that discussion and highlighting that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

The Lived Experience NHS Animation
copyright InkwellArtsMedia 2013

See other films made by InkwellArts here….



0 replies
    • Inkwell
      Inkwell says:

      Thanks Dave, I really appreciate your comment and that you found the interview interesting. We will be featured more on the blog in the future. We’re looking forward to more projects like this. We really enjoyed making the film.


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