Kerry Rush runs Positive Change Arts, a community organisation supporting the wellbeing of young women and men, in particular survivors of domestic and sexual abuse who have had interactions with the criminal justice system.
Kerry started Positive Change Arts with the desire to make a difference on people's lives. She says "Positive Change Arts Projects encourages unconditional positive regard for both yourself and those around you, with the encouragement of being the best person you can be with what you know and with the openness to respect and learn from each other regardless of difference."
It is a community organisation in every sense of the word,
"The projects are currently being run wherever possible without the use of money (hate the stuff). We rely and gratefully accept donations of materials and equipment that is needed to keep the projects going."
A big success for Positive Change Arts so far has been the I Am... Project, that explores identities based on the person, rather than the system in place around the person.
In Kerry's words...
"The I am... Project was born out of my frustration of being put in boxes as part of a “care system” that was continuously failing me.
I came to realise I couldn't possibly be the only person who felt trapped in a system based on tick boxes and labels given out by Drs who had met me once or if I was lucky(!) twice.
Behind these boxes and labels is a person, and I wanted to give myself and others a positive and healthy way to express who they are, not who other people have decided they are based on very little information and often information gained when a person is in a very fragile and vulnerable state.
It has been my experience that if a person is self medicating, self harming, feeling suicidal or has attempted suicide there IS a reason behind it even if they don't yet know or understand it.
In these circumstances it is very rare that someone tells you that it is actually quite normal to not be OK and in order to understand, grow and heal as a person that some days can be very painful and challenging.
This is where those of us who struggle with our mental health and emotional difficulties that have been put in these boxes and given labels need the mental health care system to ensure we get access to the services and treatments that we deserve and allow us to move forward with our lives. Now what can we do to help ourselves and each other?!
I believe if we're doing our very best to not hurt ourselves or anyone else then we are in fact already doing a bloody good job at life. Keep going."
We talked to Kerry about why she developed Positive Change Arts...
Planet London (PL): You set up the website in response to things that happened in your life. Why do you think it is important to talk about those experiences, other experiences and for other people to do that as well.
Positive Change (PC): There is so much stigma around mental health, and rape, and abuse. People think, no society teaches people it is something you should be ashamed of. I think that is completely wrong.
PL: Who is Positive Change Arts for?
PC: Quite a few people use it already. People who are experiencing ill mental health and emotional difficulties as a result of rape. It's for everyone. It affects everyone, no particular age, gender.
PL: and why particularly do you choose to do this
PC: Three years ago I was rehoused. I was at home with free time. I started to create stuff to keep myself occupied. Trying to find positive ways to stay healthy. I just came up with the I AM idea, shared it with a few people.
I started as a way to help myself. I wanted to provide positive ways to cope with my negative emotions and upset i was suffering from and struggling with as a result of my experiences. This one painting I did turned into the I AM project as I did get completely lost, forget who I was and I realised I won't be the only one feeling that way after experiencing such traumatic things and maybe reaching out to other people feeling the same way will be helpful and everyone can learn something from each other. I created the I AM project. I broke it down into what it was. Four stages. I got invited to a survivors charity, to talk to a group of women survivors. We all had a go. It really took off. People really liked it. They seemed to like my honesty and openness and other people started sharing their experience.
Now, I go along to various events. I take along a washing line, a big board with 4 guidelines and there is a table of creative bits and pieces. The idea is to start with 'I Am...' and to express on paper who you are because society throws so many labels at people and it is very easy, if you are stuck in the health system, especially in the health system, and the mental health system, it is so easy to get stuck in that label. The I AM project gives people the chance to think about who they are past those labels.
PL: Are there any projects you are currently working on under the PC
PC: At the moment I am in pre-production on a documentary called 'the truth about rape'. I will be traveling up and down the country to interview people who have had negative experiences with the police. I want to use it as a platform to give people a voice. I hope to then show the police that they need to be approaching things differently. Educating them that they need to be sensitive and they have to consider people's mental health and their vulnerability and that actually if they don't treat someone appropriately it can be as, or more damaging than the trauma they have experienced. It is about educating them and trying to make that change.
PL: Are there any other projects you are currently working on?
PC: There is also a book project I am running and have been promoting through social media. The book is called 'The things people say' and through social media I have been asking people to send in what people say about mental health. People say some really stupid things. It is a lack of education. In many of the instances it has been mental health professionals themselves or counsellors. That is just very scary. So again, the idea of that book is to empower people by letting them be heard, and to educate.
How to Support Positive Change Arts
The Truth About Rape will be a documentary comprising of interviews with people sharing the experiences they had with the police after reporting abuse and/or rape. This again is a response to the appalling treatment I personally received during and after reporting a rape.