Semaphore art project signals Peer Support success

An art project centred around an old semaphore station is the latest in a series of innovative support groups and workshops run by the Bromley, Lewisham & Greenwich Mind Peer Support programme in Lewisham.

The Art in a Box project, developed by local artists Simon Poulter and Sophie Mellor, offered participants the opportunity to explore the fascinating history of Telegraph Hill using creative techniques. The area was named after the semaphore station that occupied the summit of the hill from 1795 until 1823, and which was said to have been one of the stations from which news of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo was flashed to London.

Simon and Sophie, who have previously worked with Islington Mind, approached BLG Mind about working together and were put in touch with Lewisham Peer Support Programme Manager Smita Patel.

Simon said: “Smita was brilliant and very supportive, and after speaking to her we decided to develop something that bridges online and physical workshops, as we realised that people are gradually reconnecting with things at this point in the pandemic. Not everyone feels safe to go into public spaces, for example.”

Eight peer support group members joined the six-week programme, some via Zoom and others in-person at Telegraph Hill Community Centre.

Guided by the artists, they worked through a specially designed book based on Telegraph Hill. Activities included creating a coded message using the same letter codes semaphore stations used; painting the view from Telegraph Hill; and designing a collage influenced by the area.

The participant who created this piece labelled it: “Already, the darkness is behind us and in front of us happy days on beaches, in nature and in bright, bright light.”

As well as exploring their creativity and learning new skills, Simon said the participants enjoyed “time out from the pressures of life and a safe, shared space for conversation”.

One of the course participants said: “I was really grateful for the opportunity to go onto Zoom and join the group. The art supplies I was given were a great bonus, and the workbook I thought was lovely. Simon and Sophie made things really easy with their open, encouraging style.

“I feel I learnt some new skills, and my offerings of collage and colours were given a great reception. I usually do not like being in a situation where a man is in a position of authority, but Simon was so helpful and responded to the group so sensitively that I was soon relaxed enough to enjoy the project sessions.

“I am really glad Smita encouraged me to attend. I think this can be called a successful project for me.”

Another participant commented: “Simon and Sophie are so friendly to work with. They take you step-by-step and you could sit there and watch or paint along with them at any speed. Thank you Simon and Sophie for everything.”

The project is just one of the numerous peer support groups, forums and workshops run by Lewisham Peer Support Manager Smita Patel and her dedicated team of volunteers, all of whom have lived experience of mental health illness.

The programme includes Stress Management, Mindfulness and Visualisation, and Living with Depression, as well as groups for young people, women and those who identify as LGBTQ+. A new women’s health group is also due to be launched soon.

“We’re already running a women’s group but this new group will be looking at women’s health issues, physical and mental,” said Smita.

“A particular area we’ll be focussing on is menstrual bleeding disorders. GPs don’t tend to refer women to gynaecological services, and instead tell them that’s just what a period is like.

“We really want to help women feel more comfortable about their health and their ability to articulate their concerns to the professionals.”

Smita is deeply grateful to the service’s volunteers, who worked hard to keep the groups running during lockdowns. 

“Without them none of it would be possible,” she said. “They’ve all really stepped up. Even though some of them were quite anxious about how the groups would work online, they made it work and, in many cases, had to bear the brunt of people’s anxieties around lockdown.

“It’s been really intense for them, and I’m so proud of how they persevered.”

Further information

Lewisham Peer Support is available by referral from a professional to anyone living, working or registered with a GP in Lewisham who is experiencing poor mental health. Visit Lewisham Peer Support or email for more information.

To find out more about the work of the artists Simon and Sophie, visit their website, Close and Remote.