On Saturday June 21st 2014, 11.45pm to 5am, Sunday June 22nd 2014
I joined CoolTan Arts on a fun, guided midnight walk through South London.
We stopped along the way for talks and games on ‘mad’ buildings, night working, surrealism and the anxious city.
The walk/event was part of Anxiety Arts Festival London 2014
CoolTan Arts Largactyl Shuffle is a guided, stigma-busting cultural walk, designed to encourage mental and physical well-being, through art, exercise, humor and history.
Although I am a carer of someone suffering mental health difficulties, there is always more room to learn more about mental health and Cooltan’s Largactyl shuffle walks are great to not only learn about mental health, but also about the city of London.
I actually have done a video blog for one of their shuffle walks last year, but I think it was about time I join another walk with them. They are so much fun and its a great adventure. So while I was on the train watching the sun set, I was looking forward to the walk, although I was a little anxious on what to expect on walking at night.
Before I continue this is cooltan’s 8th Largactyl midnight shuffle walk, but what is cooltan all about?
CoolTan Arts believes mental well-being is enhanced by the power of creativity. It’s a charity run by and for adults with mental distress.
They run a varied program of creative workshops from their vibrant arts center in Southwark’s lively Walworth Road, near Elephant & Castle; these include visual arts, textiles, digital arts, video, poetry, and performing arts. Our activities include exhibitions, public art projects and well-being walks which help break down the stigma of mental distress.
As I have mentioned earlier this walk is run in conjunction with the Anxiety Arts Festival London 2014.
The Anxiety Arts Festival 2014 is a new London-wide arts festival, curated by the Mental Health Foundation. Taking place at multiple venues throughout June 2014. The festival explores anxiety, looking at its causes, how it affects all of our lives, and how it can act as a creative force.
So As you may guess this walk had quite a lot to learn about anxiety and mental health not only from what we are being told, but how we experienced the walk.
Oddly enough, I had an argument with someone before I got to the walk, unfortunately London does have people who are homeless most of those of no fault of their own, however on this occasion this person decided to blame me for his problems and an argument ensued, this left me feeling anxious, although I did not know it at the time.
I then calmed down and headed towards the walk and spoke to some people who turned up in order to find out their expectations. Cooltan volunteer walkers and Michelle Barrier the CEO of CoolTan arts explained at around 11:45 pm what the walk was about. They told us about health and safety and we filled in some forms to check our health since some walks can be tiring, but the volunteer walkers tend to walk at a moderate to slow pace in order for people to catch up.
Michelle talked to us about how she had experienced anxiety in the past and felt this walk should not only be about learning what anxiety is, but also about celebrating it by going through places on the walk that might be dark or where we would not usually go at night.
Our first part of the walk stopped past some people’s favorite building the Xmas Tree, where Michelle explained a bit more about the building.
We then walked towards Redcross Way and we were told about someone called Octavia Hill who was responsible for being the first person to develop social housing. Oddly enough thinking about Octavia Hill made me wonder just a bit more about people who are homeless in London, especially those who have mental health problems.
One of the volunteer lead walkers who I think was called “Lou” spoke about the “Winchester Geese” who were prostitutes probably around 1598 onward. This is because they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Liberty of the Clink. This is where such women and many other poor people were buried in a place called Cross Bones off redcross way.
Cross Bones is a post-medieval disused burial ground in The Borough, Southwark, south London.
The more Lou explained about who was buried at the burial site, the more I thought about easy it is for the destitute to become victims of society even in these days, it made me feel anxious and Cooltan kindly handed out notes to people where we could tie them to the gate as thoughts to those who we have lost, I tied one myself.
We continued to walk onward and reached the St George the Martyr Church, which is opposite Borough tube station. We where given a talk by another lead walker called “Tim” about Charles Dickens and how he used to walk the streets of London talking to the poor or down and out about their experiences in London, so he could write about these experiences. We were told the reason why Charles Dickens moved to this place because his dad was in prison and then we began to have fun with our first activity as we split into 8 groups.
Since it was night time, this activity centered on matching the description of what kind of people work at night on to pictures. I watched how each group were solving the puzzle and also talked to some volunteers.
We then walked onward and were told about the “Walkie Talkie” building and how it literally melted a car by reflecting light onto the vehicle.
We continued to walk further on crossing quite a few roads, but I was glad to see the guided walkers helping us cross the roads since it certainly can be dangerous at night. We then walked down the underpass and into the center of the roundabout at the Elephant and Castle spot.
We were then told about Micheal Faraday and the meaning of the reflective building behind us. There were many interesting facts about electromagnetic inventions.
Next Olea who is another go the lead walkers then set us our 2nd activity and this was on each of us in groups discussing what anxiety is and then showing in some form how to combat anxiety. Within my group, I decided to take the lead and explained to the group that to combat anxiety, we can reassure the person who is anxious.
We should do this reassurance by doing a group hug.
Next we walked towards elephant and castle market place where it got very dark and a few of us began to use the free NHS torches provided to us free by cooltan, I did not shine my torch that much, but I did felt anxious of the dark places even though I was in a group. At that point my mind flashed back to where I had an argument with someone homeless person and I wondered if I was shown anxiety before I got on the walk….how interesting, although it did leave me in a bad mood.
We then crossed a road and Michelle Barrier talked to us about the Zebra building and the problem of council housing, she mentioned the large fans at the top of the building, which I never really paid much attention to beforehand. We then walked just a bit further on and we were told that the Labour HQ building used to be situated around the area, I think it was the “John Smith” building.
Within a few minutes a sound rang out, the sound made me feel slight anxious of what it was and I was slightly proud with my quick thinking to record the sound.
After a while we ended up at the Cooltan Art’s HQ on Walworth road where we relaxed after a long walk and heard a bit more about Cooltan Arts activities and how they were formed. Cooltan explained one of their latest project was the Food for mood book and the poetry book which they have for sale.
Talking about poetry, we were treated to some poetry by Peter Cox.
Basically Cooltan main aim is to try keep people suffering mental illness out of hospital with the use of harnessing the power of creativity and art. Another aim of Cooltan is to raise and highlight what mental illness and mental health is, they also help in combating mental health stigma.
After a rest we then continued on with our adventure into the night and passed a building where Charlie Chaplin was born.
We then moved up to Albany road and Michelle Barrier talked about Richard Muzira who used to help Cooltan Arts with filming production.
Richard Muzira, was sadly killed in a cycling accident on Monday 18th November.
The accident, involved a collision with a tipper truck, which took place at the busy junction of Camberwell Road and Albany Road.
Cooltan Arts are hoping to get a memorial for Richard.
We then moved on to Burgess Park were we had another Activity from a lovely Italian lead walker called “AVA”. Her activity involved people standing in a line holding up a letter where we guessed what the letter would form and I think it spelt out something to do with psychiatry.
Ava then continued to talk that each letter also had a meaning on how we work in the city of London and how we need to recognize our own mental health.
We then stopped for a moment to look at the sunrise, however we had some uninvited guests which made me feel a little anxious, because the uninvited guests were a little drunk if you could say, although they did enjoy our walk, perhaps a bit too much. However they then calmed down. Perhaps this happens a lot in the early hours of Sunday morning.
We do not often get to see the sunrise in the morning and it was one of the golden moments of the walk, since we are so busy making a living, thinking of the future, that we forget about present, we forget about now, if we just stop only for the moment, we can feel the beauty of nature.
Our next stop was to at Camberwell green where we stopped at the sculptural bench, created by artist Rossen Daskalov, made from oak timber, the bench design is based on the theme of reconnecting, with each other and with nature. Sited next to the Ginkgo Tree planted by CoolTan Arts to commemorate World Mental Health Day 2011, the bench creates a place of calm contemplation for all to enjoy.
One of the last Cooltan arts lead walkers then talked about the surrealist movement on its idea of the unconscious and its importance of dreams bursting into reality as one of the walkers sat on the bench. She read a lovely poem which I could not capture at the time and she also spoke how the surrealists linked creativity with mental health.
Eventually we ended up at our last destination being the Maudsley hospital, as day light was all around, my anxiousness began to fade as night finally went away, but then also the excitement was gone as well. We were all congratulated for staying with the 5 hour walk and we stopped for our 2nd set of refreshments at the Maudsley Chapel.
My final review of the Cooltan walk is that the event was an amazing experience and it was well worth the time to make it there. I can see not only the connection with other people on the walk, but also the connection on learning about mental health, learning about the city you live, learning about yourself and how you experience things. Plus learning about the hard work Cooltan are doing when it comes to mental health.
You can check out more on “Cooltan Arts” off their site being