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Thursday, 20 September 2018

Fastminds Neurodiversity Arts Festival 2018

Cherry Rudge on the Hoarding Ice-Breaker
stand at Fastminds Festival

I feel very privileged to have been allowed to promote the Hoarding Ice-Breaker Form at an amazing ground-breaking event recently (14th & 15th September 2018) - The Fastminds Neurodiversity Arts Festival 2018.

It was organised by the wonderful folks at Fastminds - the Adult ADHD/ASC Support Group I'm involved with in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Performers, artists and people affected by a vast spectrum of neurodiversities and medical conditions came from far and wide for two days of creative inspiration, live music, interactive performances, short film screenings, market stalls, story-telling, poetry, and being themselves - enjoying spending time with people who accept them for who they are, irrespective of their disabilities - hidden or otherwise.

Click here to see the video of the event.

Cherry explaining the Hoarding Ice-Breaker form
to the Mayor of Kingston
The amount of effort, hard work and organising that goes into creating an event like this is phenomenal, and is even more magnificent in this case because of the difficulties with planning and organising that people with neurological conditions such as ADHD and Autism experience.

The festival’s Creative Director - Isabelle Haythorne – did a GRAND job!  She's an art therapist and runs the Sutton ASD group.  Her can-do attitude and her connections with her partner Keith Gould - who has experience of live events and was the festival’s Technical Manager - made it all possible.

Chill-out room
I was particularly blown away by the fantastic chill-out room - where people could go for some peace and quiet – it was a triumph, so many congratulations to Sarah and her team!

Fastminds art
Wonderful original canvas artworks created by members of the Fastminds group were on sale, together with some absolutely STUNNING cards of paintings they'd created to raise money for the event and the group.  The cards are also available to purchase online - click here for the Fastminds section of the We All Send Cards website, or contact Fastminds .

Sheena Crankson with
Mayor of Kingston

Thay Thayalan

Special praise must go to the founder of Fastminds, Sheena Crankson, without whom there would have been no festival and no support group.

Sheena had a life-changing experience when she was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 47, after her son was diagnosed with ADHD (he also has Asperger’s).  She is the Fairy Godmother and Guardian Angel for the Fastminds group, and works tirelessly to support and advocate for members, especially in their hour of need - whether it be offering help filling in forms; helping members to challenge cuts to their benefits; helping folks get a referral for a diagnosis; sourcing help and support; arranging activities for the group to take part in, or simply being there for them to vent their frustrations. 

Afterward the festival Sheena said “A huge thanks to all the fabulous folks who attended this amazing event, and to all our volunteers who selflessly gave up their time to support us.  We made new friends and strengthened ties with existing ones.

The core aims of this event were to:
  • Be user-led by members of our Fastminds support group
  • Demonstrate the value of neurodiversity within society and the arts
  • Promote the creativity of neurodiverse people, with free art & design workshops
  • Promote inclusivity and bring both ‘neurotypical’ and neurodiverse people together
  • Enable neurodiverse people’s voices to be heard, particularly by opinion formers and decision makers within NHS
  • Enhance partnerships between community, healthcare providers and organisations in neurodiverse contexts in Kingston Upon Thames.
  • Exhibit fine art, photography, film and performance (poetry, music, dance, standup comedy).
  • Keep the event disability / sensory friendly by making / providing reasonable adjustments
We’re delighted that the two days more than achieved these goals, and we’re already planning further similar events”.

Anna Dyson at her Intuitive Oils stand.
The leggings, bags and cushions were fantastic!
During the festival I was asked to speak in a thought-provoking and deeply moving story-telling session, run by Alex of The Mindful Compass.  One of the story tellers -  talented artist Anna Dyson of Intuitive Oils in Kingston - gave a moving account of her struggles at school where she was unsuccessful with her exams; the difficulties she’d encountered of getting a diagnosis of ADHD (which finally happened when she was 52), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Irlen Sydrome, and the challenges she faces on a daily basis getting help and support for herself and her neurodiverse family.

After the festival Anna said "I have laughed, cried, danced, sung, drawn, and been drawn and painted, spoke twice in front of a live audience, watched inspiring films, live music, was blown away by the live art installation The Suit Project, and so much more". 

"I’ve met some of the bravest most courageous, amazing , colourful , intelligent, talented and creative people from all ages and all walks of life. I’ve seen people grow in confidence after exhibiting their art in our gallery, or having their art made into greetings cards, and also taking on other roles that they’re not familiar with.

But most of all been reminded of the massive difference it can make when you are with people who just ‘get you’ just the way you are". 

I'm very grateful to my wonderfully thoughtful friend Anna - who has high functioning Autism (and suspects she may have ADHD too) and raises loads of money for the National Autistic Society - for driving all the way from the other side of Surrey to attend the event.  This was a major achievement, as travelling can be difficult for her due to the sensory overload that goes with it - and of course then the social interaction with members of the public can sometimes be problematic.  Fortunately, she thoroughly enjoyed herself and had a go at making various crafts, listening to music and immersing herself in the amazing atmosphere.

My own personal key takeaways from this wonderful event are that:
  • By working together amazing things can be achieved.
  • The event brought together some amazing non-judgemental, empathetic individuals from all walks of life: people who had been born with neurological conditions; people who had acquired or contracted them or had been affected by them through family or friends.
  • Having excellent local peer-led support groups such as Fastminds empowers people to talk about the problems they experience with like-minded, non-judgemental, compassionate people who have probably experienced similar issues.
  • Getting an appropriate early diagnosis and appropriate person-centred help and support – whether it be for neurological conditions; or issues associated with an inability to plan, declutter or organise; hoarding issues or mental health issues – could save the country millions of pounds, as without practical help and support, the implications can include chronic psychological distress; learned helplessness; poor self-care; substance abuse; low self-esteem; employment difficulties and troubled long-term relationships.
  • Having the Hoarding Ice-Breaker form at the festival was the right thing to do, as it encouraged conversations about the difficulties that many people with neurological conditions have with organising, planning, decluttering, disorganisation, hoarding and compulsive shopping, and how it affects their health. Some people were in tears talking about it, as I was the first person they’d spoken to who really understood their predicaments and who offered hope (through the services of Rainbow Red) for being able to make practical progress towards achieving their goals.
  • Embracing neurodiversity enriches my life, and has made me a more understanding and patient person as a result.
  • Amazing people like Sheena should be paid to run support groups for vulnerable people, and not have to give up their precious time without being rewarded for the invaluable service and safe-havens (micro-communities) they offer, or spend their time fund-raising to subsidise their expenses.
  • Educating people about neurodiversity and the difficulties faced by people affected by neurological conditions is essential if Governments and future generations are ever going to consider implementing a more holistic and compassionate approach towards supporting people who are neurologically different and vulnerable to abuse.  Abuse like withdrawing or reducing benefits for no good reason, for example.
  • It’s about time the Government realised the damage it can do to vulnerable people by cutting their benefits without justification.  The stresses and strains of receiving an inappropriate benefit grade without consultation; the sense of rejection; having to jump through bureaucratic hoops to appeal, and the financial and emotional strain it puts on people and their families often results in their mental and physical health deteriorating (and the health of their supporters too), which must surely increase annual health and social care costs by millions of pounds!
An art installation by wheelchair artist Mary Ellen
which included alarming statistics about the
number of people who have died since
being told they were fit enough to return
to work...
It also puts additional pressure on volunteers like Sheena, who already have more than enough on their plates.

So I hope that sufficient funds can be raised to support Fastminds and make the Neurodiversity Arts Festival an annual or bi-annual event;  that way it will continue to raise awareness of the type of issues that were discussed in the story-telling sessions, and ensure that they get discussed at Fastminds Support Group meetings, as well as at both local and national parliamentary levels

For more information about the Fastminds Support Group and their weekly and monthly meetings at Kingston Quaker Centre, check out the events page on their website:

If you would like to help support Sheena, the Fastminds Support Group and the Fastminds Neurodiversity Arts Festival, please consider:
  •      buying original canvases of the artwork for the cards – to have a look at what’s available, simply pop along to one of the Fastminds Support Group meetings, or contact Sheena Crankson directly
Meanwhile, scroll down for a few more photos of the festival - hope to see you next year!

FASTMINDS is an acronym for common symptoms that are often seen in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):
  •      Forgetful.
  •      Achieving below potential.
  •      Stuck in a rut.
  •      Time challenged.
  •      Motivationally challenged.
  •      Impulsive.
  •      Novelty seeking.
  •      Distractible.
  •      Scattered.

What is Neurodiversity
According to the University of California (San Francisco), there are more than 600 neurological disorders - diseases that affect the brain and the central and autonomic nervous system, and millions of people around the World.  

They're broadly classified into:
  •       Sudden onset conditions (e.g. acquired brain injury or spinal cord injury)
  •       Intermittent and unpredictable conditions (e.g. epilepsy, ME, certain types of headache, or the early stages of multiple sclerosis)
  •       Progressive conditions (e.g. motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, or later stages of multiple sclerosis)
  •       Stable neurological conditions (e.g. post-polio syndrome, or cerebral palsy in adults)

Common examples include ADHD; Alzheimer's Disease; Aneurysms; Asperger's Syndrome; Autism; Bell's Palsy; Brain and Spinal Tumours; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Cerebral Atrophy; Dementia; Dyslexia; Guillain-Barre Syndrome; Huntingdon's Disease; Lyme Disease; Meningitis; Muscular Dystrophy; Sleep Apnea; Stroke; Tourette Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Check out the NHS website for some fascinating facts and statistics about Neurological conditions.   


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