Just around the corner from my house there is a little shop called 'Mending Matters'. It's a not-for-profit business that was launched to encourage the people of Brightlingsea to think about the environmental impact of their lives. It offers refills of things like shampoo, conditioner, hand soap etc and runs workshops that repurpose old items or show people how to mend things rather than throwing them away. It's a fantastic enterprise. I walk past it pretty much every day and I've been in a few times, but I've never given much thought to the shop's name, beyond registering that it referred to the importance of recycling, re-using etc.
However, in recent days I've been giving it a bit more consideration. I've been going to the Winterfest meetings in preparation for this year's festival and a conversation at the most recent one got me thinking. Winterfest was set up in 2015 and is designed to provide a bright point in the bleakest time of year. Throughout the whole of February (mostly) free events are laid on with the express purpose of getting people out of their houses and interacting with other members of the community. Once the festival is over, all the donations collected are totalled up and a portion is given to the local Mind charity and the rest goes into a fund that local people can apply to in order to be able to do things they might otherwise not be able to afford.
At our most recent meeting we were discussing the impact and effectiveness of creativity on mental health. I talked about the fact that I get grumpy when I don't have time to write and that when my sister died I worked all my initial grief into a very bleak story that I re-worked months later, in order to inject some hope into it. Other people talked about how music fulfils the same function for them, whether it was through writing it, or playing it.
The next morning, still thinking about Winterfest, I walked past 'Mending Matters' and realised that the name encompasses so much more than just the need to recycle and re-use. It could just as easily refer to the need to mend people. I don't mean broken legs and physical ailments, but mentally. Of course, a month long festival of events isn't going to solve all of Brightlingsea's mental health problems - no-one would expect it to - but what it can do is to begin the process of mending people. This is our first proper festival since Covid and when we first discussed what our 'message' was going to be this year, we knew we wanted it to be about bringing people together again. About 'mending' the sense of isolation so many people were still struggling with, 'mending' our little community to an extent.
I belong to BrightWords Creative Writing Group. This group came about because of a workshop at the first Winterfest festival. I joined a local reading group and out of that came my involvement with the Lido and eventually my role as Writer in Residence. At the last Winterfest meeting I had a message passed onto me that someone who had been reading the Lido anthology was loving it and it had provided a bright spot for them throughout January. It was wonderful to hear that the book I'd been responsible for producing was bringing so much pleasure to someone, but it also proves the point I'm trying to make. That book wouldn't have existed had I not joined BrightWords and the reading group. Two small and seemingly insignificant events in my life had led to someone else's January being made just a little bit brighter. It doesn't always take a lot to start making a difference.
And that's the point, isn't it? Winterfest doesn't solve anything on its own, but it does have the potential to set in motion chains of events and begin friendships that might see people through the darker times.
We live in a society that is, by and large, a throwaway one. When our washing machines break down it's often cheaper to replace them than to repair them. We often value convenience over environmental concerns and how often do we throw clothes away because we don't have the necessary skill to repair them? I don't know many people of my generation who would know how to darn a sock, for example. There have been attempts in recent years to try and move us back towards being a society that mends things, but alongside the mending of objects I think we are also moving towards a better understanding of the need to mend people as well. Mental health has always been so far behind physical health in terms of our vocabulary and understanding of it. It's still seen by many as a sign of weakness and often people don't recognise the signs. It was only during Covid that I realised that the way my brain works isn't how 'normal' ones do and that it has a name. To me, it was just something that I'd lived with all my life and learned how to deal with over the years.
So yes, mending of all kinds matters. And if Winterfest events can set the ball rolling, fantastic.