esc films is a Belfast-based arts education charity working with people on the margins. They specialise in mental health and believe in the power of education to create change, to challenge thinking and to transform lives. They build trust with participants in order to turn their stories into powerful, compelling films. The 2020 Baring Foundation report Creatively Minded: an initial mapping study of participatory arts and mental health activity in the United Kingdom identified esc films’ work as an example of best practice, impacting positively on participants’ mental health and wellbeing.
esc films’ flagship project, Second Chance for Change, has proven hugely successful in empowering people with severe and enduring mental health problems, including those with involvement in the criminal justice system. esc films use group work and creative storytelling to take participants on a journey through their own lives, giving them new perspectives to enable them to make real and lasting changes themselves.
esc films’ courses are co-designed and co-produced with the participants through dialogue. Their work is based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, valuing the lived experience of those involved. They believe this is critical to the success of the courses and the impact that the creative process has on the adult learners.
The accompanying graphic summaries the major Impacts for participants and the health and social care system. These impacts show a profound improvement in the mental health of participants.
G: It’s like getting a load of bricks lifted off my shoulders. I’ve written instead of self-harming. I’ve swapped blood for Ink. (G had a 75% reduction in crisis visits to A&E through self-harm over the 6 months of the course compared to previous 6 months)
P: I’ve realized crime isn’t for me, drugs isn’t for me. If it [my film] stops one person getting killed I would be really proud of myself.
esc films’ work shows a symbiotic relationship between learning and mental health. Participants focus on learning about themselves, their lives, decisions and journeys, as well as on the practicalities of film-making. Over the past decade esc films have witnessed the unexpected positive side effects of the creation of a therapeutic learning community where isolated individuals can find a safe space to learn new skills, but also learn how to build and sustain friendships. Often for participants, this positive experience opens up the door to other educational opportunities, setting learners on a new path.