Clear Air, Clear Mind

Maybe, like me, you heard that last Tuesday was Take Your Houseplants For A Walk Day. No, I haven’t (so far) headed throught the door with my trusty spider plants…but it got me thinking about the importance of house plants, and how they help wellbeing.

Photo by cottonbro on

Houseplants link us to nature and to the great outdoors. The majority of us have to spend far more time inside than out, so houseplants create a living, focal point in a room. This is obviously even more important for people who rarely or never have opportunities to spend time outdoors in open spaces. Maybe they live in cities, or are ill or housebound. Care home residents can really benefit from the presence of indoor plants in their rooms an/or in communal living areas in the home: drawing nature inside. Cut flowers also brighten rooms, but the difference is that indoor plants go on living and growing. There are so many different types of houseplant, distinct in size, colour, leaf shape, and requirements for warmth, light or water. Growing different plants is a great mental stimulus and might help people living in care homes who may miss gardening or other outdoor work.

Particular houseplants can also have a specific impact, partly dependent on their colour. Colour theory holds that so-called “warm” colours stimulate and boost mood, while “cool” colours can be more calming and restful. So a red flowering plant could enliven a room, while a pale green leafy plant might help create a calmer space.

Caring for indoor plants can be a way to focus on nature’s own needs: regular tasks like watering, or occasional tasks like taking cuttings to propagate a houseplant, growing new ones. I only learned the other day that in their natural habitat, spider plants grow on the forest floor – so they need light and shade, not direct sun. It all opens up different worlds to us.

And houseplants help not only our mood and mental wellbeing, but may also improve physical health. 21st century living exposes us to so many toxins, outdoors but also within our homes and workplaces. Furniture, wall and floor coverings and the ever growing range of gadgets and electrical equipment we all use can all contain xylene, benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia, to name but a few. These may cause us to feel unwell but can even undermine our health without us noticing any issues. Growing houseplants is a great way to clean the air of these mainly air-borne toxins. Research over the last thirty to forty years has proven that plants do cleanse the air and remove these toxins.

I was glad to see that spider plants can be one of the best plants for cleaning the air. Others range from rubber plants to the Boston fern. Some flowering plants can also be helpful, such as chrysanthemums or the Peace Lily.

So houseplants connect us to nature, helping mind and body alike. Maybe you have indoor plants and find they have a positive impact? It would be great if you would like to share any thoughts or experiences – or images! – on Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Crafting A Different World

Craftivism is growing. Just lately, an upsurge in creativity during lockdowns and a renewed commitment to justice issues has fired many more people’s imaginations to take part. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines craftivism as “the activity of using crafts…to change the world”. And I believe that craftivism may not only help change the world, but also change participants’ own lives. When art and craft become ways to act for change, to reverse wrongs and to further a cause people believe in, that’s empowering. Making a difference, feeling empowering, boosts wellbeing.

Photo by Teona Swift on

Although the word craftivism has only been in use since 2003, the actual use of art & craft in activism has older roots. In the USA, the struggle for racial justice has long inspired creativity. Quilting (like the quilt pattern Underground Railroad) and other needlework drew attention to the abolitionists’ cause, while sculptures like Edmonia Lewis’s Forever Free also opposed slavery. Later, the 2oth century’s civil rights movement also inspired murals, prints, paintings & sculptures.

Other movements have also seen visual arts as a tool for activism. Movements like pacifism (from Kathe Kollwitz’s prints to the 1989 installation Common Land/Greenham) and feminism (a wide range of installation and performance art, photography & painting).

Obviously at any one time craftivist campaigns highlight specific events. This year one focus is COP26, the UN climate summit the UK will be hosting in Glasgow in November. Seizing this opportunity are diverse craftivist initiatives. There’s The Loving Earth Project ( run by the Quaker Arts Network and Woodbrooke. They have invited people to stitch and craft panels exploring why we need to care for the Earth. These will be on display in Glasgow during COP26 and will then tour to different locations. Then there’s Stitches for Survival, which is asking people to knit, sew or crochet climate messages. These will be stitched together to make a scarf 1.5 miles ong – representing the target set by a previous COP summit, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And Craftivist Collective is encouraging people to make life-size canaries to send to their MP wit ha model letter. This campaign is inspired by the expression “a canary in a coal mine” – we are all canaries in the coal mine now in the climate emergency.

Craftivist Collective (link below)

embodies craftivism’s power to engage people. Set up by a professional campaigner in 2009, it now involves thousands of people who pay no membership fee but instead purchase kits to take part in the many different campaigns. These vary from A Positive Note (a mental health-themed campaign in aid of MIND) to Mini Fashion Statements and even a children’s campaign, Solidarity Bunting.

So craftivism can open the doors to change, to reform – and can also have a positive impact on craftivists themselves. While activism can be dispiriting & depressing, with craftivism we feel more hopeful, less helpless.

Have you experimented with craftivism? Would you like to share any thoughts or experiences – or images! – on Medley’s Facebook group ? Thank you.

Landscape Through The Lens

As lockdowns have reconnected many more people with nature and with its impact on wellbeing, so many are also looking to deepen that connection in new ways. These might be sports or wild swimming – or photography. I’m focusing here specifically on landscape photography, and another time hope to write about other kinds of nature photography.

Photo by FOX on

Landscape photography might highlight perspective and distance, or focus on a scene close at hand. It might portray light and dark, sea and land, shadow and sky, reflections in water. So many different views can be memorable: an urban street or skyline, or a deserted skyline. So it is in no way limited to people in scenic areas. It can help us see the familiar with new eyes, or reveal unknown places to us.

Not long ago I came across the striking landscape photography of Rebekka Guoleifsdottir, whom none other than the Wall Street Journal has named Top Web Photographer. She calls her work Fine Art Landscape Photography. Rebekka comes from Iceland, known for its sometimes wild and remote vistas, hot springs and long coastline. Sometimes she photographs the one scene through different times of the day or of the year, capturing subtle changes in light, landscape or mood. This reminded me of Claude Monet’s series paintings, where he painted one subject (a cathedral, or trees, or a river) again and again in different levels of light. Sometimes he would have as many as 9 canvases on the go at one time.

Rebekka Guoleifsdottir’s book Moodscapes demonstrates how any of us can experiment with landscape photography. It covers a wide range of techniques and practicalities, and is also an opportunity to absorb Rebekka’s style and work. But it was actually online that she came to be noticed, as she shared her photography through online communities. The web has opened up real opportunities for people to enjoy learning and sharing landscape photography.

So how might wellbeing be found through landscape photography? By motivating people to spend time outdoors and experience nature, it could calm us, as nature is known to slow heart rates and reduce anxiety. It could add another level to a walk or drive, or even to time looking through an open window, helping to absorb people in a scene and forget the everyday for a while so that they feel refreshed and renewed. It could also be a way to connect with other people, by sharing photographs maybe in an online group or a local club. People who might not like exercising may enjoy walking more if they take a camera or phone with them, and so find that the exercise too boosts mood. As an art form, photography also improves wellbeing just as other forms of creativity do, and as technology allows more and more editing and manipulation, photography becomes more and more creative in turn.

And people don’t have to take photographs themselves to benefit. Looking at landscape photographs in a book, online or in a display can literally be a change of scene. Maybe particularly if people are unable to travel far or are housebound, landscape photographs and video can become a lifeline. It draws the viewer into a scene, transporting them somewhere they may never have travelled to themselves.

Do you find landscape photography boosts your mood and helps wellbeing? It would be great if you would like to share any thoughts or experiences – or images! – on Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Innovate To Integrate

With the Paralympics only a month away, and Wimbledon’s Para Championship starting today, I remembered Paraorchestra, an ensemble I heard of recently for the first time, and thought I would focus my blog post on this.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on

Paraorchestra was founded ten years ago by Charles Hazlewood, with the goal of integrating disabled musicians further into the world of music and the performing arts. Ever since then it has gone on growing, and earlier this year signed on 12 new players. Still the world’s “only large-scale virtuoso ensemble of professional disabled and non-disabled musicians”, Paraorchestra now has almost 40 disabled musicians in its ranks.It is this cooperation of disabled and non-disabled musicians playing side by side which is key to Paraorchestra’s commitment to integration.

Integrating disabled musicians is far from Paraorchestra’s only innovation, however. It refuses to be limited by musical style, so that it combines traditional and contemporary repertoire & instruments alike, with considerable use of electronics. The orchestra performs at a wide range of events, from festivals to more formal occasions. Looking through some recent projects demonstrates the diversity of Paraorchestra’s sound: from Minimalism Changed My Life (September 2019) to a project on the music of Barry White (June 2019) to the most recent, Death Songbook (March 2021). One of Charles Hazlewood’s priorities is to “prove that you can love rap, folk and Sibelius!” Paraorchestra absolutely embodies this.

The Barry White project’s full title was The Love Unlimited Synth Orchestra: Celebrating The Music Of Barry White, and it premiered at Glastonbury in 2019 with special guests. Death Songbook once again featured special guests. This was a one-off performance broadcast online by BBC Cymru Wales, focusing on acoustic music by Suede, David Bowie and others.

Founder and artistic director Charles Hazlewood is a well-known conductor who works with different orchestras across the world. His commitment to diversity in musical styles sees him perform at classical concerts like the BBC Proms as well as such highlights of the rock calendar as Glastonbury. Earlier this year Paraorchestra’s Beethoven And Me project (featured on a Sky Arts programme) focused on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The programme also explored Hazlewood’s belief that Beethoven’s powerful music reflects the composer’s response to the abuse he endured as a child: maybe the only way he could express his trauma. Hazlewwod connected this with his own childhood experience of abuse, which he revealed recently to highlight the importance of expressing and talking about abuse and mental health. His involvement with musicians who have disabilities is also personally rooted, as the youngest of his children has cerebral palsy.

Paraorchestra says it is “Re-inventing the orchestra for the 21st century”, and it seems to me to be all about liberation and opportunity. The Paraorchestra story illustrates the many ways music opens up life – for people with disabilities and for those without.

Would you like to share any thoughts or comments – maybe on Paraorchestra itself, on opportunities for disabled musicians, or on music and trauma – on Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

In More Ways Than One

As I’m writing during Deafblind Awareness Week, this blog post seemed an opportunity to reflect how people living with sight and hearing loss might find nature, art and music helpful in all different ways.

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on

Running this year from 27 June to 3 July, Deafblind Awareness Week is focusing on telling other people, sharing the experiences of the 400,000 people in the UK who have sight and hearing loss. Deafblind UK has videos to watch and share online, presenting three people’s experiences.

Degrees of sight and hearing loss differ widely. Some people have no sight or hearing. Others may have no sight but some hearing, or may be partially sighted but have no hearing. Some have lower levels of sight and hearing loss.

This is clearly integral to how people might experience art, music or nature. Someone with no sight or hearing could still experience all three, but differently, in new ways. They might enjoy music through beat and vibration, or by learning the Makaton form of sign language to sign and sing along to songs. Organizations like Sense share music with deafblind children in this way, and there are Makaton choirs and music groups: opening up ways to communicate and respond. For someone with only partial hearing loss, on the other hand, music might become an opportunity to play instruments. The RNIB supports people with sight loss to play music using braille music or other techniques.

Onc eagain, art’s impact depends on people’s situations. Tactile art forms, like modelling with clay, fabric art or flower arranging, could be enjoyable ways for people to be creative. Many people who are partially sighted do paint or draw, maybe using strong, bright colours or else drawing in black and white as colour contrasts can be helpful.

Nature also opens up different experiences. Sensory gardens have plants grown for their scents and feel – and for their sound as well for those with some hearing. Time spent outdoors in the wind, the sunshine or in a storm can be a sensory stimulus, boosting mood, calming and enthralling people.

So many of the ways art, nature and music improve anyone’s wellbeing are all the more important for people with sight and hearing loss: connecting with other people, easing depression, creating mental stimulus and calming anxiety. While people of all ages experience sight and hearing loss, acquired loss tends to be more common in older people. Some people of any age may also have other disabilities or mobility issues, sometimes connected to their sight or hearing loss. All this can limit opportunities to keep busy, so that nature, music and art are important ways to spend time, absorbed by diverse stimuli.

People may need to be imaginative to connect with art, music and nature while living with hearing and sight loss. But all three can be so helpful and positive that this will be worthwhile.

Do you have any experiences or thoughts you might like to share in response to this blog post, in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Picture A Story

Thinking how art boosts wellbeing, I recently heard an interview with Charlie Mackesy, whose first book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse (2019) has become a bestseller, particularly during the pandemic. Charlie has worked as an artist and illustrator and his work features in other writers’ books but also in private collections and locations like churches, hospitals and safe houses for women. His own book spoke to readers of all ages worldwide, many as they struggled with lockdowns, and many have written to Charlie to share their reactions.

Photo by Pixabay on

The loose, expressive illustrations partner the book’s ink writing, which itself becomes an artwork. Weaving a narrative (in words and pictures alike) around mainly animal characters also seems integral to the book’s impact. Investing animals with human experiences, emotions and feelings can be helpful to us, as an indirect way of exploring our own reactions. One example in the book comes when one of the animals says that the bravest word he has ever spoken is “Help”. That’s about openness, letting go, allowing others to see our need.

But many kinds of illustration help us work through our thoughts and feelings. Illustration enhances writing’s power and adds another layer to any book, making it more memorable. It enables the reader to visualize the narrative as it unfolds. It helps us think more about the words we read and makes us spend more time with them. In turn the writing enhances the artwork’s impact, as it creates background so that we get to know the characters or settings portrayed. This lets us respond on different levels.

Book illustration is a long tradition, and is still common in children’s books – but illustration can add to books for any age range. It would be great to see it featured more widely throughout books, when it is mainly now seen only on the cover. On the other hand, if illustration remains quite rare, it can be more striking and stand out from the crowd.

Recently I came across research into the many positive impacts of reading. One study from the University of Sussex found it can be more calming even than music. By transporting us to a different place or time, books can be liberating – although obviously it depends on the book, as some are very disturbing. Books may be restful and a way to ease anxiety and depression. When all this is combined with illustration, it can be even more helpful. Illustration can literally draw people into a book and encourage them to read.

Book adaptations on stage or screen are popular because readers want to see a familiar narrative take form before their eyes. Illustrating a book in the first place mirrors this. Some readers might like to draw or paint their own illustrations of a book they enjoy as a way to make characters come to life.

Art and narrative are two of the most important stimuli any of us encounter. When they work together, they can be a powerful boost to wellbeing, lifting spirits or striking a chord with many of us. Charlie Mackesy’s book is now being produced as an animation – another artform.

Do you find book illustrations enhance what you read or improve wellbeing? Maybe you’ve read The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse? It would be great if you have thoughts or experiences to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Creative Company

Maybe one of the main ways music, art and nature can boost wellbeing is by drawing people together, creating common ground to share. This can help combat loneliness: and this is Loneliness Awareness Week (14-18 June).

Photo by Andrew Neel on

This year’s theme is Acceptance, highlighting that everyone feels lonely sometimes. The idea is that by talking more openly about loneliness, it will be seen not as some remote condition, a cause of stigma and shame, but rather as an experience common to us all. Loneliness Awareness Week is run by Marmalade Trust, which I recently learned is the world’s only charity focusing on loneliness awareness.

That focus is so important. Stigma tends to be fuelled by ignorance, and the more people open up and recognize loneliness as part of life, the less stigma should surround it.

Loneliness can be deeply disabling, making people question themselves and making life seem blank or pointless. Loneliness is not simply being alone. Someone could be surrounded by others and still feel lonely. Research by Brunel University found that elderly people living in care homes – a communal environment – are two or three times more likely to feel lonely than elderly people who live alone. Sharing a common interest is a helpful way to truly connect with others, and this is where nature, art and music come in.

All three can help us meet and get to know like-minded people. We’re more likely to feel we understand someone else, and to feel understood ourselves, if we share common ground. Music, art and nature can help start a conversation or become a way to spend time together. Many people find art classes, walking groups or choirs and other music groups can be supportive and welcoming. Singing in particular has a strong community element. Shaing an interest can also enable connection with others online, in Facebook groups or virtual events, a lifeline for many during lockdown. It all helps us see the world through others’ eyes and share how we too see the world. And while nature, music and art mainly reduce loneliness by connecting us with other people, they also do this by focusing our minds on these interests, so that we feel less need of other people’s company.

The Loneliness Experiment which the BBC ran in 2018 found that most of the 55,000 respondants identified loneliness as being unable to talk with others, feeling disconnected and not feeling understood. Thes eare all experiences where music, art or nature could help, for example as we see that others understand and share our response to a song or to a wildlife sighting. The BBC’s Experiment also revealed that the highest rates of loneliness were found among young people aged 16-24. Sharing interests could be a welcome distraction from common causes of loneliness in younger people such as pressure to conform and the need to find their own path in the world. And while once connecting with others was built more on place, now fewer local areas have a strong community feel, so that sharing interests is all the more important to unite people.

So maybe as well as boosting awareness and acceptance of loneliness, Loneliness Awareness Week can also be an opportunity to see nature and creativity as glimmers of new connection.

Maybe you have thoughts or experiences to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Opportunities To Recharge?

Caring for a family member or other loved one is one situation where art, music and nature could all open up life. But if nature, music and art are to become ways for carers to recharge, then it’s important to see not only how and why they might help, but also how and why they might seem impossible.

Photo by Valentin Antonucci on

This is National Carers’ Week, running from 7 to 13 June. Make Caring Visible And Valued is the theme this year, highlighting how Britain’s millions of unpaid carers have struggled through the pandemic. Losing a lot of the support upon which they previously depended – from other family or friends or from the social care system – has proved very difficult. Learn more about the campaign to help at

Caring is so diverse an experience andmusic, art and nature could help on different levels. Caring can be physically exhausting and time intensive, but it can also be emotional and saddening, as carers and loved ones alike may have to adjust to a new, more dependant relationship and to the everyday impact of their needs. Some 2 million people in Britain now care for someone who has dementia, and this is only one of so many different conditions. There are also many, many parent carers, and young carers.

Art, for one, improves wellbeing in some specific ways. It can make people feel calmer, partly by clearing their minds – maybe a welcome escape for carers. It can brighten life as a colourful, creative stimulus, which could boost mood for carers whose morale may be sapped by caring’s endless demands. It can help people work through their feelings, responses and emotions, which might prove a release for carers. And it’s flexible. One important way art helps people is by absorbing them, allowing them to set aside the everyday and focus just on art. Losing themselves in their artwork is unlikely to be possible for long for many carers, who need to be alert to their loved one’s needs. But people can be creative in quick bursts – drawing is particularly flexible and simple with no need for preparation or clearing away, and still a way to focus just on art for a while.

Many carers would be unable to leave their loved one to go out and attend a choir rehearsal or art class: so the growth of Zoom and of more virtual events could now help create more opportunities for carers to join in from home, so they are less excluded.

Art, music and nature are also all areas where carers and loved ones could connect and share, maybe by drawing, painting or colouring together, enjoying the wealth of music on YouTube, or watching birds. If spoken language is an issue then these could become ways to communicate; and they can become common ground where carer and loved one can for a time forget the need for care, if and where possible.

It is difficult – sometimes impossible – for carers to find the time or motivation to make art, music or nature a regular part of their lives. But even occasionally, they can be liberating. I really hope that as it grows, Medley will reach out to carers (and their loved ones) and share & learn how music, nature and art might have a part to play in opning a door.

Do you have thoughts or experiences you might like to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.


What an irony it is that at a time when we are turning to nature more and more to boost wellbeing, nature’s own predicament is itself contributing to many people’s anxiety and depression. It’s an irony which mirrors this year’s World Environment Day theme.

World Environment Day falls on 5 June each year, run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to build awareness and spur action. And the theme this year, Generation Restoration, is a striking one. It encourages us all to “get active, not anxious”, to remember that while there are many environmental threats, there are also many practical ways we can respond, from planting a tree to letting a patch of garden go wild.

Photo by Akil Mazumder on

These last few years have seen far wider awareness of pollution, species loss and urbanisation. Climate emergency has become a buzzword. With this awareness comes reaction: fear, uncertainty, sadness and even despair.

Experiencing nature has such power to improve mood and to calm us. But for some people now, simple enjoyment of nature is overshadowed by feelings of doom. If absence and scarcity are what we notice most in nature, then the positive impacts can be lost. This can be particularly true for older people, who remember a time when places were different, when there were more insects, more birds. Even where nature still seems abundant, people might feel its time is running out.

Eco grief, as it is called, may have different triggers. For some, these will be images or news of melting ice sheets, of floods and droughts aross the globe. For others, these will be closer to home, maybe seeing local open space built on or a stream polluted.

Some people liken eco grief to a form of bereavement. They cite the different stages bereavement can follow, maybe from disbelief to anger, fear and some form of acceptance. But it is too early here for acceptance. To some degree nature’s future is still in the balance. There remains a window of opportunity to make a difference, to slow or halt decline, to turn the tide. That can make it all the more distressing for people to see time drifting by and that opportunity squandered.

Maybe it is this which has inspired World Environment Day 2021’s theme, with its focus on getting “active not anxious”. It seems like a call to do what we can even while the scale of need overwhelms us. It seems like a call to harness our anxiety or sadness for action, to draw on these feelings themselves to encourage us to act.

Supppressing or denying feelings of fear or depression can erode mwental wellbeing and only defer the time when those feelings will come to a head – although everyone’s experience is different. So recognizing that there’s still a place for action could be helpful. And while the theme Generation Restoration might seem to highlight the role of the next generation, of younger people, restoring nature depends on all of us.

Maybe, as we find even small and simple ways to try to restore nature, we will feel nature’s power to restore us in turn renewed all the more.

Do you have reactions or ideas you might like to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Strike A Chord

Different music genres’ own unique contributions to wellbeing have been the focus of recent Medley blog posts on music, from musicals to folk to ballet – and I hope to return to this theme to explore other genres. But this time I want to look at music for wellbeing from another angle, by concentrating on a particular situation where music can make a proven difference.

Photo by Craig Adderley on

28th May is Stroke Awareness Day, an opportunity to act and to share but also an opportunity to reflect how arts and creativity can have a positive impact on people following a stroke. I want particularly here to focus on music and singing, which are widely known to help. They’re even highlighted by a Stroke Association fundraising campaign at the moment featuring soprano Laura Wright, who says how she has seen music help stroke survivors. The Stroke Association is drawing attention to the way research funds hav edeclined during the pandemic, limiting their progress.

Music and singing can be specific tools for use in stroke rehabilitation, or they can simply be a haven for people to enjoy themselves as they adjust to life following a stroke. A lot will depend on the severity of the stroke, the pace of the person’s recovery, and aso what opportunities they come across to try music therapy.

The Stroke Association is one of many organisations which demonstrate the power of music. The American Stroke Association says that music therapy can improve movement, balance and memory as well as speech. It is these wider impacts which have been more unexpected. Scientists have long seen clear links betweem speech, language and music, which all involve one part of the brain. Impacts on motor functioning and movement have only come to light more recently. For example, a report in Neurology Times in 2018 quoted studies of music’s impact on motor recovery, such as a 2016 review of research entitled “Improvement in Stroke-Induced Motor Dysfunction By Music-Supported Therapy”. All this underlines the importance of music.

Research focuses more on specific music therapy, but many people recovering from a stroke find other experiences of music and singing helpful as well. Choirs and other singing groups set up and run for, with or by stroke survivors may or may not involve actual music therapy, but have a very positive impact, particularly on people whose strokes have left them with aphasia (speech issues).

Singing can simply be liberating. It may free people to respond as they are drawn in by the music instead of focusing on the difficulties of forming words. Also, as vocabulary can be an issue in aphasia, singing may be easier than talking as you sing the lyrics rather than having to find your own words. Moreover, some people lose confidence or become more isolated following a stroke, particularly if they are not able to work or to continue with hobbies they previously enjoyed. Communication issues like aphasia only add to this, as it can seem easier just to be alone. This is where choirs and other music groups can come into play and open life up again in a new way.

In raising awareness of stroke, then, it’s really important to be aware of the causes, yes, and treatments – but also of the great and growing need for stroke survivors to have opportunities to share music and song.