Towards the end of 2015 during my residency at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust I worked with service users, staff and visitors to the Tavistock Centre on a series of workshops that responded to the theme ‘Found’. The project explored the meaning of things to be ‘found’ in the process of seeking help from the Tavistock, piecing together stories and experiences, feelings and emotions.
The images powerfully conveyed messages from service users about their experiences while coming to the Tavistock. Some messages were positive and hopeful, while others commented on lives that are not easy.
I left postcards in the public spaces of the Trust – waiting rooms and public areas as well as the staff rooms and canteen, asking people to anonymously write or draw something they’d ‘found’ in or around the Tavistock, on the back of a card and post it back to me. I wanted the question to be open-ended and to be interpreted in any way, not knowing how people would respond. I received some incredibly honest accounts from patients and their families which were often very difficult, as well as stories that were heart-warmingly positive about the help and support they were receiving from the Tavistock. Many messages were from staff and students talking about their experiences of working and training at the Tavi which is renowned for its pioneering research and innovative approach to mental health services.
I set up a sewing desk in a corridor and set about the task of embroidering the anonymous messages, using my rather incongruous situation as a conversation starter. Over the 8 or so weeks of the project I had the privilege of meeting and talking to many interesting people – patients, staff and students.
I photographed the resulting embroideries, enlarging the prints enormously to illuminate the weave off the cloth, the pull of threads, its creases and dust.
The work is part of the collection at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.