Somerville Foundation Appeal

Susan’s Story

Name: Susan Manley nee Millard

Age: 66

Age when diagnosed: Before 1 year old

Condition: Three holes in the heart and faulty Tricuspid valve

How has having a heart condition impacted on your mental health?

We were the experimental generation and there was no information about survival (I was not expected to reach my 2nd birthday). The NHS was still very young and in those days it was thought that visitors when in hospital, especially parents, would be upsetting and consequently I saw my mum and grandma on Sunday afternoons.

My early years – until I was nine or ten years old – were at Westminster Hospital; I will not say I have bad memories of my time there and I was shown some great kindness. However, I have always had issues with relationships and trust, suffer terrible nightmares and have general insecurity. I finally had a breakdown with anxiety and depression in 2007.

Teaching, and all the associated pressures, became impossible and I have now retired. I do run a small craft and pottery studio which developed from my time with Art on Prescription (my lifesaver!).

How has The Somerville Foundation helped?

I get very anxious about my care and The Somerville Foundation helped when my specialist at Plymouth retired. We now have a lovely person who is back seeing me regularly which helps.

However, the biggest help is contact with others who understand how life is for us. Until I found them about 20 years ago, I was a very lonely island.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

The trauma of long-term illness and lack of understanding from both professionals and family and friends is something that affects your whole life, in both work and social contexts. It is good to see how much more support is available now; I often feel that our generation were the guinea pigs (which I do not resent in any way) and not just ‘brave princesses’. Children grow up, and suddenly are not cute little heroes but troublesome old ladies!


Story of craft

In 2007, I had a breakdown at work and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I had a wonderful GP who did give me tablets but also support, and got me referred for treatment. I went to a few different sessions, starting with talking therapy and working through individual and group activities. I was still at the stage of crying a lot (depression) and not being able to move easily from one environment to another (anxiety) when my GP asked if I would be interested in Art on Prescription, and we decided it was worth a try.

The first meeting was a disaster. It was held in a clinical environment, there was a level of aggression from one of the participants and I just sobbed through the whole time. The tutor was very kind and picked up quickly on what was happening. He asked if I would attempt another session in a different environment, with a different group. It was in a cafe and he kindly asked where I would park so he could help me from the car.

He was such a sympathetic but not overwhelming man. He soon picked up on little things, like me not being able to start on a fresh piece of paper, and suggested I put a little mark in the corner of the page so it was never a blank sheet. The programme did not meet every week, but in between we were sent relevant bits and pieces like gouache paint and pencils. I can honestly say I blossomed. I even went to a spa day with one of the other participants!

When the sessions came to an end the tutor set up an art course in the local village hall, followed by another course and then a clay day at the local college. All the time he continued to support us through art.

Three of us then applied for the Access to Fine Art course, and got a place. I was the driver (a control thing!) and again I was supported in getting a special parking space close to the room. The tutor (who I suppose had been primed) was again very supportive, and I not only enjoyed the two years but achieved very well. I wanted to go on and do the degree but could not afford to, so was a bit glum.

The next stage began when a friend in the village asked if I could help her make something. From that began a weekly get-together in my front room doing various crafts with a group of willing learners. My husband renovated an old portacabin as a studio and converted a bit of his workshop into a pottery. A friend of my daughters donated an ancient, but working, kiln and The Little Red Hen was born!

The Little Red Hen mission statement

The Studio is situated in a small and isolated community within Mid Devon. This makes it hard for some people to access stimulating activities and company. There is no public transport, so I wish to create an affordable and stimulating environment where people from the local community can happily explore their artistic talents and be supported in extending them as well as building social bonds.

Having started a little community craft group in the village I was amazed at the uptake. From this, and my own need to continue my art, I have created a small studio and have extended this to include a pottery and firing facilities.

This is for the use of the local community, especially those who because of location and physical, emotional and mental health needs find it difficult to access other places.

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