For the second year running, Etsy Cambridge artists and craftspeople have generously donated handmade gifts for our exclusive Christmas goody bags, packed in Etsy-branded totes that you can’t buy anywhere!
Last year we held a prize draw to give Etsy Cambridge shoppers a chance to win a goody bag, but this year we want to do even more and benefit a charity as well as the winners of the bags. We love to support everything local, so we looked for a charity based in our own city and found Blue Smile, who work in the very important and often overlooked field of children’s mental health.
The result will be our charity tombola, running during our Cambridge Christmas Fair, 3-5 December in St Andrews Street Baptist Church. For just £1 a go, shoppers will get the chance to win a lovely prize as well as benefiting Blue Smile, because all proceeds will go to the charity.
We wanted to find out more about Blue Smile, so we asked Chief Executive Rebecca Wood a few questions. Her answers made us so pleased we chose Blue Smile, and keen to do all we can to help their incredibly worthy and important work.
What is your own background, Rebecca Wood?
For 17 years I was Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, taking it from a tiny charity to one that funded £53m of research during that time and transformed public awareness of the disease. The one cause I’ve always felt was even more neglected than Alzheimer’s — yet similarly represents a social timebomb — is mental health, and when I heard about Blue Smile and the fantastic way it helps children and prevents mental health issues blighting later life, I really wanted to work with the charity to try to help more children. Did you know 90% of young offenders had an untreated mental health problem as a child?
When and how was Blue Smile started, and what was the motivation for starting the charity? Did you perceive a need for the services you provide?
Blue Smile started in 2010 with Amanda Langford, now Clinical Director, realising from her own therapy work with children that there was a huge gap in services. Children with emotional issues from deprived areas in Cambridge didn’t have access to support. Yet, if they can get skilled therapy early, it is possible to prevent emotional disturbances escalating. That skilled therapy can help them recover quickly and stop the problems becoming lifelong. Fifty percent of mental health problems in adulthood actually start before age 14, so there’s a massive opportunity. Dealing with mental health problems helps children to learn better at school. Local public services do not have the capacity to intervene early, before escalation, by which time the problems may become severe and much less tractable. Cuts to services have only made this much worse.
Fifty percent of mental health problems in adulthood actually start before age 14, so there’s a massive opportunity.
Can you describe the work of the charity, briefly?
Blue Smile works by sending highly skilled teams into schools and working one to one with troubled children, using arts therapy. Children enjoy this because art is the natural language in which they express themselves. And we use art in its many forms — drawing and painting, of course, but dressing up and acting can be a way of keeping scary feelings contained and expressing them safely. There’s a revealing comment from researchers about this: “Art making offers the unique opportunity to confront the paradox of being unable to verbalize trauma, while needing to verbalize it in order to heal.” (Coleman and Macintosh, 2015.)
How is the charity funded? Do you do your own fundraising? Are you planning fundraising events?
We rely heavily on the public to raise money for our work and have benefited from the generosity and energy of some wonderful people, raising money, doing sky dives, running cake sales, cycling from Lands End to John O’ Groats, that sort of thing, and corporate donors have also been fantastic to us, such as Cambridge University Press. Of course, the more money coming in, the more children we can help, so fundraising continues to be a critical challenge for us.
I noticed that your patron is Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. Does he take an active part in the charity, and how do his interests intersect with those of Blue Smile?
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen is a fantastically supportive patron and believes very passionately in the charity’s work. He’ll be speaking about his own research on autism at our fifth anniversary event in January.
Blue Smile works by sending highly skilled teams into schools and working one to one with troubled children, using arts therapy.
What are your hopes for the future of Blue Smile?
We know that we need to grow to help more children. We know the work we do with troubled children transforms lives. I feel so sad when people get in touch with us from another area asking for help and we can’t reach them, yet. We’ve already helped 400 children to overcome mental health problems and build for themselves their own inner resilience and we’re determined to do it for far more — but it takes money to be able to do this, not just our passion.
You can read more about Blue Smile and their work, and donate if you can, at:
Do join us at the Christmas Fair, 3-5 December, to have your shot at winning an Etsy Cambridge goody bag and raise funds for Blue Smile, as well as browsing the work of 30+ Cambridge area designer-makers, who have pulled out all the stops to bring you beautiful and unique gifts for the festive season!
St Andrews Street Baptist Church, St Andrews Street, Cambridge (near Arts Picturehouse cinema)
Thursday 3rd December 2-8pm (late night shopping)
Friday 4th and Saturday 5th December, 10am-6.30pm