Professional development

Creating Kind Spaces by Gaylene Gould

How do you care for those you are work­ing with, how do we care for our­selves? Restora­tive Care Prac­tice is way to hold space for your­self and Others

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An audio version of this text will be available here soon.

When working closely with people, especially when working with reparative intentions, care practices are vital.

How do you care for those who you are working with and for? How do we hold spaces for emotion and varying viewpoints? How do we care for ourselves along the way?

In the projects I have co-devised with communities, such questions loom live in each encounter. Many times I leave sessions doubting if I have held the space well enough, worrying if there might be residual distress, or if I have listened well enough to any expressed needs. I also now realise that if I am worrying like this it’s probably ok. I will usually find ways to sense-check with people in the group and with colleagues. It’s when I’m not worrying that there’s a danger I might be missing something important.

Essentially I help to create spaces where people can listen more deeply to themselves. Reparative justice begins with the question: who is offered space to reflect? Who has the time and resources to dedicate to building a caring, compassionate relationship with themselves in places of respite and care? This is the kind of 'education' that I wish every child could be offered. By adulthood most of us have never been shown how to build a kind awareness of self which can mean our relationships suffer.

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Most of the people who join a project self-select because they have a need to be in spaces of kindness. They are often sensitive, like myself, and harbour questions about their place in the world. They may be struggling to enter a world that is harsh and inaccessible due to their age, ethnicity, class or ability, or are recovering from being bashed about by such a world.

Recently I completed a research study in what I call Restorative Care Practices in partnership with the University of Reading (supervised by Dr Jenny Chamarette) and Clore Leadership, a development organisation for cultural leaders. Restorative Care Practices, or RCP, is inspired by social health models.

'Restorative practice' is a term used to describe behaviours, interactions and approaches which help to build and maintain healthy relationships, resolve difficulties and repair harm where there has been conflict.

'Restorative care' is a nursing model, often following rehabilitation, that helps preserve a person's optimum level of functioning and independence.

Restorative Care Practice (RCP) is my suggestion to merge both ideas in a series of approaches that help people consciously centre reparative, reflective and rehabilitative practices in order to reduce stress and create space for new meanings to emerge.

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Such practices include the regular use of personal reflective tools, creative play, meditation and rest, physical activities and the active creation of supportive kinship networks.

If the world is inaccessible and unkind, because the systems have not been designed with you in mind, then this will have an impact on your nervous system which in turn will impact your responses to the world. In the research, which will be published by Clore Leadership later in the year, I look at some of those impacts including:

  • - Lack of a sense of safety
  • - Anxiety and strained nervous system
  • - Disembodiment
  • - Depression or hyperactivity
  • - Loneliness
  • - Propensity to care give rather than care receive
  • - Inverted rage

When working with people who may be experiencing some or all of these affects, it’s vital to first create a space of safety through deep listening, clarity of intention, stillness, breath and easeful pacing. This will help trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and a sense of calm and peace. I’ve explored RCP through Mind, Body, Care and what I call Creative Intuition practices - creative activities that allow for a more intuitive, flow state.

Being welcoming is key, making sure all expressions are met with the same care and attention. It’s important, then, that we are equally welcoming to ourselves. In order to remain present and alive to what might be emerging with the people we are working with, it is critical that we remain present and alive to ourselves. Creating some form of personal and regular Restorative Care Practice - drawing on reflection, mindfulness, embodiment and moments of joy - needs to be as equally as important as the work we do for others.

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Listening to Ourselves

I enjoy developing tools that can be offered for my own and collective practice. Listening to Ourselves is designed to encourage many of us to practice a compassionate and inquiring conversation with ourselves. The project was developed in lockdown as a tool to support myself during that time of heightened anxiety. Photographer Nina Robinson took some gorgeous illustrative photographs of my friends and I in conversation with ourselves while, ANNN, a musician, created a 22 minute soundscape to sit alongside my set of invitations:

  • - This soundscape is best listened to when alone and on headphones

  • - While listening to the soundscape, talk to yourself out loud. This exercise is great to do on a walk. If you're wearing headphones, people will simply think you're having a conversation with someone else. Alternatively, try this as a writing exercise.

  • - ​​As you listen to the music, begin your conversation with the opening question: "So [insert your name] what do you want to talk about today?"

  • - Respond in whatever way you want to in the moment. Don't over think, rehearse or perform. Remember you are the only audience. You're simply curious to see where you might go.

  • ​- Allow yourself to meander, fall silent, drift off. However, like a good interviewer, gently draw yourself back to your thought with questions like:
  • - Tell me more about that
  • - Why do think that interests you or bothers you?
  • - Describe that in more detail for me
  • - What else would you like to talk about?

  • ​- Be kind. Imagine yourself a gentle and curious interviewer - more Krista Tippett than Jeremy Paxman.
  • - ​​Try to go the full 22 mins. Sometimes the best thoughts come when we're beginning to grow tired or a little bored.

The soundscape is designed to be aurally facilitative but not crucial so the exercise can be done without the soundscape as long as it’s timed. Twenty two minutes allows for a deeper conversation but not long enough to get lost in your thoughts. It’s also short enough to slip neatly into a morning regime. You can read more and try it for yourself here.

Listening to Myself has become part of my own daily RCP - a way to hold space for myself whilst I’m working to hold space for others.

In short, the work of supporting others requires an understanding of how we best support ourselves. We are not just holding space for kindness, we are part of the spaces we create. It is important we treat ourselves accordingly.

Gaylene Gould is an artist who creates projects out of a desire for a more compassionately connected world. She explores a deeper healing relationship with herself and others through convening imaginative gatherings.Gaylene specialises in place-based works that connect the buried memories of a place with the memories of people, as a way to more deeply root. Her projects have been commissioned by the Tate, V&A, Clore Leadership, Selfridges, Durham University, Moderna Museet Sweden and BAM, New York amongst others. Gaylene is also a culture broadcaster and is currently host of Serpentine podcast. She is a respected cultural leader and has headed up major cultural institutions and projects including Head of Cinemas at BFI. She has worked for national and international organisations such as Arts Council England, Toronto International Film Festival, National Theatre, Young Vic and Bernie Grant Art Centre. She was a Cultural Ambassador for London, is a Clore Fellow and on the Artistic Advisory Board for Brixton House, Leeds 2023, the Advisory Board for the Decolonising Arts Institute, University Arts London. She is a Trustee for the magical ANU Productions.

All images courtesy Nina Robinson.

This resource is part of the West of England Visual Arts Alliance (WEVAA), a three year programme that includes professional development, commissioning, and support and resources. Find out more here

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