Connecting West Cork to Wellbeing

Luka Bloom

Almost nine years ago the first ‘wellness bus’ rolled through the towns and villages of West Cork, as part of an initiative to help people recover outside of the traditional mental health services. The bus promoted social inclusion and gave advice on services, available across the community, that promote physical, mental and social wellbeing. 

The ‘wellness bus’ initiative evolved into The Wellbeing Network (TWN), which has kept its original spirit, continuing to offer the West Cork community a preventative approach to mental health, and providing resources on their own doorstep, such as access to non-clinical and medical supports, as well as information about self-care. 

The aim has always been to empower each individual by encouraging them to take charge of their own wellbeing journey, by addressing ‘The Five Ways of Wellbeing’. These are: ‘Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, Connect and Give’. The impact of greater wellbeing is reflected in a stronger sense of community and in the ability to care for ourselves and each other. An important part of the proactive approach of the Wellbeing Network has been to also provide a website that ensures people have information about what is available in their community and what may work to help them through difficult periods.

During the difficult periods of self-isolation that Covid-19 brought to our community, the Wellbeing Network’s efforts focused on offering people ways to make connections and on helping them to develop their coping skills. The Wellbeing Network has adapted to the changing circumstances, meeting people in their particlar situations and offering supportive services in respect to the uncertainty and mental challenges of the pandemic. 

Conversations about mental health have inevitably focused on the problems experienced by individuals and families who have found it difficult to access effective support at a time when they have needed it the most. To this end the Wellbeing Network has put together a series of online workshops designed to help people to keep well through creativity, healthy eating and mindfulness. At the same time the Wellbeing Network website has continuously provided links to services and resources available to help people boost their wellbeing. 

For a number of years the Wellbeing Network has collaborated with 49 North Street to host a West Cork Feel Good Festival, scheduled each year to coincide with World Mental Health Day on October 10. The aim of the festival is to promote and celebrate community wellbeing whilst linking with and promoting the many ongoing health and wellbeing resources found across West Cork. The Festival is all about community, connection, engagement, slowing down, having fun and feeling good.

The collaboration with 49 North Street has been an important one. Located in Skibbereen, 49 North Street offers people a space where they can come and confidentially share practical advice on living through difficult times. It has become an important asset in the West Cork community, a place where people can go to explore ways of improving their mental health and wellbeing. 

This year the Feel Good festival is offering a number of events where wellness falls in with creativity. The organisers (49 North Street, Skibbereen, The Wellbeing Network, West Cork and Mental Health Engagement, Cork Kerry HSE, working in partnership with community groups and organisations) hope to inspire everyone to engage and connect. 

West Cork Feel Good Festival 2021 has been made possible with the support of an Arts Council Capacity Building award to MusicAlive, an arts and health organisation that coproduces arts events at 49 North Street. MusicAlive has teamed up with Levis Corner House in Ballydehob for various discussions and live gigs with an exceptional line up: Luka Bloom, Donal Dineen and Lisa O’Neill. 

Skibbereen Family Resource Centre and 49 North Street will be also hosting free events during these days of Feeling Good. Creative writing, mindfulness, singing, dancing, cooking, music, meditation, and more.

Some highlights include: Luka Bloom, performing at Levis’s Corner House in Ballydehob on Sunday October 10; ‘Benign & Beautiful (Vol. 2)’ book launch, to also be presented in Levis’s on the afternoon of October 10 by poet/musician Pól O Colmáin; The Claddagh Rogues, performing at Levis’s at 3pm on Saturday, October 9 (the afternoon also includes film screenings and discussions around homelessness, mental health, and the prison system, as frontman James O’ Flynn reflects on his extraordinary life). 

The Claddagh Rogues will also perform on October 8, 3-5pm, at 49 North Street, during the launch of ‘Beyond the Village’, a project led by visual artists, Sarah Ruttle and Rebecca Keyser, and the ‘Out of the Blue’/Recovery Stories project, in association with Open Dialogue. 

On October 13, 1-3pm, 49 North Street will host ‘Éiri ‘s Ital: A Positive music and food sharing event with Music Alive and The Happiness Ensemble’. The Happiness Ensemble is the brainchild of Peter Fitzpatrick who, in 2014,”seeking an alternative way to recover from depression and anxiety, rediscovered his love of music and voice.” Nick Murphy, a member of the The Happiness Ensemble enthuses: “It’s all coming back, starting with the festival, I feel better already, the craic is always mighty, wonderful place and wonderful people, something for everyone, where everyone matters.”

Events are either online or in strict adherence with public health guidelines. Pre-booking is essential. 

See for the full programme.  

WCP Staff

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