Public Engagement: Asylum and Post-Asylum Spaces at Explorathon 2014

Explorathon – Scotland’s first ever European Researchers’ Night – was an interactive celebration of research that took place on Friday the 26th of September 2014 in the bustling environment of Glasgow Science Centre. Explorathon enabled researchers from across Europe to showcase some of the most exciting and innovative research taking place in the Sciences and the Arts and Humanities – including The Asylum and Post-Asylum Spaces Research Group.

Cheryl, Louise, Hazel (and Noah) at Exploration 2014

Cheryl, Louise, Hazel (and Noah) at Exploration 2014

Armed with a wealth of informative materials, including our asylum spaces brochure, postcards, leaflets and a range of images from our work for people to take away and muse over as well as an extensive supply of compost and craft paraphenalia, our stall displayed the scope of our collective research efforts and interests. In a bid to showcase the overarching themes of our research group the stall encompassed numerous ‘spaces’ of ‘mental health geographies’ from the asylum and post-asylum to creative spaces. The asylum and post-asylum materials depicted the changing landscapes of mental health care in Scotland (and beyond) while the creative space sought to demonstrate different spaces of care and support for people living with mental health problems. The latter sought to engage with the creative ways people choose to express themselves. Historically, through a showcase of Art Extraordinary materials and in a more contemporary vein our ‘Occupational and Art Therapy’ activities. This created a platform whereby adults and children could engage in similar therapeutic activies as a way of exploring these changing landscapes. The activies set up included planting bulbs and decorating plantpots as a vein through which we opened discussions on the support offered through community garden schemes and arts-for-health projects. Each of the pots were adorned with our Blogsite address and, albeit unintentionally, became a portable advertisement for our stall driving more people to visit us to engage with and participate in the remarkable stories and spaces of mental health care.

Noah's Masterpiece!

Noah’s Masterpiece!

Explorathon opened up an exciting opportunity which encouraged discussion and participation in an informal and relaxed environment helping to facilitate engagement of our ongoing research projects and interests with other researchers and, more importantly, the general public. The opportunities presented at Explorathon should encourage us to recognise the potential of public engagement to inspire, stimulate discussion and collaborate with communities and wider society on existing and future projects. Establishing our collective research in physical space creates an arena through which we can validate, support and celebrate our research goals and accomplishments. We were completely overwhelmed by the response we received from those engaging with the stall and expressing an interest in our research, taking our literature and postcards and commenting on the ‘interesting’ and ‘fascinating’ nature of what we do.

In the weeks since Explorathon our site has seen almost 60 visitors and had over 150 page views something I hope is a reflection of the interest and engagement with our stall. The event provided an excellent opportunity for us to share aspects of our ongoing research and helped to create further conversations into the areas of mental health care, asylums and post asylum geographies, aspects I hope we, as a unique cluster, hold on to and continue to engage with in the very near future.

Louise Boyle

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