‘Beyond the Label’

Beyond the Label: A project by Breathe Creative with Ty Canna Mental Day Service Cardiff

Funded by the Lottery Community Fund  

Ty Canna Mental Health Outreach service in Cardiff is a Cardiff based citywide recovery focussed Outreach service for people with mental health needs. The service focusses on networking in the community, enabling people to integrate with others. 

We received the funding just after Wales went into lockdown and there was an urgent need to engage  service users living on their own.

Without delay we ran weekly Sessions over 15 weeks, using Zoom.

In times of crisis many of us feel powerless and emotional. The workshops give us an opportunity for a shared experience, a space to explore and process the situation we are in, to step back and regain some stability. For some the Zoom sessions were their only interaction with others.

Animation created by Jane Hubbard with the group’s artwork and poetry.

Set of Principles:

We are using a person-centred approach, Carl Rogers core conditions: unconditional positive regard empathy, create a safe environment, built trust, respect, dignity.

We offer a range of creative opportunities as well as relaxation techniques. Our process is non-directive and flexible, valuing and respecting the individual and providing challenge in a safe and non-judgmental environment. 

Our facilitators do not focus on underlying pathologies but look at strengthening the individual, improving interpersonal understanding through accessible creativity. Co-Creative Arts is applicable to most individuals and groups. Our workshops have been delivered to a wide variety of groups including in areas of high social need, such as women’s refuges, secure units, mental health drop-Ins, refugee centres, as well as in hospitals and schools. 

CCA is not Art Therapy, it focuses on using creativity in order to promote wellbeing; the sessions are delivered in a safe and relaxed environment often with therapeutic outcomes. 

We consult with partners and clients , are led by their needs and co design our workshops with both clients and partners. 

We use a a strengths-based approached and work as equals to promote positive and sustainable change.

Fiery Haired Woman drawing

Our workshops aim to: 

  • to improve self esteem and self confidence
  • to increase self awareness
  • to break negative patterns of behaviour
  • to improve resilience and wellbeing 

The ethos and values of Co Creative Arts are based on a belief in creativity as a powerful tool for individual and social change. 

Co-Creative Arts offers a set of techniques to involve individuals or a Group in creating their own artwork. The workshops bring people together to reflect about their lives, explore issues or simply to be creative in a supportive environment.

The funding allowed us to run weekly sessions and to bring in other arts professionals:

For the first 5 weeks Katja and Sarah (experienced artists and one a qualified counselling) run the sessions supported by an outreach worker from Ty Canna, building trust and a safe environment with the participants.

Each session started with an opening circle checking how individuals  were coping with lockdown, followed by a mindfulness exercise, most participants were struggling with anxiety, we included different relaxation techniques in the sessions. 

For the following hours the group explored  different themes through 

Creative writing and art exercises.

Creative Writing Themes:

‘A promise to myself’ , ‘Beyond the Label’, ‘Through my window’, ‘In the Middle of the night’ , ‘A Summer Memory’, ‘A special date in my diary’, ‘What you don’t see’ , ‘A receipt for a good Day’, ‘Breathing Space’, ‘My Sanctuary’, ‘In My Street’

Example :

‘Beyond the labels that lie behind the mask’

My mind is hurting and screaming.  How do I keep going?  No, I’m not attention seeking. I don’t really like being the centre of attention. It’s overwhelming for me and often embarrassing.

Recently I found out why that could be.  I am autistic.  Just to be clear, I don’t ‘have autism’.  It’s not something I can choose to carry around with me or leave behind like a fashion accessory. It is part of me.  Also, it is not a disease. You can’t ‘catch it’ and it doesn’t need a cure.  I don’t want a cure.  To ‘cure’ me would be like getting rid of who I am.  Erased.  Gone.  My very being and soul would be destroyed and I wouldn’t be me anymore.  Empty.  Nothing left.  Void. 

So I am autistic and that means I am just wired differently, so we don’t always view the world the same.

Growing up I didn’t know.   Nobody knew.  Everyone just thought I was weird because I was different.  I didn’t belong and as time went on, I believed it too.  Why am I here?  I don’t deserve to be and yet I am still chasing love and acceptance.  Maybe I should give up.  And at times I have.  That’s when the unhealthy coping mechanisms come in.  But I’m not ok.  Although I now feel in control, I’m actually quite unwell.  But I don’t see it.  I am struggling and my mind is tricking me.

Several times I have come close to being completely overpowered in the fight with my mind forever.

I’m not quite sure what saved me.  Nothing specific I don’t think.  But people finally saw me.  At last the cracked mask fell and the little girl inside me, who was struggling and drowning, was revealed.  The real me.  And I finally got some of the answers to so many lost and forgotten questions.  The journey of discovering who I really am has now begun.  I just wish I hadn’t gotten so ill to get here.

Most of the topics lead to  deep conversations, the group listened to each other and showed their support for members who had a difficult day.

The award winning Animator Jane Hubbard  joined session six and run a taster session explaining the process of animation. The group shared their creative writing with her and gave her permission to create a script for an animation using their writing.

Some participants found giving up control in the editing process difficult, in order for them to keep ownership over their individual art we started collecting the writing and drawings created and produced a booklet and invited the composer John Rea to add  music and sounds  to their spoken poem.

Over the next 9 weeks the participants worked jointly on the animation and also on their individual pieces. The participants created work outside the sessions and send them to us throughout the week.

The shared experience of lockdown has brought the group closer together.

This pandemic is unprecedented and has created fear, many struggle with sleep and feel stressed, taking control over the creative process has increased the participant’ s confidence and self-esteem and given us all a meaningful focus. 


It has really helped me, I haven’t done a creative writing course before because I always though they were too scary , but actually this has been really good and I enjoyed it. It made me feel I am doing something productive during the pandemic and it has given me space to be myself and with a nice group of people, to share ideas. The soundscape was great as well to have had the opportunity to do that  and I can’t wait to see the animation it just made me feel that I could do something in a time where there wasn’t much we could do and we have done this and this is something to be really proud of.


I found it very empowering I found the facilitators really inclusive, you ‘ve brought out the best in us And at times when I really rather not,  you gently lead us in the right way to keep going even when I don’t like drawing for example I ended up producing something and feeling much better and I didn’t know I could write a poem in 5 minutes. This project have giving me a purpose so Thank you 


I found it very empowering as well, I wouldn’t have known what to do with my time really and it reinforced my ability to life on my own because I had people to mix with, I would have not have been able to do that without the internet and this class. Seeing this project end will be a bit sad. I will keep a look out for other online classes. I found this group very supportive and the people have been great, all the different ideas people had was really interesting and getting used to their different personalities has inspired me. It found it very interesting 


I Love  this course it has really brought me out of myself and I haven’t written poetry since I was in school, which is a good 40 years ago and I can’t believe that with the prompting I had from you to do a poem within 10-15 min With all the medication I am on since I was in hospital, that I still had the ability to produce a poem and it has been so nice seeing you all, you cheered me on every week I love the classes and I am hoping to do more in the future, I found every week I look forward to the class, it has brought me out of myself and helped me to achieve something 


I found this group really helpful it can be quiet hard sometimes if you are not sure that you are up to it on the day, it is still worth coming even if you don’t say much you can still be part of it by listening to others and if you do feel up to it you can add a bit more and say something. In a way this group has been a form of self-care, like during the week, I remember that I have something to look forward to I can sit down with the laptop, have a coffee and have this meeting. It gives me an excuse to have some me time and to be sociable. It also has built my confidence we all share what we have written, that built confidence I usually hate public speaking, doing it on zoom does help your confidence because you are doing it in your own surroundings but you are still connecting with people. There was no pressure of doing things , you could go at your own pace we all had days were we struggled and you are always understanding.



A published booklet of artwork and poetry/prose created by the group

Poetry compositions 


The project has shown how arts activities can support people with mental health problems, transform emotions in a gently way and provide a positive focus during difficult times.

All of the participants kept engaged with the service and most have continued with their creative writing and art.

The film and the booklet will be used to remind other people with mental health problems that they are more than their diagnosis.

Creative Team:

Ty Canna contributors: Jen, Judith, Nick, Sarah, Mandy, Maddy, Ellie, Kate

Facilitators: Katja Stiller and Sarah Featherstone

Animator: Jane Hubbard

Composer and Sound Artist: John Rea

Special Thanks to Lewis Rigley and the Ty Canna team

Community Fund