Guest blog: Empty shop happiness in Bristol

untitled-21Light Box started as a one month pilot scheme art project in March 2010. The initial idea of running workshops was to help people unlock their creative potential. We also wanted to put an empty shop space in Bristol to use, for the benefit of local people.

Lucy Barfoot (project co-founder) and I were working together as artists and discovered that we shared a belief in people’s ability to create their own happiness. We then met a positive psychologist called Lucy Ryan, who told us that although positive psychology is a fairly new field of scientific research; its evidence base is huge and rapidly growing. Put simply, positive psychology is the scientific study of happiness and all its findings confirmed completely the things that Lucy and I already believed.

The workshops are fun and an accessible way to learn about well-being

Armed with all this evidence that happiness is indeed something people can create (rather than something that completely depends on the circumstances we find ourselves in), we decided the empty shop should be a place for people to come and learn about how to create happiness. Mixing simple art activities with group discussion and research, we came up with workshops that explore the habits and behaviours that lead to improved mental well-being.

I’ll never forget how nervous we were when we let ourselves in to that empty shop: unheated, with a bare concrete floor and no electricity, armed with only few posters and plastic boxes of art materials. Looking back I see that what we did was bold and I’m proud of the way we approached it. In that one busy month we ran 40 workshops attended by 244 people and with the help of some great volunteers.

We received cards and flowers from people who told us that taking part had made a big difference to their lives. Although the project had started out as just a playful idea, it turned out to be something that addressed a serious need.

We’re now funded by the Big Lottery Fund to deliver the Happiness Project and to keep doing a job we love. We’re in a better shop (with carpets and electricity!), and the workshops are always full. We couldn’t have carried on without BIG’s support and remain grateful that they recognised the potential of our work, in spite of our newness and in spite of our size.

My dream is that there is always a Happiness Project shop in Bristol that anyone can come to. Beyond that I’d like to see empty shops up and down the UK being turned into a Happiness Project.

In this guest blog, Lucy Duggan of the Light Box Happiness Project, tells us how, thanks to funding from BIG, the group is creating strong and happy lives through its workshops in Bristol. Lucy Duggan is Head of Business Development at the Light Box Happiness Project.

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