We Hear about Under the Bridge From the Project’s Coordinator Trekkah Benjamin

Words: Trekkah Benjamin
Wednesday 21 February 2024
reading time: min, words

The Under the Bridge project is a men's group that explores the positive mental health impacts of spending time in Blue Spaces. Established in the spring of 2022, the project has been delivering weekly sessions in, on and around water. Project Coordinator Trekkah Benjamin tells us more…

Collaboratively led by Nottingham C.A.N and Bluetonic, the origins of the project were born out of the accelerating rise in mental health statistics, and the enforced impact of isolation felt from the Covid-19 Pandemic. By chance, both organisations met while pitching for seed funding at DanSoups. 

Realising a synergy within their organisations ambitions and values, the project grew from a intertwining of both organisations specialisms around creative arts and Blue Water. From this the Under the Bridge Project was born with a collaborative vision of tackling the pressing need of improving access to social activities for males within their local community.

The Need 
Across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire we have seen an extremely high number of young male suicides especially through the pandemic. Although we know that mental health affects everyone, statistics show that suicide rate for males in England and Wales are at an all time high and men account for three quarters of these deaths.

Our projects aims to raise awareness about men’s mental health because at the sharp end of the issues men face when dealing with mental health, suicide is still the biggest killer of men under the age of fifty in the UK and men aged fifty to 55 statistically suffer the biggest loss of life due to suicide. It is estimated at least 105,000 men go to hospital each year having attempted suicide.

The core aim of our project is to empower participants to connect with the natural surroundings with a focus on blue spaces, promoting togetherness, strengthening support circles and developing confidence all while exploring creativity and forming new support networks. 

We have created safe spaces for participants to talk about their mental health journeys and also to spend time safely on the water and explore collective creative arts and music making sessions, resulting in showcases and performances along the waterways.

Research has shown that going to blue spaces twice a week can increase life expectancy and being around water has been scientifically proven to increase our mental health and contribute to a better physical health. The main driving force of the project is the five ways of well being:

- Active, engaging in activities
- Connected, to nature, via mindfulness and being in the moment
- Giving, helping others while helping the themselves and sharing experiences
- Connecting, to other people, socialising, forming support groups
- Learning, to help make meaningful changes and improve mental and physical wellbeing

Under the Bridge Activities 
Since establishment, the group have taken part in sessions in the water such as cold water dips and swims at Spring Lakes Water Sports Centre, and the group also take part in regular wild swims assisted by trained swim instructors from Bluetonic. 

Sessions delivered on the water have included a range of watersport activities such as kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and wakeboarding. Keen to connect with local water-based groups and organisations, the Under the Bridge group have also visited the Long Eaton Sailing Club for introductory sessions around the Trent Lock Area.

Activities around the water range from a vast selection of creative arts and music-based activities, mental health and mindfulness activities and group walks that explore surrounding blue water spaces and bridges, while taking part in light touch wellbeing and mental health activities.

Working alongside external practitioners, we also schedule regular introductory mindfulness and wellbeing activities. These sessions are crucial to offer people attending the sessions activities and techniques that they can take away and utilise outside of the project.

Music plays a huge role within our Under the Bridge Project. The original seed of the project design grew from my exploration of sonic qualities of various bridges around the Erewash waterways. When I met Scott Clayton from Bluetonic we were passionate about establishing the Under the Bridge Choir - an amateur choir that takes part in taught Choir sessions underneath a variety of Bridges delivered by Edward Reisner. 

Our choir is at the heart of everything we deliver and we have even held a number of public performances where the community is invited to come along and sing along with our group under bridges in various bluewater spaces.

We have also scheduled a number of music jam sessions within our Men’s Circle Talking Groups around campfires and we arrange sessions where we invite contemporary musicians to join our group for a session of bridge exploring; artists such as Dusty 4 Track, Frazer Lowrie and Daudi Matsiko have performed for our group.

The project has been gratefully funded through the National Lottery Community Fund, East Midland Railway Community Fund and most recently we were awarded a year's funding through the People’s Project. This funding has enabled us to grow our group and also deliver quarterly residential sessions and host our own community events.

Moving Forward
We are currently halfway through our year’s program funded by the People’s Project. We have a schedule packed full of sessions in, on and by the water led by professional arts, music and outdoor specialists. 

Moving forward our focus is to continue making connections with local support services to continue to build our group. We want to develop the people engaging with our sessions and upskill them to become active volunteers and community leaders.

Within our newly launched Spring Schedule we have cold water swims, choir sessions, outdoor bouldering sessions and an exciting surfing residential in Scarborough planned. We will also be holding our own community bridge walking festival, where the audience members will get to see a range of musicians performing, with a grand finale performance of the Under the Bridge Choir.

The huge ambition at the end of this funding is to host a performance with 100 males singing together in a performance underneath the Trent Lock/Sawley Bridge, the home of the Under the Bridge Choir.

Sign up!
Our project is about preventing the likelihood of getting to a place where you feel isolated, so you don’t have to have a mental health problem to join in. All of our sessions are free to attend and delivered mainly around the Erewash Area, with some sessions further afield but transport can be arranged.

If you are aged over eighteen, male, and are looking to meet new people, take part in new activities and positively improve your mental health - then sign up to The Under the Bridge Project.


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