Better Faces in My Time
Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and governments across the world announced nationwide lockdown measures, millions of people have been forced into quarantine or chose to self-isolate. Upended travel plans, indefinite isolation, panic over resources and general uncertainty about what the future holds, triggered feelings of severe anxiety amongst many, especially young people.
In Warwick, UK, Eleanor Beckett became acutely aware of the amount of spare time she had during lockdown. She felt lonely, restless and anxious about the future - and she knew this was the reality for so many young people in her community too. A community that was once full of life, bustling with noise and chatter came to a standstill. Many small shops closed their doors for good, grass in park grounds became engulfed with weeds and the streets were suddenly empty and silent. Eleanor and her neighbors found themselves in total isolation and it was taking a toll on their mental health.
“Mental health is an issue often discussed but where progress moves too slowly and people are made to get to crisis point before they are helped,” says Eleanor. This is why she sought to encourage young people in her community to normalize conversations about mental health and prioritize self care. Eleanor needed to find a way to encourage others to heal and connect. An artist herself, she believed in the power of art to connect people and build community. With that in mind, Eleanor created Better Faces in My Time, a Peace First project that encouraged young people to draw 'Corona portraits'.
The idea was simple, take 90 seconds of your day to put a pen to paper and either look in the mirror and draw yourself, or look at your screen and draw the friend or family member that’s on the other side of the Zoom call. You are not allowed to look at what you’re drawing or lift the pen off the paper until the time is up. The result was an uplifting activity that led to laughs, bonding and memorable drawings that Eleanor printed on postcards to distribute amongst homes in her community. The other side of the postcard would have a list of resources and advice on mental health to help young people cope with the ‘new normal.’ “Many people think of mental health and emotional wellbeing as abstract things that happen to others, but we need to reduce stigma and normalize self care; we need to come together as a community to support everyone.” notes Eleanor.
With the help of volunteers, Eleanor was able to distribute 800 postcards in her community. Better Faces in My Time has so far been featured at the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum and multiple other online exhibits. The team hosts regular online contests to crowdsource portraits and have recently created a calendar for sale on Etsy. All sale profits are donated to local charities supporting community mental health.
Reflecting on the experience, Eleanor says, “in a really uplifting way, the project has opened my eyes to the amount of people willing to spend a lot of time supporting themselves and others,” the pandemic might have brought out the worst of our fears, but also the best of our hopes. Together we can care for each other and create moments of joy, even in times of uncertainty. “The key aims of our project have been successful, encouraging more conversations about mental wellbeing in our community and increasing awareness of the agency, passion and power of young people and youth-led action to make a difference.”
Check out Better Faces on Instagram: @Betterfacesinmytime