National disability charity United Response and Bristol-based poet, Rogan Wolf, are delighted to launch two new collections of poetry, written with, by and about people with learning disabilities and mental health needs. The two collections will be on display at “Dignity and Light” a free-of-charge exhibition at Paintworks Gallery in Bristol, from 5th to 8th October.

The first collection, “Bridges to learning disability”, aims to challenge the stigma that exists around having a learning disability and is drawn from Rogan’s own experiences of learning disability through his late sister, Kim, and from conversations with people supported by United Response, their families and supporters. The second collection, “Bridges to Self at Sea”, brings together voices and experiences from over many years to create a positive dialogue around mental health. Both collections aim to provide a connection to those who are too often left in the shadows and on the fringes of society and to improve awareness and understanding.

The new collections are extensions of the highly acclaimed, “Poems for...” project which has been running for 15 years, initially  under the supervision of the Poetry Society. “Poems for…” aims to celebrate diversity in all forms, and to embrace difference through poetry.  The “Poems For…” collections were previously funded by the Arts Council, the Foreign Office and many others.  The new mental health collection “Bridges to Self at Sea” has been funded by the Central London Clinical Commissioning Group.

To mark the launch, United Response will also be publishing a book of all the poems from both collections, which will be available at the exhibition and online.

United Response’s Director of Policy and Communications, Diane Lightfoot, said:

“We are delighted to be able to both exhibit and publish a book of these new collections of poetry, and to have been able to work with Rogan over the last three years to support this project to come to fruition. Dignity and Light builds upon United Response’s long history of collaborative creative projects that aim to raise awareness and build understanding of what life is like for a person with a disability or mental health need. Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, always thought-provoking, the collections presented here aim both to portray people with dignity and respect. We hope that they inspire people to challenge their own views and to gain a new perspective on learning disability and mental health.”

Rogan Wolf, a former mental health social worker, has curated both collections, as well as writing a number of the poems himself.  He said:

“‘Self at Sea’ comes from experiences and encounters in my professional life as a mental health social worker. It records the voices of many people. ‘Bridges to Learning Disability’ is partly a tribute to my late sister Kim, who had Down’s syndrome, but this collection too is the result of many conversations and much listening, in this case mostly with people connected to United Response. I think both collections are eloquent and I hope that they increase real understanding and that schools will use them.”

The exhibition has been timed to coincide with National Poetry Day, on 8 October and World Mental Health Day, on 10 October – the themes of which this year are “Light” and “Dignity” respectively.

The book produced by United Response to accompany the exhibition and new poetry collections, will be available on their website either to read online or order in hard copy. The poetry will also form a collection on the official “Poems For…” website.

We encourage as many people as possible to attend this free exhibition.  Visitors will be able to take away the poetry collections in the newly created book. (The first poem from each collection are attached – “Shall we go for a walk” and “Bell-ringing”).