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In a town once labelled ‘England’s suicide capital’, artists and activists create an arts festival that cares

In a town once labelled ‘England’s suicide capital’, artist and mental health activist takes over old Argos store to create an arts festival that cares

For the month of November,  local people are invited to be part of a ‘Madlove’ Take Over festival.

Artist the vacuum cleaner (James Leadbitter) is working with Merseyside-based social arts organisation Heart of Glass to bring 13 local, national and international artists and communities together to make exhibitions, films and new performances for a pop-up space in central St Helens aimed at supporting people’s mental health.

Artist James Leadbitter says:

“My mental health has nearly killed me…twice, so when Heart of Glass, invited me to curate a mental health themed festival in St Helens, I seized the chance. My ongoing ‘Madlove’ project is about creating unique, warm, welcoming and playful spaces where mutual care can blossom, stigma and discrimination are actively challenged.”

Fresh from his 6 month project with mental health patients at Great Ormond Street Hospital and the resulting artwork for the Wellcome Collection’s new 10 year exhibition “Being Human”,  James believes that art can have a transformative effect on supporting healthy minds and a healthy society.

Artist James Leadbitter says:

“I grew up in Burnley, a place like St Helens and many other towns across the country. The kind of place that has been left behind. By taking over the now closed Argos store and producing a colourful, exciting and welcoming space together, I hope we can create somewhere for people to go to try and re-build that sense of community that has been lost.”

Many of the artists and groups involved have struggled with their own mental health. From acclaimed Indonesian artist and activist, Hana Madness, who will cover the town in colourful bipolar monsters, to Perrier Award-winning comedian, Kim Noble, who will present his attempts to end his loneliness. Local artist, Hwa Young Jung has been having conversations across the town to  create a map of all the places in St Helens where you can experience care – from the friendly person working at the chippy to formal mental health support services. The festival will be opened by writer, artist and part-time superhero Jess Thom, aka Tourettes Hero, whose comedy show  Stand Up, Sit Down, Roll Over  proves it is possible to be both the most persistent heckler as well as the main act.

Emily Gee, Senior Producer at Heart of Glass says:

“Take Over is our annual festival that reimagines public spaces through art projects made with, for and about people in St Helens. This year we’re building on a long-term programme of work which looks at how society affects individuals’ experiences of and treatment for mental distress. This programme includes a major collaborative commission The Suicide Chronicles, led by artist Mark Storor, the first part of which features in this year’s festival. We are excited and honoured to be working with James, along with all of the artists, community groups and organisations in the creation of something very special for the Madlove Take Over.”

The Madlove Take Over space will be open for cups of tea, chats, and moments to relax and be a place where everyone can experiment and explore through the projects presented as well as organise their own activities.  It will be open 1-30 November, 11am – 6pm, Tuesday – Saturday, at the old Argos store, Unit 2, The Hardshaw Centre, Church Street, St Helens. Everything is free and everyone is welcome. #TakeOverStHelens