Actress Amanda Root on her ‘British Citizen Award’ and her charity Talitha Arts
Flo: So, Amanda; last year you were one of 30 people to be nominated and then awarded a British Citizen Award. An award given to a select group of people from all over the UK, who work tirelessly and selflessly in the aim to better our society. The award was given to you for your work with ‘Talitha Arts’- a charity that you’ve been heavily involved with (in founding and running). A charity that recognizes and works with The Arts’ ‘healing powers’ in order to restore confidence and joy to trauma-sufferers’ and Dementia patients’ lives.
Out of interest - who nominated you for the award?
Amanda: I was nominated by a friend, actually. A friend called Alex Ghose who has been a great supporter of Talitha for sometime. It was so kind of her to acknowledge the work Talitha was doing, and to then see the British Citizen Awards do the same; well that was just amazing.
Flo: Was Alex a good friend of yours before Talitha came-about? Or did you get to know each other through working with the charity?
Amanda: We connected through the work of Talitha, yes. She’s also an artist and has donated some amazing paintings, as well as holding her own tea-party with friends and family members to raise funds for Talitha. She’s always at-hand to help. She’s brilliant.
Flo: So; when did you first start to realise that The Arts had a sort-of ‘healing’ power?
Amanda: I think I first started to realise how amazing The Arts really was, when I was quite young. I had this instinct that the ‘creative process’ would and could be a safe environment for expression and discovery. I wanted to take The Arts to those people who didn’t have the advantages that I had/have. There are so many people who need this this kind of outlet. Those who feel that they don’t have a voice, those who have been abused or maltreated, who are vulnerable, or who are struggling with ill health or life circumstances. The arts help people discover a sense of worth and value again, and a sense that there is hope beyond their circumstance. This idea then went on the ‘back-burner’, really. I got caught up in my Acting career. And then, when I reached my mid-thirties I began to think – maybe there’s something still there. And it wasn’t until later into my 40s that I actually put passion into practice.
F: So how did Talitha first come-about? Explain the early stages of founding (and developing) the charity, to me.
A: Well; the first project I embarked on before setting up Talitha Arts was an ‘arts project’ pilot, working with adults with learning difficulties. I then heard Gary Haugen speak (the American Lawyer who founded the International Justice Mission*). When I heard how they’d rescued girls who’d been trafficked in India, and saw photos of them emerging from a cave where they had been taken and beaten into submission and forced into sex work, something inside of me changed. I knew this was a place where the arts would be beneficial to help these girls rehabilitate and integrate back into their society. I wanted to help them regain a sense of their value and dignity. Soon after this; I went and met with Terry Tennens (Executive Director of IJM UK) who championed the idea, sent my proposal to IJM HQ in America (to be approved by their ‘Head of Aftercare’). It was (*hurrah*) and through Terry’s help and initiative I was then offered a pilot in Mumbai. I was out there for 3 weeks - with one other girl who was a dance movement therapist. We stayed close to a care home for girls rescued from trafficking and abuse (which was run by nuns) and we offered a whole range of activities and exercises based on therapeutic principles. The girls loved it and the project was so well received that we were immediately asked to go back again. We have subsequently taken bi annual trips to India from 2012-2016 expanding our work to serve vulnerable girls in Bolivia in 2016. We have also developed rapidly in the UK and we now work with those who have been sexually exploited, those who have experienced domestic violence and those living with dementia.
Flo: It (Talitha Arts) seems like such a simple idea, and yet, there isn’t really a charity like it, is there?
Amanda: Well there are Arts Therapists working on similar projects to Talitha, but what I think makes us unique is that our facilitators are a mix of professional actors, artists, musicians and dancers as well as arts therapists. So we combine our skills to create workshops that have a very powerful dynamic, creatively, and also retain therapeutic foundations. We work in teams of three when teaching. Talitha’s approach is based on person-centered care, and so it’s always about making sure the individual comes first. We’re not directing people; we’re helping and encouraging them to explore.
Flo: Having worked with people affected by so many different types of trauma – are there different ways you approach workshops (depending on the group of people or individual)?
Amanda: Well we do have a model of how we work. We create session plans, we have a structure, however; each individual client group definitely has its own particular needs, and to make sure we accommodate for these; we are constantly adapting work and exercises from workshop-to-workshop, yes. With trauma you have to remember that activities can trigger memories. This may result in the individual being withdrawn, or having physical symptoms, or headaches, or even feeling sick. A lot of trauma is held in the body and because of this; people can find it very hard to be present or in the moment. Creative activity engages our imagination and draws us into the present.
Flo: In an interview with Essential Surrey you mentioned that you were very keen for Talitha to work in care homes and prisons [in the future] as well as (of course) your current plans to take Talitha into schools. Why these twoenvironments? What do you think Talitha could offer them?
Amanda: I think within the context that we (Talitha) work in; we meet a lot of people who have had their sense of self-confidence compromised. Both Dementia patients and Prison inmates’ have experienced feeling worthless and irrelevant.No matter what their situation - all these people are dealing with a sense of voicelessness and powerlessness. Some are dealing with terminal illnesses, others with the ramifications of an action they’ve taken. Sometimes people feel defined by their experiences. We really try and work against this. We want people to be informed by their past but definitely not defined by it. Those in prisons and care homes need the same support and care that other trauma sufferers do. They need to feel worth and value.
Flo: And finally to end this brilliant interview – where do you see Talitha (Arts) in 20-years time? And what do you hope it will have accomplished?
Amanda: Well; firstly - I would really love us to be expanding and replicating our work across the UK. I’d love us to be training those in the care sector, helping people who work in these sorts of areas to understand how ‘therapeutic arts’ work. I’d also like Talitha to be recognized as an approach that is distinct, has an impact, and that enriches lives that have been broken by circumstance, ill-health, abuse or violence etc. I would love for people to say “hey we need the Talitha approach here” or “we need to use Talitha in our school”.
I would love our process and approach to be seen, understood and recognized for something that’s going to be very powerful in the care sector. That’s my passion.
Flo: Oh I really hope it does too. Gosh; on behalf of the Arts community (and the UK too); I want to thank you for the amazing work you’re doing Amanda. You’re working so hard to bring joy to those who have suffered, and it’s just so inspiring. You’re also doing this alongside working as a professional Actor. Do you have any spare time haha? It’s truly amazing and incredibly impressive. Thank you so much for letting me interview you this morning and I look forward to hearing more about Talitha Arts in the future.
Visit Talitha online at this address: https://www.talitha.org.uk
To find out more about the British Citizen Awards click here: http://britishcitizenawards.co.uk
Interview conducted and transcribed by Florence Hatton