4 min read

Same Sea, Different Boats: A Programme Creating Space for Wellbeing

Springboard Trust has an incredible network of tūao / volunteers, who dedicate so much of their time to supporting tumuaki across the country. But for many of them, our programmes are just one of many ways in which they give back to our communities.

Vanessa McHardy is one such volunteer. Having returned to Aotearoa from the UK at the end of 2020, she leapt at the opportunity to work with Springboard Trust – particularly as it was such a good complement to her own Same Sea, Different Boats programme (Ngā waka rerekē kei roto i te moana) for schools.

Bringing the learning to Aotearoa

A trained psychotherapist and counsellor who has worked in schools for more than 20 years, Vanessa has spent eight years running the Life Skills for Mental Health and Wellbeing programme, winning awards for her How Are You Feeling communication system. In addition to that she developed What Happens at the Point of Not Understanding, a researched programme delivering great results for children, notably those who are neurodiverse. Stemming from this, Vanessa developed the Same Sea, Different Boats programme to support school communities with their wellbeing in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a programme about space, really – giving teachers, students, the whole community the space to process their feelings and stressors in their own way. We bring in some scientific work around neuroscience and information about our stress responses, help with therapeutic ways of dealing with that, and have an big historic element where participants record their responses in a more permanent way.”

For many schools who have taken part in the programme, that has taken the form of a combined quilt, with pieces created by each student that express their feelings about the current situation – the often-intangible made real and permanent. As Vanessa explains, the output from these exercises can be incredibly far-reaching.

“Even just over the course of one hour, the very first session often, you see the physical change in people as they come away with tools for supporting themselves from a wellbeing perspective. Individuals start to acknowledge and address the smallest things, like drinking enough water, that haven’t been given space because they’re so focused on others.”

“That all builds to this wonderful collective sense of yes, we need to look after each other and ourselves, and having the space to do that safely.”

This sense of space is a common refrain in feedback on Springboard Trust programmes as well. School leaders are often so tied up in their roles or the daily operations of a school that dedicating time and space to something – be it their response to COVID-19 or their annual plan – can radicalise the way they think about it in the day-to-day.

A change in perspective

Bringing the Same Sea, Different Boats a programme from the UK to Aotearoa was a distinct shift, but one that Vanessa has thoroughly enjoyed.

“Obviously, the countries have had two very different responses to the pandemic – and often in ways that we don’t acknowledge. There’s policy-level approaches yes, but also the granular cultural ones. For example, I’ve found that here compared to the UK there’s a lot of intensity, a lot of pressure on you when you do get COVID-19. It’s something that might change over time, but it creates another level of stress for something that, in a lot of ways, we don’t have control over.”

“There are a lot of cultural similarities though – the toughen up approach, that overwhelming sense of fatigue about the pandemic, that it’s time to move on. If we move on without processing our feelings that will come at great consequence to our mental health and wellbeing, which is why I think Same Sea, Different Boats is so important. It provides simple opportunities for people to share, connect and really chart a path for their own wellbeing through a therapeutic lens, which from trauma work we know is essential for being able to move forward with confidence.”

What is felt and expressed is let go of… then we are free to live in the now”

Whakamaheatanga atu õu whīra Katahi ka pai te ora a mãtou īnaianei

With the programme now supporting workplaces as well as schools, Vanessa is loving being able to deliver space and connection to a variety of communities around Aotearoa – the key, she explains, is keeping it simple.

“With wellbeing, and especially wellbeing in schools where everyone is strapped for time, is making the takeaways simple and quick. With this programme, we’re encouraging people to find the activities that fit them. It’s meditation, it’s connective tissue exercises, it’s a phone call – but most importantly, it’s remembering to take the time for those.”

“The principals and teachers I’ve worked with both in this programme and through Springboard Trust have so much love, and I don’t think people outside education really comprehend the amount of love they are giving to communities. They need the space to talk, to feel, to breathe!”

The Same Sea, Different Boats / Ngã waka rerekë kei roto I te moana programme is available for both schools and workplaces – if you’d like to find out more about taking part, you can get in touch with Vanessa at lighteducationtraining@gmail.com, and visit Same Sea Different Boats or Light Education Training.

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