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Empowerment in Culture Houses

”A Culture House is a kind of platform for action, where the participants create the content. The workers are the maintainers of the platform.”

The activities of Culture House Virta are aimed at young adults aged 18-35 with a mental health challenge or other challenging life situation. Activities are based on the Culture House model, i.e. it is based on guided functional peer support. In practice, this means that the Culture House has a variety of functional groups run by trained volunteer peer tutors. The peer facilitators receive support and guidance from the Culture House staff according to their needs. The model is based on a rehabilitation approach that focuses on the person’s resources and interests rather than on the illness. It emphasises functionality over speech through community and peer interaction.

The aim is to use creative group activities to find natural tools for developing life skills and improving social capacity. The content of the groups is designed together with the peer tutors and participants according to their interests. Themes include among other things music, visual arts, crafts, games, excursions, events and exercise. The key is a creative, open and safe atmosphere. Staff support the groups, but the majority of group action is done by peer facilitators. The activities are voluntary and free of charge.

The Culture House model is participatory in its approach: anyone interested in joining is asked what they would like to do and is either directed to a suitable existing group or, if one does not exist, an effort is made to organise one. Similarly, peer tutors decide for themselves what kind of group to start running, and plan the group’s activities independently, with the support of staff if necessary.

Community spirit is an important part of the Culture Houses. Almost all the activities take place in groups, with other young people in the same type of situation. Culture House is a warm and safe environment, where young people dare to come, regardless of their difficult backgrounds and life situations.

It is a real low-threshold activity: you can come without a diagnosis or referral, and there is no form of income that prevents you from coming. It is up to the young person to decide how and in which activities to participate, and how long to stay. As the young person’s strengths increase and if he or she asks for it, the Cultural Centre will provide guidance on how to move forward in life.

The Culture House model

At the heart of the Culture House is functional peer support. It consists of three important elements: peer-to-peer support, functionality and professional support. The Culture House trains peer tutors, volunteers who want to lead their own group. The peer tutor training is a training course of about seven weeks, which covers personal resources and strengths and the basics of facilitating a group. After the training, peer tutors will lead groups or other activities according to their own interests. The Culture House groups are functional, so although they are lead by peer tutors, they do not focus on talking about mental health challenges, but on creative activities. The third element is professional support, which also plays an important role, although it is often seen as rather tacit support. Professionals consider that there are opportunities for all groups: a suitable place and time and materials available, but also provide emotional support, for example through mentoring sessions. Therefore, it can be said that Culture House is a kind of platform for action, where the participants create the content. The workers are the maintainers of the platform.

A summary of the Culture House process

1. ENCOUNTER. In the Culture House model, the attitude and the way in which the individual who applies for an activity is encountered is essential. We focus on building a relationship of trust and making the young person feel heard and cared for. The participant’s own voice is heard right from the first meeting, when we ask them what they are interested in and what they would like to do in the Culture House. Participation does not require a diagnosis or a referral, but the participant’s own experience of mental distress is enough.

2. EMPOWERMENT IN ACTION. We offer creative group activities and a sense of community – as well as the opportunity to lead your own group. All activities are voluntary. The activities focus the young person’s attention on something other than life’s challenges – we consciously shift the focus to resources and opportunities. Staff take an interest in each participant’s issues and interests, and engage in discussion through open dialogue. The aim of group activities is to strengthen social skills.

3. GUIDANCE FORWARD. We also provide individual guidance and support in life change. When the young person is ready to move on, we help them to access the services they wish to access. Most often, this means applying for an educational institution or a job, but vocational rehabilitation, rehabilitative work placement or work try-out (or internship) is also an option for many.

Values of the Culture House

1 Volunteering

All activities at the Culture House are based on volunteering. There is no referral to the Culture House and no separate contracts for participation in the activities. You will be invited to the House through an introductory visit, where you will be informed about the activities and, if you are interested, we will conduct a short initial interview, after which you are welcome to join the House whenever you want. Volunteering is also reflected in the fact that the young person decides when to come, which activities to take part in and how. They can be a group leader, an active participant or even just come to observe the group’s activities.

2 Inclusion and participation

Every participant in a Culture House is also an active participant, i.e. practically all young people take part in the group activities according to their own capacity. A Culture House is also a community, so when a young person becomes familiar with a Culture House, it often becomes a group to which he or she can belong and thus experience inclusion. Everyone also has the opportunity to contribute to the activities of the Culture House by requesting different groups, coming up with ideas and guiding and organising activities. The Culture House also has a community meeting system, which means that people come together to discuss and decide on common issues. The information flow is open and targeted to all.

3 Resource orientation

The Culture House does not set out to fix what is broken in a person but focuses on the healthy side of the young person, looking together for resources and strengths and making them visible. When young people are given the opportunity to try out different activities and work on things that interest them, they can discover new aspects of themselves and new skills. It is also proven (*annual participant survey) that many other aspects of life management are strengthened.

4 Peer support

The focus of the Culture House is on the peer tutors and when we talk about peers, the background is that the majority of people have mental health challenges or otherwise challenging life situations, but peer is also seen as a strength in the Culture House, which means that people have common interests such as playing in a band or doing art. Of course a similar experience in the background peer is also associated with a genuine encounter, walking alongside and understanding.

5 Hope

The Culture House maintains an atmosphere of hope, with a focus on recovery. Tomorrow holds the promise of a better, more meaningful life. We take small steps towards our own dreams. Many people who come to the Culture House Virta say their main hopes are to find more resilience, balance in their lives, find their own path and make new friends.