Festival wall aims to encourage gratitude brick by brick

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A ten-day biannual festival bringing to life research across science, art, culture and engineering will kick-off in Sheffield next week. Laura Drysdale reports.

Caught up in everyday life and the challenges it can bring, it isn’t always easy to stop and remember all we can be grateful for.

Barry Hines in 1970

Barry Hines in 1970

But, brick by brick, researchers at the University of Sheffield are hoping to change that, by unveiling a temporary Wall of Gratitude in the city.

“Life can be extremely challenging,” says Dr Fuschia Sirois from the University’s Department of Psychology, who is leading the project.

“But we hope that the Wall of Gratitude in Sheffield will help people to think about the things in their life that are positive, which can then be harnessed to help improve their mental health and wellbeing.”

People will be encouraged to take notice of the things around them for which they are thankful and share them in a personal message in a block on the wall. Messages in all languages are invited, to represent the city’s diverse international population.

Notes of gratitude will also be projected onto some of the city’s landmark buildings and will be available on a website for people to view and share with friends and family.

“Research has found that taking the time to notice three things to be grateful for each day over a two week period can have beneficial effects for people’s wellbeing that can last for up to six months,” says Dr Sirois.

“People who invest time in being more grateful usually enjoy better quality sleep because they have fewer negative sleep disturbing thoughts before they go to bed and they also experience lower levels of stress and depression, even amongst those who live with painful chronic health conditions.”

The wall, which will be on display from September 20 to 27 at the Millennium Gallery, will be unveiled as part of the city-wide Festival of Mind, showcasing the university’s research in science, art, engineering and culture.

From an augmented reality experience of a long-lost medieval castle to live demonstrations of science with music, 3D animations and graphics, the festival will include interactive events, talks and performances.

Artist Pete McKee will highlight the stigma older people often experience when it comes to being open about sex and intimate relationships through an exhibition, whilst the 50th anniversary of the best-known work of Barnsley-born author Barry Hines - A Kestrel for a Knave - will be celebrated with a series including art installations and a talk about the writer, the focus of research at the university.

The first ever public performance of the world’s first English novel Beware the Cat - a little known controversial story of magic, satire and religious freedom written in the 16th century during a time of political and social change, will be among other highlights.

“Festival of the Mind is a chance for people to explore some of the latest pioneering research that is being conducted at the university alongside some of the city’s most talented artists and creative professionals,” explains Professor Vanessa Toulmin, founder of the festival and Director of City and Culture at the university.

“Sheffield is rapidly developing a reputation throughout the UK and overseas for being a hub of inclusion, creativity and collaboration and it’s festivals such as this that give us an opportunity to showcase some of our latest work to the public and visitors to the region.”

It will be the fourth time the bi-annual festival, which attracted more than 50,000 visitors in 2016, has taken place.

Supported by Sheffield City Council, the Moor Markets and the University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union, it will run from September 20 to 30.

For more information, visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/fotm