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Confetti - Your Future

The Anxiety Map Programme: A Project Working to Provide Safe Spaces Across the City for People with Anxiety Disorders

7 September 21 interview: Lilith Hudson

The Anxiety Map Programme (AMP) works to provide safe spaces across the city for those who live with anxiety or panic disorders. Founded by Claire Henson, a qualified Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead at Nottingham Forest Community Trust, the project aims to create a network of venues trained in anxiety accessibility and mental health awareness

Can you tell us a bit about AMP? What do you do?
I began building AMP in 2019. We work with venues across Nottingham who are willing to provide a safe space for anyone who’s experiencing panic or anxiety. The idea is to give people spaces within city centres to take a moment, take a breath, and use facilities if they need to, so they can then carry on with the rest of their day. From personal experience, I know that an anxiety or panic attack can derail the rest of your day if you don’t have that sort of space to go to. It’s not about avoidance behaviour, it’s not about giving people places to hide, it’s about people knowing that wherever they are in the city, they can take a break until their symptoms pass.

Where did the idea come from? 
I’ve lived with an anxiety disorder since I was a teenager and I always felt that my brain worked differently to everybody else, which meant that accessing public spaces was difficult for me. I had to think about how I would access them, what the most comfortable route was, that sort of thing. I just assumed that was the way things would always be - that the rest of the world was ‘normal’ and I was different - but, as I got older, I realised that with small changes to venues or to public transport, we can actually make public spaces more accessible to people like myself who live with anxiety disorders. 

Who are your training programmes aimed at and what do they entail?
I’m really lucky to have been trained by some fantastic organisations in mental health awareness and suicide prevention, so I’m able to offer a range of different training. This also includes my own training that I’ve written and developed which focuses on anxiety access. With the mental health awareness and the suicide prevention courses, I run open sessions that anyone can book onto. I’m also working as a consultant, so people can hire me to train their business and organisation. The anxiety accessibility training works a bit differently. It’s targeted at businesses who want to help people access their venues.

What sort of venues will be involved with AMP?
My initial idea was to start with independent businesses, but as I talked about it with more people a lot of interest came from larger scale venues; we’ve been talking about the possibility of working with leisure centres. AMP can be applied to any space. It’s not about specific places or shops, or giving venues a set policy. Instead, it’s about asking venues what they can offer, and creating an entire network of spaces. For example, if a toilet wasn’t available in one venue, they would know a venue that has one nearby. I had already internally built that network myself because I go into the city regularly. I knew spaces where I could get a few moments respite - Broadway cinema was a key location for me - and that was where the idea came from. Really, any venue who wants to be involved can. 

I know that an anxiety or panic attack can derail the rest of your day if you don’t have that sort of space to go to

What does it mean to make a public space ‘anxiety accessible’? 
Anxiety manifests in so many different ways. Personally, I can go to large scale events as long as I know I have access to the facilities I need - I will always sit at the end of a row when I go to the cinema because I know that’s safe for me - but somebody else may need additional requirements. What AMP doesn’t promise to do is cover every eventuality, there’s just too much to cover. AMP is about having open communication channels between visitors and venues so people know who to contact. People like myself who live with anxiety spend a great deal of time gathering information about places they’re going to visit in order to cover every possible outcome - it’s exhausting. Often it’s just a case of setting up those communication channels so people know where they can go or who they can ask. 

You're hoping to pilot a network here in Nottingham. How has that been going? 
Unfortunately, the pilot network has been delayed with the pandemic. I thought it was important that venues were given the time to re-open and get back on their feet after lockdown. But the idea behind it is that as venues take on the training, they will sign up to the network. I’ve been slightly overwhelmed with the response! I think that after lockdown, people have identified that anxiety will have increased, or at least become more visible. 

What are your hopes for the future of AMP?
For me, it would be to really make Nottingham the centre of the project - not just the city centre but the whole county of Nottinghamshire. While I’m only one person and I can’t cover every single location, I can provide toolkits to users to be able to plan their own maps. They can then let others know about venues that work for them. The big plan for me is to make Nottinghamshire the pilot so we can set a precedent for other cities and counties within the UK. I always have so many questions running around my head when I’m visiting a new city, and I’m not saying AMP can eradicate those fears, but it offers some security. I’ve realised we can make life better for people by building communities that incorporate anxiety accessibility.

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