The Dragon Café was opened on Borough High St, London, in October 2012, founded on experience of mental health service environments, and looking to create an alternative social model of creative interaction. It is a safe space with good value, freshly prepared, vegetarian food, art on the walls and free wellbeing activities ranging from dance to drawing, massage to mindfulness, singing to song-writing and much more besides. The Café is non-judgemental, open to all with no need for diagnosis, referral or a specific postcode. Open every Monday between 12 and 8.30 pm the aim is to help people reconnect after the weekend and start the week well. Each week on average 200 guests visit, many experiencing severe isolation in their day to day life.
The Café’s programme is different every week and each day leads to an evening event which includes performance, panel discussion, artist’s presentation, film screenings and all incorporate space for an open group discussion.
All of our events are free and accessible without prior booking. We adopt the same approach to our creative activities which means that if someone can make it that’s great, if they can’t, no problem, and no pressure.
Audience members are free to move or leave the room at any time but are reminded to be mindful of the space and other people’s engagement with the event.
In the introduction any particularly challenging elements will be highlighted but we are also aware that we have an audience with a wide-variety of experience and so any individual may find things triggering that are not instantly obvious. We always give time for response and discussion so that films can be further explored and responses shared, if someone is not comfortable sharing to the room then a sympathetic ear is offered after – or during if needed – by one of the team as we do not want guests to leave burdened.
Short films form a large part of our film programme and can often then be presented with the filmmaker present which we find adds great value to the experience. Feature films can be a challenge depending on running times, as the discussion element is a vital part of the experience.
Creating a safe non-judgemental space means that the audience feel comfortable in relating their own experiences to films presented, and adds great authenticity and insight to discussions. Filmmakers and artists who share their work in the space also feel the support of this environment and value of the responses.
Drawing the Line Film Night: Two short films about the family experience of living with mental health. ANGELS AND GHOSTS by Sara Kenney – award winning animation narrated by Samantha Morton; BLUE GREY by Zoe Kinross – a personal portrait by a daughter about her mother. Both filmmakers attended and took part in open discussion.
Ripple Effect – Sharing Visions from LCC: We welcomed Sal Anderson and participants from an innovative London College of Communications (LCC) photography and filmmaking project that aims to be a sustainable collaboration, supporting and celebrating the art and work of those with lived experience of mental health issues. We heard about the project, the experiences of the participants and how it has impacted on their work, and viewed the films as works in progress with an invitation to responses.
‘Abandoned Goods’ – Treasures from the Adamson Collection: A rare screening of ‘Abandoned Goods’, a short essay film about the extraordinary collection of artworks created by patients detained in Netherne psychiatric hospital between 1946 and 1981. The film was introduced and followed by a Q&A with Dr David O’Flynn; psychiatrist, advocate for arts and mental health, Chair of both the Adamson Collection Trust and of the Bethlem Gallery, and Patron of the Brixton-based urban music project Raw Material.
RE:CREATE Psychiatry* presents the Films of Bethlem: Through films created by Bethlem artists, navigate the site of Bethlem Royal Hospital through the moving image to explore mobility and constraint, movement and landscapes, and the intricate complexities, contradictions and tensions felt when looking for a path to recovery in a psychiatric institution. Films followed by a Q&A. All mental health professionals and those with lived experience welcome.