As part of Mental Health Awareness Week we would like to share the story behind the self-help postcards and coasters distributed freely to schools, universities and workplaces by The Cameron Grant Memorial Trust which are designed to provide comfort and help open conversations about mental health. The artist behind the beautiful artwork and messages on the materials is Churchill alumna Dr Kirsty Ferguson (U11). Our Wellbeing Coordinator Louise Ranger uses these materials in her conversations with students and you will also find them placed around the College this week and thereafter.
About the artist
Kirsty grew up in the Chilterns, north-west of London, and studied Biological Natural Sciences at Churchill from 2011 to 2015. She was initially attracted to the College by its mission in science and technology and strong community of natural scientists. When she attended the undergraduate open day, she also found the College had a very friendly, unintimidating, and forward-thinking atmosphere.
During her studies she particularly enjoyed being able to walk in the grounds and stay in the College for 3 years of her time in Cambridge as this really strengthened the community feeling. For Kirsty, Churchill felt, and still feels, like a second home, ‘there was always a friendly face around, including the porter Annie who would bring me chocolate/jammy dodgers in the library!’. Most important of all were the friendships she was able to make during her time at the College:
I felt very lucky to find people who understood me; we would meet at the bike shed to cycle to lectures together, have tea on the infamous Churchill heated windowsills, go to formals and dress up for PAV on a Friday evening. My friendships from Churchill are still very much a cornerstone of my life eight years after graduating and I consider them friends for life.
After graduating from Churchill, Kirsty moved to the University of Edinburgh to undertake a PhD studying the molecules driving cancer stem cells in an aggressive adult brain cancer called glioblastoma. Following her PhD, Kirsty worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Edinburgh for a year before starting a Research Associate position in the summer of 2021 at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute where she researches differentiation therapies for the childhood nervous system cancer neuroblastoma.
The Cameron Grant Memorial Trust
In November 2014 Kirsty’s cousin Cameron took his own life at the age of 21, after a lonely, 7-year battle with depression. Outwardly happy, successful, and fulfilled, Cameron did not reach out to anyone and his family and friends’ worlds were turned upside down by his passing. In the weeks following, Kirsty and Cameron’s grandfather Hywel George (Churchill Bursar from 1971-1990) suggested that their family set up a charitable fund to encourage open conversations about mental health and help save lives like Cameron’s. The Cameron Grant Memorial Trust aims to raise awareness of young suicide and encourage anyone suffering to speak up and ask for help by providing free wellbeing resources. The charity is embodied by the phrase, ‘there is always someone you can talk to’.
The first major project of the Trust was Cameron’s Coasters, drinks mats with personalised helpline information made to start a conversation. These are distributed freely to schools, universities, and workplaces, and are now in over three-quarters of UK universities (they are working hard on the remaining 1/4!) During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the family were thinking of more resources to distribute. Kirsty is a keen photographer and the Trust had been selling greeting cards with her photography for several years to fundraise (which are still on sale at the Churchill Porters’ Lodge!). She decided to try her hand at drawing a ‘self-care’ sketch which was then made into a postcard with helpline information on the reverse. As Kirsty explains, ‘the charity received great feedback on how these had helped people and we are continuing to add more designs, as and when we find inspiration.’
The first postcard I designed centred around the phrase ‘Self-care is not selfish. You can’t pour from an empty cup’. Having experienced depression and attended counselling myself, I wanted to encompass self-care ideas that resonate with me and would hopefully also be meaningful to others.
I keep this postcard on my fridge as a constant reminder to myself.
During 2020, Kirsty also began reading and writing poetry; she found this very cathartic, and poetry still today provides her with a great deal of comfort, ‘It provides me with an outlet to communicate my thoughts and feelings as well as helping me to be observant of my surroundings.’ This is embodied by the quote on one postcard ‘In the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed’ by Kahlil Gibran. Kirsty is now beginning to share her own poems through the postcards (such as the poem ‘it’s good to talk’) and hopes they will provide others comfort and spark more open conversations.
You can read a blog Kirsty wrote on her experiences.
Cambridge can be a stressful place, especially in Easter term, but remember to keep your perspective and make self-care part of your routine. My message to anyone struggling or unsure and considering whether to speak to someone, is do it. Talk to someone, be it your family, a friend or a professional. Life is so fast-paced and sometimes everything needs to take a back seat so you can stop, take a breath, and look after yourself.
Where to go for help
Churchill College is committed to providing support to students in various different ways to account for everyone’s personal situations. Visit our Health, Welfare and Support Hub for further information on the various resources that can be accessed by Students of the College.
Our Wellbeing Coordinator Louise Ranger, provides 1:1 Confidential support and advice to both Undergraduate and Postgraduate students for matters relating to psychological wellbeing. You may be referred to Louise via a member of staff (such as your Tutor), and you can also self-refer. Once in contact, Louise will arrange a meeting to discuss current difficulties you may be facing, answer general questions and address any other concerns you may have.
As well as our Wellbeing Coordinator we also have several College Counsellors available and the University Counselling Service. There are also resources regarding finances, disabilities, mental health and numerous self-help resources.
It’s important to remember that here at Churchill you can ask for help from anywhere. You can see your tutor, the Senior Tutor, the Tutorial Office, or you can go and talk to the Porters. The great thing about the Porters is that they’re 24/7, so at any point during the day or the night you’ve got somebody to talk to. And it might be to get signposted somewhere else, or it’s just simply a chat to see what’s going on for you. There will always be a friendly face for you.