A Midsummer Sunrise

Published: 19 June 2023

Some updates from the Spring & Summer 2023, with a look ahead to plans for Autumn.

When we wrote our last post, we had just finished the last of our workshops in the Wintering Well workshop series and we were beginning to plan a final celebratory event – The Light of Spring. It was a joy to gather one more time with our participants to mark the end of our journey together through the winter. We were joined on the day by GP and author Gavin Francis, who shared some reflections on challenges and opportunities for helping people weather the darker months – as well as his own experiences studying patterns of sleep and sleep disruption in the arctic. We closed the day with a reading of the final draft of a collective manifesto, woven together from our participants’ reflections, comments and questions throughout the workshop series by our creative partner, the artist and poet Alec Finlay. The poem-manifesto – in keeping with our approach across the whole of the workshops – was an expression of acknowledgement. The nods, smiles and laughs from all corners of the room during Alec’s reading showed that participants felt heard and, as one participant pointed out, that our time together had been happy, cathartic and warm, despite the hardships of the season.

Participants of the workshop series gather together for a meal under a pavillion.

Since closing out the workshops series, the research team has turned its focus on analysis and writing. Besides the data from our national SAD survey, we now have transcriptions from 31 entry and exit interviews with workshop participants, as well as a further 16 life narrative interviews with individuals who were unable to take part in the workshop series. We also have access to 8 winter diaries maintained by workshop participants across this past winter. Together, the data provide a rich, detailed and multifaceted picture of lived experiences of SAD. We’re still very much in the early days of analysis, but we’ve already made one incredibly positive discovery in the winter diaries: time and again, our participant were jotting down evocative phrases and queries, book recommendations and words of encouragement shared by other participants. It’s evidence of something we had witnessed all along, that our participants learned and benefited so much from listening and talking with each other, far more than what we could have hoped to offer on our own!

In a recent advisory group meeting, we discussed how beneficial the group experience was for helping with a response to SAD feelings, as these are usually very isolating. Besides the academic articles we’re developing (on the cultural geographies of SAD; on the challenges of ‘biosolidarity’; on seasonal lived experience), this has led us to begin developing an online resource for individuals and groups who would like to organise their own wintertime workshop series. This resource will be a flexible and adaptable ‘toolkit’, allowing would-be organisers to pick and choose which elements seem right for them and their group. One thing we learned this past winter was that informal gatherings – for a stroll in the Glasgow Botanics, a coffee or a visit to a museum – were often the source of supportive and open discussions of winter hardships. The challenge, as one participant put it, is finding a group that ‘gels’ – and we’ve been so delighted to see ours grow together so quickly. Recently, we even received the warming news that participants have carried on meeting, coordinating a new Wintering Well Facebook group and mailing list! The workshops may be over but wintering well – and even summering well! – carries on. This is what we - as academics - would call ‘biosocial’ community-making, and we'll be glad if we can help others do the same.

A close-up photo of a tag to be sewn into clothes which has the phrase

At present, our team is preparing for two other major project outcomes. One is an online module under development by Living Life to the Full, which draws on the data we’ve collected form our workshop series, interviews and survey. LLTTF is a major provider of online mental health resources and support used by the NHS and this new module will add resources for those struggling with wintertime lowered mood and SAD. The second is a public event scheduled for 28th October, 2023: this will be an occasion to share our new resources and research findings with the public, as well as to launch the new LLTTF module in preparation for the following winter.

But for now, winter is a long way off. We are approaching the midsummer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It’s a date that can sometimes cause anxieties for some, but it’s also a date worth celebrating – to remind ourselves to savour the light and to live our summers to the full.

First published: 19 June 2023