DIALOGUE programme - Cultural Activism


Why is The Pod supporting and informing arts and cultural industry? 

The Pod is committed to rights-based solution focused practice in secondary mental health and recognises and asserts the importance of us having an authentic connection with the city, its cultural leaders, its creatives, its entrepreneurs, its change makers, and its activists. 

The Pod as both a statutory mental health resource and cultural/social activism hub has a multi-faceted remit; a common strand is that all facets either implicitly or explicitly aim to build individual/organisational and/or societal capacity for creativity, innovation, and resilience 

How has The Pod informed the cultural sector? - a quick history 

In 2010 The Pod's Collective//Pod formed with majority membership artists with experience of severe and enduring mental ill health (as associates of the Pod) and the membership was evolving. It believed that creativity challenges and infiltrates what we do and how we feel, both subconsciously and consciously. Through this relationship and collaboration with other professional artists and the creative industries on a local and international platform symbiotic and transformative relationship evolved. This was achieved through the continued development of a professional, eclectic, and thought-provoking and evolving arts programme that inspires images of possibility. 

Achievements since 2010 have included: 

  • Becoming custodian of Bob and Roberta Smith Shed and curating/programming over 30 exhibitions 

  • 30 studio residencies to new graduates at The Pod, 1a Lamb St 

  • Launch of Album with Superheroes Dream 

  • Scratch the Surface Festival 

  • World’s Film Zine ‘30sec3mins30films’ exposing radical mental health themes 

  • Four Zine Festivals 

  • Commissioning artists for Foundation masterclasses 

  • Scratch the Surface – DIALOGUE festival 

  • The world premiere of ‘Incidental’ 

  • Key delivery partners for Coventry City of Culture Trust 

Working with artists and arts institutions to include: 

  • Sam Lee 

  • Freschard and Stanley Brinks 

  • Wellcome Collection 

  • Rifle Maker (Soho) 

  • Tin Angel Records 

  • Stuart Semple 

  • Room Art 

  • Birmingham Conservatoire 

  • Warwick Arts Centre 

  • Bethlam Museum of the Mind 

  • Wolfgang Buttress 

  • Coventry Cathedral 

  • John Hegley 

  • Adamson Collection 

  • Tin Music and Arts 

  • Coventry University 

  • Bob and Roberta Smith 

  • Coventry Art Space 

  • Mental Spaghetti 

  • Broken Grey Wires 

  • Doug Tielli 

  • Martin Green 

  • Coventry Bienalle 

  • Bird in the Belly 

The Pod is cited as being a culturally impacting arts and mental health organisation in Coventry’s Cultural Strategy and was actively involved in engaging communities of interest and artists in the development of the City of Culture bid. 

The move to the new premises, 31 Far Gosford Street, in the heart of the city’s cultural quarter in 2018 and the success of partnerships/relationships forged (and lessons learnt) through the Scratch the Surface – DIALOGUE festival agitated new conversations and ideas about our work and cultural impact. With consensus it was decided that our art and cultural work is steered through/sits under the Pod's DIALOGUE programme: an evolving partnership/conversation with key cultural organisations, communities of interest, practitioners, and activists to maximise the impact of the Pod Café as a unique venue, Supper Clubs, the Zine library/Studio, the Food Union CV5 allotment and the Bob and Roberta Smith shed. 

Since opening in March 2018 as part of DIALOGUE we have: 

  • Programmed more than 30 at the CV5 allotment and two artist residencies 
  • 40 supper clubs themed to bring together ‘Artists and Activists, Environmentalists and Food Growers, Ramblers and Walkers and onwards. 
  • Four artist residencies – Anthony Stevens, Lizz Brady (Broken Grey Wires) Lauren Jane Sheerman and Alix Villanueva and Coventry Bienalle Residency 
  • Day time gigs and performances with Tin Angel Records 
  • Commissioned ‘DIALOGUE’ films made by professional artists from Coventry that have been impacted by COVID-19 
  • Supported publication of Cosy Zine and Here Comes Everyone: Green Zine (2020) 
  • Delivery partners for CHANGE festival 
  • Delivery partners and hosts of Siren Cross 
  • Hosted Artist residency programme with the inaugural and second Coventry Bienalle 

The shared table supper clubs have been hugely successful and many of the people joining us for supper have afterwards become active members of our citywide social/cultural activism programs Food Union and Time Union, Coventry. As an integral part of the Supper Clubs, we have had the opportunity to host some amazing live music through our DIALOGUE partnership with Room Art and Tin Angel Records. The whole ethos of The Pod Café (add link to the café page) supper clubs is to grow our community - we believe food is a universal language and are proud to offer a plant based shared table menu using ingredients predominantly sourced from our growing site and/or Coventry Market.  Supper Clubs are all about strengthening our unique relationship with the city, its cultural, environmental, and social activists 


THE POD was been awarded funds for underGROWTH by Coventry City of Culture Trust through the Heart of England Community Foundation. ‘The Road to 2021 Fund’. underGROWTH is a series of eco-art inter[actions] that create a unique platform for people to consider, confront and articulate issues relating to the environment: the air we breathe, the city we move through, the trees that line our streets, the weeds that breakthrough the paving slabs, the River Sherbourne as it runs through and beneath the city, the food we eat, and ultimately our human responses. 
underGROWTH aimed to awaken/radicalise how people interact with the city by cultivating common purpose, exploring wildness and unearthing and re-planting the city's radical roots. underGROWTH will enable local people to engage with eco-artists, environmental activists, food growers, scientists, and academics from across the UK. Participative in nature, the inter[actions] will creatively agitate environmental, political, and culturally motivated conversations and actions. The evaluation of underGROWTH can be found here: https://thegardenzine.co.uk/UnderGROWTH-Archive  

The Garden Zine 

The Garden is a creative collaboration between artist Alix Villanueva and Coventry-based composer Tim Seeley [co-commissioned by The Pod and Coventry City of Culture] who have co-created a visual score resonating to the sounds of nature and the movement of bird wings soaring around the CV5 Sherbourne Allotment and responsive to over 40 public submissions being woven into The Garden Zine. 
The Garden Zine, curated by Alix Villanueva, is a document that collates people’s multifaceted relationships to gardens and gardening. The idea for The Garden Zine emerged out of a residency at THE POD in Coventry for the Coventry Biennial 2019. During this time, Alix Villanueva had the special pleasure of inaugurating the CCCA Shed as a Zine Library (now a Zine Reading Room), bringing THE POD's zine collection to the Shed, as well as her own reading material for her residency. She concluded that she wanted to put together The Garden Zine for the Zine Reading Room. Gardens have been at the centre of her work for the past few years. They appeal to her as places saturated with cultural and social histories, as well as the meeting point for human and 'nature' to co-create. They are neither wild, nor domestic, perhaps both. 
The idea within the music for Tim Seeley’s Avian Garden is to create the feeling of the wings’ movement, the energy behind flight for a bird. When entering Tim Seeley’s sonic world, the listener is left to compose their own soundscape, merging the velocity of birds’ wings, the chaos but beauty of masses of birds, their conversations, and calls, with ethereal electronic sounds. 

Green Futures  

The Pod/Food Union are key delivery partners for Coventry City of Culture ‘Green Futures’ and were awarded funds to develop our programme towards the end of 2021. Allotmenteering has a proud track record in Coventry, tied to its manufacturing heritage, and activities across this green patchwork will celebrate the revolutionary benefits of growing food and being with nature. The Pod is working with internationally acclaimed artists, activists, and scientists to present a series of events designed to create a more rooted approach to the local food economy, and consider new ways to create access to healthy, sustainable food for all – a need more urgent than ever during the current cost of living crisis.  Details of the projects can be found here: https://coventry2021.co.uk/explore/the-pod/ 

Arts, Advocacy and Mental Health 

Using Film to Effect Change: Mental Health, Social Advocacy, and the Moving Image 

Based jointly at The Pod and the Film and Television Studies department at the University of Warwick, film maker Hande Çayır has joined our team for 3 years to undertake a Practice as Research PhD in Film Studies which will investigate the potential of film to represent human vulnerability in a way that counters taboo and stereotype and offers instead an ethical experience that might prove transformative for the subject of the film, most importantly, but also for the audience. This emphasis on the subject’s empowerment rather than ‘done-to-ness’ and on the audience’s attitudinal shift speaks to the growing area of academic interest in ethical film praxis (Aaron’s area of expertise). It also speaks to Eade’s and The Pod’s award-winning prioritisation of social advocacy, connectivity, and citizenship. 

Hande will be investigate this potential of film through working on and developing various film-related projects that support the Pod’s work – such as co-creating films with users/citizens about their mental health journeys – and that of Screening Rights Film Festival. Through this they will be able to further theoretical and practical understandings of the role of film in personal and social change, and its application within public health and community settings. 

Aims of the PhD: 

  • Co-create films with associates/citizens that tell their own stories in ways that are personal, authentic, unique, and reflective of the Citizen whilst reflecting the values of The Pod 

  • Explore the making and sharing of film as a transformational act as understood both through the Pod’s rights-based practice and ethical film theory 

  • Consider, and enhance, the capability of the citizen films to be applied to other areas of the Pod’s work (e.g., to agitate and mobilize change, to strengthen the citizen’s position, to support monitoring and evaluation, to support policy recommendations and new strategic thinking) and the citizen’s life (e.g., for advocacy within psychiatric consultations). 

  • Support the exhibition and impact of these films through working with Screening Rights Film Festival and developing, for example, a ‘mental health’ strand which would also involve citizens and associates in co-curation 

  • Write up the practice as research thesis that furthers understandings of film’s potential to effect personal and social change through community advocacy 

As we move forward Hande will curate the Quiet Activism page and be actively involved in the development of the Bob and Roberta Smith Zine Reading Room, she is also going to regularly contribute to key publications such a Asylum.