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Understanding the strengths of community 

By Lara Pickford-Gordon


The ‘East Dry River Community Pride Creative Workshops’, a series of workshops over eight weeks exploring how strong community identity can help promote well-being and protect the mental health of community members, will begin February 21 in the Massy Trinidad All Stars (TASSO) panyard, Duke Street, Port of Spain.

Participants in the area 25 years and younger and 26 years and older are invited to be part of the workshops.

Studies have found that community belonging is strongly associated with mental health, and social cohesion has positive effects by lessening the effects of isolation and depression.

“If you feel socially connected, you know people, you have a shared identity, sense of belonging, that’s one of the things that can promote good mental health”, said mental health researcher Dr Tessa Roberts of Queen Mary University, London.

Speaking to The Catholic News at the TASSO panyard on February 7, Dr Roberts explained the context for the initiative. She said, “I did a study a couple years ago where I interviewed people with a diagnosis of some form of psychosis in various different neighbourhoods across the island.”

Issues of violence, security, and crime came up, but people also mentioned positive things like community and belonging. This was part of a three-year postdoctoral fellowship funded by the British Academy in which she is conducting three studies about neighbourhoods and mental health in Trinidad. It builds on the five-year study Intrepid II (International Research Programme on Psychoses In Diverse Settings) which involved India, Nigeria, and Trinidad.

Professor Dr Gerard Hutchinson, Professor of Psychiatry, University of the West Indies was the principal investigator for Trinidad.

She said the study found significant variations in neighbourhoods, that “living in particular areas can be protective or increasing your risk of mental health problems”.

The rate of psychosis was four times higher for persons living in Port of Spain when compared with rural areas. Dr Roberts became interested in finding out what was happening in communities that contributed to risk or protection.

She said, “We’re starting from the standpoint that researchers don’t have all the answers”. They will be facilitating the process to learn from the community.

Dr Roberts commented that the East Dry River community has been historically marginalised and disproportionately impacted by crime, and trauma, but has a strong cultural heritage and shown creative excellence.

“We wanted to work with All Stars because it’s such a great example of being in an area that has a particular reputation that is often this negative story but is also an incredible success story of community, of creating a sense of pride, belonging and identity and is actively looking to reach out to the wider community,” Dr Roberts said.

Band members and persons from the community are being invited to co-design community-led initiatives that promote mental well-being in the community. Dr Roberts said it is shifting the thinking from focusing on mental illness among individuals to what is happening at the community level.

“So much of our mental health is tied up with our social connections. And that is I think where there is real potential to do community level work but it needs to come from the community.”

Dr Roberts said she is collaborating with TASSO, Professor Hutchinson, research psychologist Joni Lee Pow; social innovator and advocate for mental health, Maria O’Brien, of the Mindwise project; Technical Consultant in Human Behaviour and Strategic Communication, Sarlorne Mc Donald of Jabulous, and Karline Brathwaite, drama therapist, Ministry of Health.

“The plan is to facilitate a sort of structured conversation over eight weeks where we’re gonna be focusing on strengths, asset-based community development. So, start from what’s  strong, not what’s wrong and try and build on what is there and what already exists. That is why All Stars is such a great hub,” Roberts said.

They will assist people to collectively design strategies to help their communities tackle the issues they identify. “What we hope will come out of this, out of the eight weeks, people will have grown in confidence, grown in skills together as a network and have produced a plan for what they would like to see happen,” she said.

Dr Roberts said she is bringing the “research approaches” but Brathwaite and Mc Donald will devise the  “creative” ways to engage the people using theatre, drama etc.

Another outcome hoped for is the emergence of local leadership because as Roberts said, the solutions should not be driven by the researcher.

From ‘liming’ in the panyard since January 15 and informal conversations with band members she discerned “a bit of a generational divide”; there are the older members who are au courant with the history of the band and its cultural heritage and the young persons with a “different mindset”.

Roberts explained, “What works with one is not necessarily gonna work with the other group, so we’re hoping to recruit about 10 to 15 of the younger group and 10 to 15 of the older group and to start off with, we’re gonna run the sessions separately to make sure everyone feels comfortable so we can design activities appropriately to connect to different groups and help people to find their voice”. The groups will be brought together later for “intergenerational dialogue”.

A recurring comment from the conversations is community identity and knowing the history. “You can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’re coming from,” Roberts said. She added that part of creating social cohesion and connectedness is about connecting people to their heritage and to the history of the band and pride in its strengths and how these emerged from the community.

Depending on what develops at the end of the sessions, the facilitators will assist the community with evaluating their initiatives, accessing resources, and connecting with policy makers.

TASSO Public Relations Officer Stacy-Ann Patrick said the band has been supporting the transformation of Port of Spain. She pointed to the band’s acquisition of the site housing the panyard and adjacent property and ventures undertaken promoting entrepreneurship. The band is celebrating 90 years next year.

“We have an academy where we are teaching children and young adults and retirees how to play the instrument, how to understand the instrument.” The band is also doing the School in Pan programme with the Catholic Education Board of Management.


Sessions will run from February 21 on Wednesdays 4.30 – 6.30 p.m. for under-25 and Saturdays 2 – 4 p.m. for senior residents.


Email or WhatsApp 1-868-493-3221 to sign up.