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Public Engagement

Happy Healthy Minds: a public engagement activity at the Festival of Communities

In this blog, Giorgia Michelini and students from QMUL write about the activity they ran at the Festival of Communities in 2022. If you would like to get involved in this year's Festival the call for activities is now open.

Three young children making brains out of play doh with the help of a researcher. The brains are brightly coloured against a yellow tablecloth.

Children making brains with Play-Doh and following instructions from the demonstrator 

We often talk about mental health and well-being, particularly in relation to children, young people and families, but what do good mental health and well-being entail and why is it so important to talk about these topics?  

To answer these questions, a group of researchers and students from the School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, led by Dr Giorgia Michelini (Psychology Department), organised a public engagement activity called “Happy Healthy Minds” at the 2022 Festival of Communities.  

The Festival is an annual event to engage with the local community, which took place in Stepney Green Park and Queen Mary’s campus on 11th and 12th June 2022. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Queen Mary was not able to organise the annual Festival for two consecutive years. The pandemic affected everybody’s mental health and well-being in unprecedented ways. In light of the difficulties that many people went through, Happy Healthy Minds sought to promote awareness about mental health and encourage the wider East London community to reflect on the factors contributing to good mental health and well-being. Our activity was informed by research on mental health, psychological well-being, resilience, and the brain across different developmental stages, conducted in Queen Mary’s Psychology Department. 

What we did before and during the Festival 

In preparation for the Festival, we designed a poster to display key factors associated with good mental health and well-being (e.g., friendship, sleep, exercise, healthy food etc.), aiming to educate and encourage members of the community to take steps towards prioritising their mental health and well-being.  

The Happy Healthy Minds poster was displayed at the Festival of Communities behind our stand, which helped us kickstart conversations around mental health and well-being with the local community. To make our activity more inclusive, we translated “Happy Healthy Minds” into the main languages spoken in East London and our team comprised individuals from diverse and multilingual backgrounds. 

Happy Healthy Minds included three main activities: Well-being Board, Build a Brain with Play-Doh, and Card-Matching Game. These activities were designed to engage children and young people of different ages in various aspects of mental health and well-being. These activities were chosen to promote children’s and families’ awareness of psychological well-being and mental health, make them curious about research on these topics, and also hear their views and priorities for future research. 

Well-being Board 

This activity encouraged children to illustrate what makes them happy, taking inspiration from the Happy Healthy Minds poster. We provided them with stickers and colours to represent what they like and what makes them happy, such as playing sports, spending time with friends and playing with animals. Example well-being boards were prepared in advance to make it easier for children to visualise the aim of the activity and help them engage with it. Younger children appeared particularly drawn by our wide selection of stickers, while older children drew beautiful images and wrote about factors in their life contributing to their well-being. All children were encouraged to take their well-being boards home to remind them of what they learnt during this activity. 

Build a Brain with Play-Doh 

This activity involved creating a model of the brain using Play-Doh. Our team provided brief explanations on how different parts of the brain work to make us who we are, while showing how to assemble them into a brain shape. This activity was especially popular among younger children; while some children carefully followed the demonstrator’s instructions, others used their own imagination of what they thought a brain should look like. We were pleased to see so many children engage in this activity and observe their learning process. Children were able to take the brain they built home with them to remind them of the fun time they had building and learning about the brain. 

Card matching game 

This activity was popular among all age groups, attracting both children and parents alike. The aim of the game was to find all the matching pairs of cards by flipping two cards over simultaneously. If the cards were dissimilar, players had to flip the cards back over and try again with a new card pair. This game tested a number of cognitive skills, including short term visual memory, pattern recognition, concentration, and problem solving. There were two levels of difficulty with a different number of cards (5 and 7 pairs) to be matched. The activity was timed, and we made separate leaderboards for the two levels of difficulty, which sparked a friendly competition among the community. Children and adults attempted the activity multiple times to beat their own and each other’s timed scores. 

General observations and evaluation 

 Overall, Happy Healthy Minds engaged several hundred families over the two days of the Festival of Communities and raised public awareness of mental health and well-being. The activities were suitable for all age ranges, inclusive of different backgrounds and able to give everyone an opportunity to express themselves while learning about mental health and well-being. They also provided children with an opportunity for them to socialise with their peers while their parents/carers asked questions about our psychological research and well-being and suggested important issues for future research. By engaging with the community during Happy Healthy Minds at the Festival of Communities, it was clear that many people went away from our activity with a clearer understanding of the importance of good mental health and well-being. 

We were pleased to receive positive feedback from children and parents/carers. For instance, one parent stated, “This was a great opportunity for children to learn new things about how the brain is structured and its functions”. Another said, “This was an amazing experience for the kids. They were able to express themselves using their imagination.” Some families who engaged with our activities on both days told us that they had already followed our suggestions on how they could support their mental health and well-being. Importantly, a few parents also raised concerns about the limited access to mental health services (e.g., long waiting lists for assessment and treatment) and encouraged us to continue our research and public outreach projects to increase awareness of these crucial issues.  



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