Project Dare, Body image and confidence workshops – for and by service users

Project Dare got off to an excellent start in 2019. The first ‘LGBTQIA+ Dare Sessions’ * are well under way with 16 students taking part in the 12 week course, which is being run in conjunction with the Recovery College (SLaM).

The course, which was designed by LGBT service users with Project Dare founder Ursula Joy, aims to nurture confidence and a positive body image.

Project Dare sessions with girl guides and with those over 60 are also fully booked. “We are currently taking bookings for the Autumn,” says Ursula, “ if you work with an organisation who would like to add an innovative drama project to its offer, get in touch.”

2018 success

Project Dare has gone from strength to strength – nominated for an Innovation in Lambeth award in the NHS Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group 2018 Lammy Awards last September. The awards recognise those that go the extra mile to provide exceptional health and care services in the borough. Project Dare also collected a healthcare innovation award from the Health Innovation Network.

To focus on the young people theme of World Mental Health Day last October the project ran a body confidence and female empowerment session for 75 students at North London’s Latymer Grammar school.

« The school contacted us as they wanted to have some outside facilitators come in and inspire the girls to enjoy confidence and being their authentic selves,” says Ursula. The teachers said “the students were engaged and enjoyed themselves, it was great for them to work with different people and they saw some lovely interactions from the girls, which they would love to see more of – but because of exam stress and other worries, they don’t often get the time to enjoy just looking after each other. It was great to have a workshop where the ladies just talked about being confident.  They often forget this and just need to be told it’s important. The atmosphere was nurturing and supportive and we need more of it”.

The journey so far…

“All of our participants have moved from ‘below average’ wellbeing and body image psychological scales to ‘average’ levels,” says Ursula, speaking proudly of those taking part in the Body image and confidence (Body Adoration) workshops she has been running since 2013.

While the figures and outcomes (see below) pack a powerful punch, it is the shapeshifting and creative qualities of its inventor (acting, peer support, comedy, cabaret and science, to name but a few) that make this project so Daringly different.

At its heart, Project Dare “smells of lavender, sometimes vanilla, it is a calm, focused, loving place where all are equal. It tastes of the future and sounds like the welcomes and greetings you receive when you visit home…”

At ‘home’ in Lambeth, South London, Ursula outlines the visionary Project Dare, a not-for-profit social enterprise she has built on her lived experience of mental health and vast archeology of her life. Her mission… “to help people feel better in their own skin so they can move forwards with their lives”.

The project has reached hundreds of young people and adults, including those with mental health issues and unemployed. Its first impact assessment/report in 2016 whet the appetite of those working in mental and public health and education.

“Everyone taking the workshops moves from below average to normal/average on wellbeing and body image scales, says Ursula, “and average levels of self esteem shift to normal by week six of the programme.”

“I am more confident to try new things. My body is beautiful, I can reclaim my sexuality after years of abuse, ” says one Darer, in a moving testimonial.

Says Ursula: “What surprised us most is that our groups report feeling more sociable and have more ability to do daily tasks and work, moving from ‘severely impaired’ to significant/moderate categories on Project Dare measures.

“Also, half of those taking part want to give something back by volunteering, others want to stay in touch or recommend Dare sessions to their friends.”

At a time when statistically obesity, self-harm in young women and suicide in men is on the rise in the UK, Project Dare nurtures positive relationships with body, food and mind.

“Each of us have a special body and you realise you don’t have to do a lot…” says Nina, in a moving testimonial about the workshop, see Social Impact report below.

Call to action

Ursula calls on commissioners to seize the opportunity and recognise the community value and social impact of the project and invest in it further to make it more sustainable and able to be scaled up.

“I find theatre, arts, group work and collaboration with people with lived experience within mental and public health changes lives, ” she says. “At Project Dare we’re proud to be able to provide the environment for people to feel empowered to make changes on their own, long after the course has completed. As a former patient of both primary and secondary health services, I have had a very difficult journey managing my personal wellbeing. I am currently working full-time and founded Project Dare Body Adoration based on my passion to make a difference and I’m building the project around my current work commitments. The program has excellent outputs and a queue of hopeful candidates waiting for a place on the course.”

Project Dare inspires by setting participants ‘dares’ to do each day, which help build resilience. When individuals are inspired they can live full lives, both mentally and physically. For the most marginalised, being able to nurture a positive body image and positive mind gives people confidence to access health services, education, to become more sociable and reconnect to their community and job opportunities.

Big 3 outcomes

Project Dare exemplifies the Lambeth Living Well Collaborative (and the now Living Well Network Alliance) ethos to address people’s issues in the community, with their GP or groups/ activities that help them to become more resilient; the aim to meet the Collaborative’s big 3 outcomes for people

To recover & stay well
To make their own choices
Participate on an equal footing in daily life.

Ursula has been part of this innovative journey (she is represented at the Living Well Open Mornings, held every few months at Mosaic Clubhouse, 65 Effra Road, Brixton.)

As well as the recent award from the Health Innovation Network, Ursula received a small Lambeth Clinical Commisioning Group Innovation grant and support to incubate and grow the project, and has also been funded by the London Community Foundation (Building Communities in Coldharbour initiative). The Foundation’s Victoria Warne said Project Dare has an extremely positive effect on the mental and physical health of Darers (participants) and their families at a time when “people’s relationships with food and their bodies are often at the forefront of everyone’s mind”.

It’s about people living their lives to the full,while working creatively to prevent people reaching crisis point when they may need the support of secondary care. A mental health bed costs approximately £450 a day, while Project Dare workshops cost from £425 per person for six weeks. “It’s cost effective and has a proven track record of restoring people’s self esteem,” says Ursula.

Laura Williams, Assistant psychologist and counsellor (South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) was impressed by a safe and creative space where everyone was valued in the workshops; ‘the emphasis was on personal freedom and expression’ and as sessions progressed ‘individual personalities, opinions and experiences shone through’.

A daring future

2019 is looking like Project Dare’s best year yet. They are writing a book and designing an online course to further their reach-out into communities. With their ground-breaking project for the LGBTQ+ community and other adjacent projects planned, which include professional development for teachers on inspiring confidence and body confidence via drama and the arts. Ursula is working with Queen Mary’s masters’ students, providing places for them to train whilst studying their Arts & mental health MA. Ursula herself is on her way to achieving the body confidence coaching qualification from the Institute of body confidence coaching. The future for project dare is looking really, well – Daring…

Professional advice
Project Dare offers a myriad of routes to clients, the community and professionals.

Clients can use their personal budgets or other types of funding to pay for their place on a course.

People can be referred by their GP, charities, or they can self-refer for a concessionary place, if they are not receiving support from their local health authority

Healthcare Professionals can either:

Book a full course for up to 15 people – for their clients/team… OR
Refer individual clients onto courses that run throughout the year.

For more information visit
Click here to read the Social Impact Report.

*The letters LGBTQIA refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied.

Karen Hooper

One thought on “Project Dare, Body image and confidence workshops – for and by service users

  1. Hi Ursula,
    Its Geoff from the project dare of a couple of years ago I’ve been meaning to get in touch for some time now just to see how you are.
    I’m moving soon to my own self contained flat in Brixton behind mosaic club house I shall be moving in the new year well anyway I hope you are ok,
    Take care. Regards Geoff 07538504163

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