Words by Abi Scaife
After spending all her life in social care and charity work, Helen Aitchison couldn’t get away from her need to help others.
Even during the Covid-19 pandemic – when the social care sector was pushed to its limits and Helen turned to writing to process the grief and burnout she felt – she knew this was something that could help others, too.
“I started writing this book as an escapism from my day job,” explains Helen, of her first novel, The Dinner Club. “I worked all through Covid, we set up new services during Covid. It was such a horrendous time for everyone. And I wanted something for me because I just felt depleted.
“I began writing as a stress release, and it became something quite sacred.”
It was this escape into writing that led Helen to set up Write on the Tyne, a CIC designed to help people from marginalised communities find their voices and give people an outlet for their emotions. Studies have shown that writing is great for your mental health, whatever form it comes in, and it's this that Helen is trying to encourage within the people come to her.
“Write on the Tyne is all about getting people's voices heard and stories told,” explains Helen. “It's very much focused on people who may struggle or may not feel comfortable going to an educational institution like a college or university.
"For me, it was about the marginalised voices, getting people to express themselves, and understanding that we've all got a narrative and our narrative is important.”
As well as mentoring people from marginalised communities and helping them to succeed and improve their wellness, Helen helps to record stories of other communities too.
“In November 2022, I wrote my first commissioned piece which was a book of local veterans' stories,” says Helen, who collaborated with CIC Operation Veteran on the project. “The profits of the book go back into Write on the Tyne and Operation Veteran and it's just been a wonderful legacy for some of these people who have never spoken about their time.”
From recording the voices of women in deprived communities, to working with recovery charities to document stories of recovery from addiction, Helen is determined to shine a light on the stories of people that are often forgotten.
Write on the Tyne runs a range of sessions available for people to take; but perhaps the most important one is the Writing for Wellbeing course. Thanks to her work in the social care sector, Helen is DBT (dialectial behaviour therapy) trained, something she uses in her sessions to help people use their writing as a way to process their emotions in a productive way.
“In these techniques that people use, like journalling and using a diary … it works really well for people to acknowledge that they're going in the right direction,” Helen explains. “So it's a very, very positive form of expression. But also, it's something for that person that can complement any medication, any actual therapies or counselling services. It can work really well.
“There's a real empowerment with writing, sharing and supporting one another and connecting as a community group as well.”
Helen’s writing courses are designed to help people blossom and grow, helping them to feel more confident, more capable, and more comfortable in their own skin.
When writing became an outlet for her own grief and frustration, she knew that she could share that with other people - especially those who may not have access to resources like college or university courses, or even therapy.
“I want these groups in society to be able to talk and to share and to inspire.”