Laverne Hunt is a versatile workshop facilitator with a diverse cultural background, blending Jamaican, Scottish, and Italian heritage. Her journey, shaped by experiences in both rural Bedfordshire and vibrant South London, led her to pursue Media & Communications at Goldsmiths University, London. Inspired by revolutionary artists, she specializes in guiding individuals through creative expression using film, art, and poetry.
Her “MY HAPPY PLACE” workshops empower participants to publish their own books, emphasizing emotional connections and the identification of a personal ‘happy place.’ Incorporating her experiences in law and film, she founded the charity “Media Community Network,” aiming to educate young people about legislation through film projects.
Laverne’s impactful work has earned her recognition, including the Tiete International Bronze Film Award and the Inspirational Woman of the Year – Power Women City Wealth Award.
With a vision for the future focused on initiatives addressing coping mechanisms for racism, she believes small gestures and resourcefulness are pivotal for those aspiring to make a positive impact in their communities.
Ultimately, Laverne advocates for the transformative power of creativity, believing it plays a crucial role in personal growth and resilience in today’s fast-paced world.
Can you tell us more about the “MY HAPPY PLACE” workshop and what inspired you to create it? What can participants expect to gain from this experience?
Upon completion, the participant will be unfazed by the prospect of publishing their own book. They will be fully briefed on cost, length, market positioning, and iteration of the product. More importantly, they will be reminded how to identify their ‘happy place’ and why everyone needs a happy place to escape to. For writer’s block, peace of mind, and a place to allow imagination to expand. To do the things you love, and often, we find being of value to others makes us most happy. I awaken passion in people.
More recently, I was inspired by an interview that Steven Bartlett had with Mo Mawgat talking about his book “Happy Solve” following the death of his son. He wanted to create a movement to encourage people to identify what makes them happy by using equations to illustrate that expectation has to be realistic; otherwise, it will cause unhappiness. In 2008, I interviewed a Harvard Professor, Nicholas Christakis, who over a 20-year study was able to map social networks of 4,739 participants, and they found happiness is contagious and used the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Index to measure happiness. It concluded that wealth, exercise, and a career did not make people happy; it was their connections, and that socially happy people lead happier lives.
As part of my recent Masters thesis I created a product called ‘My Happy Place’ which was a virtual reality experience with nature. It was in the tech for good space. I had identified a market segment and I knew the pain point. University students away from home for the first time, experiencing loneliness and chronic anxiety, suicide was at an all time high but who would pay for such treatment? I realised despite the need for the product it would take a huge injection of capital to create a library of experiences to incentivise the resistant young people to address their anxiety. I decided rather than abandon helping young people completely I would create a book publishing model that would empower young people, give them a voice but more importantly make them aware of their very own happy place.
How do you approach teaching creative pedagogy in the context of book publishing? Could you share some innovative teaching methods you use to foster creative and critical thinking skills among participants?
I encourage critical thinking. If I show them a short film/TIK TOK or news item I will invite them to think about who the audience is and who has is telling the story. Who is the producer speaking to. Look at the Who, What and Why? I will encourage them to think constructively about their hopes dreams and desires. Are they other people’s dreams or their dreams. Where are the facts in their histories. For example as a small child I owned a Petit typewriter. I was 7 years old. I have always loved words, books and storytelling. A promising engineer will see that he or she builds, or liked to see how things were taken apart. An artist will see that they like creating things.
You mentioned that each participant selects an object for a warm-up exercise. How do these objects play a role in sparking inspiration and creativity during the workshop?
It is fascinating to hear a young person talk about what brings them joy in a particular object and why. It tells alot about a character. This connects the group, gives transparency, and demonstrates the importance of emotional connection to a character and provides reason to drive narrative in story telling.
Illustration is a key aspect of book publishing in your workshop. Can you elaborate on how participants incorporate portrait art and still life into their projects?
Many talented artists are unknown. This encourages writers to be resourceful and call upon their pool of talented artistic associates or commission an illustrator. For example, “Covid Diaries” utilized the diaries of 9-10 year olds during Covid. In order for the project to remain youth-led, even though the illustrator was commissioned she incorporated individual portraits of each child in their diary stories. The book although a collaboration could be related to in a very personal and unique way.
Your course content has multi-uses, including assembly presentations and exhibitions. Can you provide an example of how material generated during the workshop has been used for these purposes in the past?
In 2020 I created a art mental health project called The Elephant in the Room. I designed a competition reaching over 1000 school children across London including professional Artists in Dulwich London. This culminated in a 200 piece exhibition in the Menier Gallery, Bermondsey. I worked with a restoration artist from the Tate Gallery and mimicked the uniform style and font used in the Tate. Each school was asked to identify ‘the elephant in the room’ that relates to an issue they would like to explore whilst addressing mental health. For eg. A group of 13 year old girls in response to a negative incident involving bystander apathy (school kids were watching a fight unfold and recording on their phones) they created paper machier busts and placed on plinths as an installation and under each statue highlighted legislation for children ie a Right not to be tortured or ill-treated, Freedom of Expression and Right to Name and Nationality. It was very powerful.
You have an extensive background in film, art, and poetry. How do these areas of expertise inform your approach to teaching and facilitating creative expression in your workshops?
During my degree in Media and communications, Theorists such as Stuart Hall, Du Bois, Bourdieu, and Barthes demonstrated that those in power dictate the norms and values that we take for granted in society; they are manmade, therefore very little of who we are or what we are is built on solid foundations. Noam Chomsky emphasized that only 10% of media is true. Ouseman Sembene was able to change the face of the way black actors were represented. He claimed back dignity through folk tales and storytelling and going fishing with his crew. I incorporated as much of this in my film-making facilitation, valuing the stories that were told by participants, eating with the young people, and representing individuals in a dignified manner. If he could do that at a time when black people were depicted jumping out of bushes with bones in their noses, surely I could make a change too. We also looked at Mass Hysteria (if anyone remembers the outpouring of emotion when Lady Di passed away). This illustrated the power of manipulation and the ability of media to influence. I remain inspired to value the early demonstrations of creativity and the value of their voice. I find opportunity to celebrate and utilise the talents and skills of each individual who takes part.
You mentioned that you offer a quick tip career clinic at the end of each session. Could you give us a glimpse into some of the valuable career advice you provide to participants?
I encourage young people to share what they like doing. For example an Claire, an 18 year old, dyslexic with few exams altho was good at maths. In fact she loved numbers and playing cards. At the time she worked in a Jewellers next to a fish stall and felt she had no prospects. She had suffered from psorisis for many years and had little confidence. I guided her towards re-writing her CV, she contacted a number of London casinos and eventually she became a top croupier in a Mayfair Casino and later worked on cruise ships.
“MY HAPPY PLACE” aims to promote wellbeing and happiness. How do you incorporate these themes into your workshops, and what impact have you seen on participants’ lives?
The use of objects is a key moment to illustrate the value of doing things we enjoy. I see that participants treasure their chosen object more on reflection and recognise that it is a key expression of their identity at that given time. This nurtures a strong sense of who they are and also a sense of belonging in the group. I think it is invaluable for young people that they feel like they belong. They leave the session feeling elevated and more confident as a result. What they think and feel matters.
Could you share a memorable success story or transformation that a participant experienced as a result of attending your workshop?
In many of the Film Projects I have completed in schools, I ask for a selection of students, difficult as well as talented. It is often the case that those difficult children become ambassadors for their school. My very first project was in a special needs school in Kent, and the Head Teacher told me that in his 20 years of teaching, he could not believe his students were capable of their invaluable input in documentary film making. So much so, the film was highlighted in the school Ofsted Report and also shown to prospective parents visiting the school. On another occasion when I put on a Press Conference for kids at the House of Commons and the volunteer Mary was the first of her family to go to university. She was lacking in confidence when she assisted me, and I told her to prepare a speech that she could deliver. She wrote to me saying I had changed her life.
You have a wide range of interests, including running and sailing. How do these personal interests influence your work and your approach to teaching creativity and expression?
If you look at any success story or creative masterpiece they all require a level of discipline and strategy and the tiniest of steps.
I break each component down into bite size pieces. When I first started to run I was in my 40s and progressed to a marathon by running 15 minutes every other day adding 15 minutes only at the weekend until I built up mileage and was able to run for longer and longer.
Sailing required a leap of faith but once you research you begin to understand the language and are immediately less intimidated and before you know it you are learning to sail!
This bite size approach applies to most new things we do. When I did my degree I had two small children under 5 and worked part time. I had to create a timetable to show me which hours of the day were available. I could study only when the children were at nursery or when they were asleep in the evening. Day time was for study and night time was for academic reading .
Again when I gave birth at home without gas or air again I broke it down into manageable segments – knowing a first labour average time is 14 hours I knew little would be happening for a long time. I would then count through labour contractions and breath when I could and brace myself when I couldnt until the pain passed.
I show them that if you think creatively regarding the task in hand and you expect joy the outcome will be productive. You have to make time as we are all busy and easily distracted. When I did my Masters I had one day off a week to attend university and had to complete my Thesis during COVID. I found it impossible to study at home, Libraries were closed and I was left with only six weeks to complete. I would go into the office on a Saturday morning and work from 10.00 am until midnight, again on the Sunday for a number of consecutive weekends. Even the security guard’s wife cooked me supper as they felt so sorry for me but I had to be resourceful and use as much of the remaining time as possible. I passed with a Merit which was a miracle.
Whenever I have tried to do something new I explain it is daunting and we hear ourselves say I cant do this! I think that is why Strictly Dancing is so popular, we see the practice the discipline and passion. When you create something from nothing it can be magical which is why Strictly causes so many marital issues. Imagination makes things happen – if you can see it, you can be it!
Keep Up With Laverne On Instagram @lavernehunt_