Keep Real is a Yorkshire-based social enterprise devoted to promoting better mental health amongst young people. Founded in 2017, the brand has collaborated with a number of local organisations, run its first mental health workshop in Sheffield and now they are just weeks way from celebrating the first birthday on the 27th of July at Headrow House in Leeds, which is sure to be a fantastic night all in aid of a great cause. We asked founder of Keep Real, Kimberley Robinson, if she could write us a little something about herself and her enterprise to find out why raising awareness around mental health is so important to her and many others.
My name is Kimberley Robinson, founder of social enterprise Keep Real and connoisseur of dot work scrawlings, terrible guitar playing and mental health rambling.
From the very beginning in my younger years, mental health wasn’t an option of discussion. We had sex education at school, which told us in a variety of innuendos how the reproductive system works; but school didn’t tell us how our minds work, or how we can develop mental health issues through our lifetime. Over 75% of 16-24 year olds do not receive the interventions they need when it comes to their own mental health. I being one of them, felt that I wanted to support others through my career as some of my family struggled with mental health issues themselves. So when it came to work experience, I was magically placed as a ‘Community Artist’ at a organisation that supported people with learning difficulties with music and art therapy. This, I knew, was the beginning of Keep Real in some shape.
Fast forward to my college years, and I was struggling. Having no idea that I was suffering with anxiety – I was faced with waves of panic attacks, over-thinking, incessant thoughts and the inability to relax. I just remember thinking “Oh, I’m just an awkward teen. Just trying to figure it out like everyone else!” It was only when I had a private word with my Psychology A-Level teacher that I was struggling to learn about depression and anxiety that only hinted at my own issues. I used art (and still do) to cope with anxiety, and I started scrawling my work over tote bags and wearing them to college. This was the beginning!
If it wasn’t for my degree in Counselling Studies, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. At first, I wanted to be an Art Therapist. Through self development and awareness I was able to look at my own issues and seek help. While supporting others, I was also able to reflect on how I interact with people and the way we all communicate. A course of interpersonal skills, counselling therapy and diversity; the epitome of Keep Real in its awakening.
There was a tipping point with my anxiety, where I knew my thoughts and actions were blurring into a life-debilitating mushy mess. A woman on my course had accidentally overdosed on medication in my halls, and I had found her from getting a message from my friend who did not live there and was concerned for her. I put her in the recovery position best I could, rang the ambulance from reception and they were asking me if I was ok. If I hadn’t rang the ambulance when I did, she would have died. I remember running back to my room after the incident was over and passing out in my room from having a severe panic attack. I wasn’t coping, I was struggling. Hard.
Eventually I received help with support from my lecturer (Go, Carole!) where I had counselling at the University Wellbeing Centre. Here, I learned of mindfulness based therapy; and it pretty much changed my life.
Through my degree, I knew I wanted to support others; but I was seeing a lot of folk stuck in the system, or not receiving the support they needed. I for one, went to the GP who initially suggested medication as an option. People like my twin sister, who left college at 18 was awaiting therapy (fast forward to now, 3 years later-she’s still waiting…) and it angered me. Why would I want to be working for a system (a beautiful one that does so so much, mind you) but not access young people quick enough? We need more intervention!
I started my blog kimmykeepreal at University, a journey of mental health support and my own personal issues. Humbly, it received recognition from Rethink Mental Illness where I wrote them an article on how University helped my mental health. I then transported myself to London and took part in a BBC Radio 4 programme discussing young people’s mental health. Maybe I was onto something…
So, Violå- Keep Real was born.
At first, I wanted to use Art as a way of supporting other mental health organisations. I was scribbling away in lectures, doing Art Exhibitions and figuring out what I wanted to do with my work. I didn’t have photoshop or illustrator back then, so I used Microsoft’s fabulous Paint to edit out rubber marks on my work to send to the printers. However, I kept looping round to the same thought “How can I support people with Art Therapy, if the access to services is restricting me from a lot of young people struggling?”
Fast forward to Keep Real’s first year in business, and we’re just at the peak of being a start-up. We make merch with profits funding our mission to support more young people through events, workshops and more. We’ve done a collaboration with Welsh not-for-profit, Heads Above The Waves supporting young people, held our first workshop this year in Sheffield and now hosting the Keep Real Show, Friday 27th July at Headrow House. Bringing together the community in a creative and open way – we’re exploring where the brand can go. Whether that’s supporting people through events such as the show surrounding the music scene, or through after school clubs with young people about to leave for secondary school, or approaching A-Levels – our mission is to create social change.
I am so humbled and happy to have created this business with a social purpose. We need more of that, and I will keep going; literally keeping it real for better mental health.