Bright Lights: How Two Women Turned Their Shared Ideas About Happiness into a Successful Enterprise
June 20, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
Co-founder of the Light Box Happiness Project Lucy Duggan discusses the reality of setting up a community project based on first-hand experience.
Light Box’s Happiness Project can best be described as a community movement which has its roots based firmly in the heart of the Bristol. They deal with the difficult subjects of loneliness, depression and mental health issues. They examine the meaning of happiness by exploring creative pleasures such as freehand drawing, photography and even ‘bouncy ball drawings’.
This locally run project was set up by Lucy Duggan and Lucy Barfoot in 2009 and has gone from strength to strength. Recently, Big Lottery funding has furthered their success. The Fresh Outlook talks to Lucy Duggan, one of the founders, to find out what it takes to set up and an entrepreneurial creative project in today’s economic climate.
Determined to be positive
The two Lucys met through Gumtree in 2008. They started up a conversation about what it takes to be well and happy and how they could collaborate to help others. “When we met each other we recognised we had a mutual determination to be as positive and happy as possible in day to day life, in spite of different backgrounds,” says Lucy.
They reached the same conclusions about happiness being a choice and a creative act. It was through their work with a third Lucy – Lucy Ryan, a positive psychologist – that they knew this idea could be turned in to a viable project. “All the habits and behaviours we were discussing were being researched by positive psychology… there was a rapidly growing evidence base supporting our belief about happiness being a choice. It was then we realised we could create a project that could attract some backing.”
Building on backgrounds and utilising skills
Lucy Duggan describes her journey into Light Box as a “chaotic”, unplanned one. She graduated from Bristol University with a BA in Sociology and Politics. After her degree she went on to gain a Level Five in Social Enterprise Leadership. The skills and resources she gained from this programme were integral to her work with the Light Box, where she is head of business development.
“Running a business is quiet technical. It gave me lots of basic skills about marketing, networking, financial planning,” she says.
In addition, her own experience of mental health problems acted as a catalyst for Light Box as it encouraged her to volunteer with the mental health charity Mind in Bristol, where she gained a number of skills: “It became clear to me that working in the mental health sector felt right. That is probably why when I met Lucy (Barfoot) I was so keen to get a mental health project off the ground.”
The Light Box team have masterminded all their events with tireless hard work and unending resources of positive energy. As well as Lucy Duggan and head of creative direction Lucy Barfoot, Light Box has recently welcomed Kathryn John from Pembrokeshire. Kathryn is the head of learning and participation.
Creating Light Box was a complicated process. Some of the problems the girls encountered stemmed from the fact they had no prior experience of running projects. However, the two Lucy’s tackled these hurdles with their positive and creative approach. Organisation was key to the project, with minutes taken at every meeting and work organised through methodical to-do lists. The two of them combined all of their creative, organisational, and teamwork skills to get Light Box started. Their policy is always to be open with each other. “We always communicate very honestly with each other,” says Lucy.
Obtaining funding for the project was another obstacle that had to be overcome. “The main difficulty … was the need to plan before we had confirmation of resources, and relying a lot on optimism and determination that we would somehow get what we needed in terms of premises and money. We had many requests for funding turned down and dealt with this by refusing to be discouraged.”
“Believe in what you are doing”
Their hard work and dedication to their passion paid off as they have recently been awarded funding by the Big Lottery. “The funding … means the project can become permanent and continue to expand … In the next three years we envisage Light Box services being available all over the UK, delivered on behalf of the NHS,” says Lucy.
So what advice would Lucy give to those who want to turn their passion into a project?
“I would say perseverance. Take it as a given that you are going to get lots and lots of knock-backs and rejections … You’ve got to be prepared for that. Every ‘no’ is another step to a ‘yes’. I really think that’s the mentality you’ve got to have.
“You just have to really believe in what you are doing, imagine it and envisage it, and obviously put the work in. Work really really hard and make it a priority. If you don’t get discouraged, in the end something’s going to give. I really do believe that.”
Reaping the rewards
It is this dedication which has proved to be integral to the Light Box’s work. “What we lacked early on in resources we made up for with time and energy investment on both our parts,” says Lucy. But the main reward for those behind Light Box is the knowledge that their dedication to the work they are so passionate about is paying off.
“[We spent] so much time working here before the funding came through, it was really a labour of love – we weren’t getting any financial benefit from doing this for quite a few years. And it is rewarding; it’s really rewarding when you get a card from someone saying that the project really helped them cope with a difficult time, or the project has helped them learn about themselves and become happier.”
The Light Box team have shown that despite tough economic times, projects which are beneficial to others can still get off the ground and bring help and support to those who need it. Through a lot of hard work, determination and passion, this small group has created something to be admired.
By Sarah Leyland
[Image courtesy of Light Box]