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Ireland’s first REFLECT Lab co-mentoring programme is currently being implemented in the Northwest. The programme kicked off in April 2011 in Sligo, initiated by REFLECT Lab trainers from The Sage Gateshead, UK. REFLECT Lab is a model of cross-sector co-mentoring devised and delivered by The Sage Gateshead. The REFLECT Lab programme is a collaborative learning process for people working across a range of sectors and offers participants the space and time to reflect on what they do and why they do it. People taking part in REFLECT are given the opportunity to think creatively and to reappraise their professional practice from a new perspective.

Eleven artists and eleven healthcare workers from Sligo and Donegal who work with children and young people are co-mentoring each other with a view to sharing skills and experience between the two sectors. They have been given training in reflective practice, active listening and active questioning. Paul Devlin, Professional Learning Manager with The Sage Gateshead, said, “Co-mentors from previous REFLECT Lab cohorts have taken their learning back into their organisations and businesses creating new partnerships, strengthening creative learning, developing new approaches to leadership and establishing their own co-mentoring programmes.”

The aim of the REFLECT Lab cohort in the Northwest is to advance arts and health partnerships in the provision of services for children and young people in healthcare settings. The long-term objective is to roll out the REFLECT co-mentoring programme throughout the Irish health sector. Sligo County Council Arts Service has said of the REFLECT Lab initiative, “We are committed to working with Helium, the HSE, the artists and our partners to ensure the REFLECT Lab model will contribute to a sustainable Arts and Health partnership programme for young people and the wider population in Sligo and the North West area into the future.”

The participating artists in Sligo and Donegal work with children in services that include education and youth work and have backgrounds in theatre, music and puppetry, movement, writing and directing, textiles and glasswork, visual arts and street theatre. Their healthcare co-mentors work with children in services ranging from mental health to early intervention and include occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, a clinical nurse specialist, a hospital play specialist, a care assistant, a clinical psychologist, and disabilities keyworkers.

There is also a train the trainer programme running alongside the main co-mentoring programme so that Irish organisations can learn the skills required to implement future co-mentoring projects. Helene Hugel of Helium is leading the Irish cohort and has said of the programme, “REFLECT Lab provides a unique opportunity to develop a cross-sectoral professional learning opportunity, to build shared understanding of arts and health contexts and to connect the skills and vision of two diverse sectors in benefitting artistic practice and the quality of the healthcare context for children. Through the REFLECT Lab programme, Helium hopes to advance understanding of the mutual benefits of arts and health partnerships.”

An evaluation of the REFLECT programme undertaken by Peter Renshaw in 2008 found that REFLECT Lab co-mentoring has a deeply positive impact on individuals, their organisations and their wider sector. HSE West is supporting an evaluation of the Irish REFLECT Lab cohort. The last cohort meeting took place in late September and this phase of the REFLECT programme ends in March 2012. The evaluation will be published later in 2012.

This REFLECT Lab cohort is led by Helium under the Arts Council of Ireland Local Partnership Scheme with Sligo County Council Arts Service, Donegal County Council Arts Office, HSE West (Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal), Letterkenny General Hospital, and Sligo General Hospital.

A huge thank you to Sligo Park Hotel and the Radisson Blu, Letterkenny for sponsoring the accommodation – our visitors were thrilled to be staying in such luxury! Also thanks to Café Fleur for the wonderful catering! And last, but certainly not least, thank you to The Model, Sligo, and the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny for providing the training venues.

To find out more about REFLECT Lab, visit www.old.helium.ie/reflect.html to view the introductory presentation.