By Amy Knowles
I recently (virtually) interviewed Liv Wade Jones and Stella Pyne, who are the creators of Open Minds Edi, which is an Edinburgh student led platform in aid of Mind, the mental health charity. I wanted to find out how the platform was getting on, what challenges COVID has brought to the female founders and what we can expect to see in the future.
In March 2020, just before the initial lockdown and start of a seemingly never-ending visit back home from university, Liv and Stella debuted their first event: a sell-out open mic night in Edinburgh’s Cab Vol. The female duo recruited various singers, comedians and musicians in order to perform in their packed venue of choice, raising over £1000 for the cause.
Once lockdown began, Liv and Stella, due to not being able to host events in-person, had to rethink their initial plans and move the platform online, which they did seamlessly and with boundless success. They began to post sent-in videos of singers, artists, spoken word and cooking, with snippets of funny vlogs from Vicki Macfarlane and Sonny Erskine being posted too. Not only did this provide daily entertainment for their followers in a time of little to do, but it allowed a multitude of people to have a public outlet for artistic expression. In turn, this raised money for Mind charity and, speaking from personal experience, bettered my mental health and brought a small bite of excitement to each of my days in lockdown.
Firstly, I asked both Liv and Stella what inspired them to start Open Minds Edi. Liv told me how a member of her family became quite ill, which sparked a thought that she needed to “make her mark”, as she stated illness can occur to “anyone at anytime.”. Liv noted how at the time she was listening to Beyoncé’s ‘I Was Here’ often when this illness was occurring, and it made her question how she has helped people in the past and how she can ensure she does in the near future. This was the driving force behind Open Minds Edi, combined with her love of music and empathetic nature, and she felt she had to do something to help people. Liv, who said that musical theatre has always been a large part of her life, wanted the confidence and “good vibes” that it exudes to be embodied in this platform. After Liv asked Stella for a coffee and they spoke about her family member and the urge to raise awareness and have an impact, Stella told me how she “felt such a conviction” to not only support her friend Liv in her goal, but to raise money for charity. They settled on Mind as a charity, as Stella stated it meant a lot to the pair and the young adolescent age group in particular. Stella further saw how an open mic night moved away from the “standard getting drunk and not remembering the night” night, and instead pushed a community feel, supporting friends and raising money for charity. Thus, Open Minds Edi began.
Next, I asked what the main driving message behind Open Minds Edi is and what Liv and Stella intend to promote or convey. Liv replied that the driving message behind Open Minds “is for people to be aware of mental health issues”, which she believes increasingly they are. To add to her point, she sees that Open Minds provides an outlet for people to engage in a community, which Liv believes is already embedded within Edinburgh. Although she admits that this is an optimistic view point, she truly believes that in the right circumstances everybody is willing to help. Liv noted that a key aspect of their platform was the essentiality of spreading the word surrounding mental health problems, with their next project aiming to educate more about the depths of mental health. Stella agreed that community is key in what they are aiming to achieve - they want to “make it OK to talk and discuss mental health”, and music is an incredible springboard for this to work off. Music provides relatability and community. Stella told me how followers or audiences can discuss key issues through lyrics, or they can just support a friend through engaging with their emotions through music. During lockdown in particular, the main aim of the Open Minds Edi page was to promote “community, spirit and helping one another through hard times”, which it most definitely did.
Obviously, due to the pandemic, the in-person events have had to be put on hold, and I asked if Liv and Stella faced other challenges and how they overcame these. Stella described corona as a “HUGE nightmare”, which I’m sure we can all agree with. However, she went on to tell me how during lockdown, people from all over the country got involved, further pushing the community feel of the platform. Stella stated how it was “so positive” to see people suggesting that their friends get involved, and relationships soon formed with other online pages such as ‘Mind Your Head’. Also, for Stella and Liv, a huge silver lining in the lockdown was that they were able to talk to people they wouldn’t necessarily have met otherwise, whether that was through people submitting performances or to thank the duo for what they were promoting. Open Minds Edi has offered a “huge distraction to the turmoil of the world” for so many, whether that be through watching the videos each evening at 7pm, or watching Vicki and Sonny vlogging.
However, as University began again this became more challenging. Not being able to hold events Liv described as “a massive L for raising money”, but rightfully noted that charity is not just about raising money, but spreading the world too, which they managed to do through their Open Minds Edi page. Both Liv and Stella described COVID as a “blessing” in terms of the community feel being able to shine through, yet without the pandemic, more money and a larger audience may have been able to have been brought in. Liv told me a specific story of about how one of the Open Minds Edi singers was stopped in the street and congratulated by a stranger on their performance, which Liv described as “quite unique and special – not many people can say that”. Liv and Stella also explained the challenges of organisation and creating online content, which they didn’t realise would be so in demand as they weren't expecting their platform to become so successful.
Looking into the future, I asked Liv and Stella what we can look forward to. They told me they are hoping for another few events, and Stella is looking at COVID not as a challenge, “but instead as an obstacle” which they will overcome. In the New Year, Liv and Stella are looking to think more dynamically about keeping the community engaged, with another event being the ultimate goal once restrictions have eased. As Stella’s memory of the stress and minutes before the first event began, she told me how she felt “emotional” just recalling this and how she hopes to be able to hold another event very soon. Liv agreed that another event was the aim, as that is the core idea that kickstarted Open Minds Edi. She also hinted that more “fun things” would be coming into effect whenever we can get back to University, which will be slightly different but still maintain the key strain of music.
Both Liv and Stella would like to thank everyone who has been involved with Open Minds Edi, whether that was buying a ticket for the first event or donating and liking and following their page. I would encourage everyone reading this to give the Instagram a follow (@openmindsedi), the Facebook page a like and continue to talk to one another about mental health, particularly in such a turbulent time. Whether you need a chat, or advice, their inbox is always open. Thank you, Liv, Stella and the Open Minds Edi team for keeping spirits high in what can only be described as a cloudy year!
The donation link can be found in their Instagram bio, as well as below with other support and help.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
SamaritansConfidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)