Pure You: Celebrating Individuality
Meet the creative minds behind social action project Pure You, set up to inspire self-belief and to encourage young people to discover their unique talents
It’s commonly accepted that self-deprecation is the learnt behavioural culture of Scots. We’ll happily make fun of ourselves and be the first to point out our own flaws – real or imagined. But how often do we celebrate all that is great about ourselves? Two Glaswegians, Clare Bennett and Paul McNulty, intend to help the younger generation do just that with their youth empowerment project Pure You.
Comprised of a day-long workshop, Pure You is packed with a range of interactive activities designed to enhance the personal development of its participants. Each activity is designed to support young people in Glasgow to connect with themselves and to discover their core gifts. It’s a project that Bennett and McNulty have been thinking about since December 2015, when they met at a Youth Life Coaching programme conducted by the Asha Centre. During the week-long course, they bonded over their shared experiences of a rigid education system, one they felt was unsympathetic to their unique learning styles and individuality. Their chance meeting sparked a shared desire for change, which would ultimately become Pure You.
“A lot more should be done in the mainstream education system surrounding self-expression and emotions,” McNulty says, “so that we’re able to connect to ourselves and each other on a personal level.”
Bennett believes young people in Glasgow face a number of challenges, which act as barriers to their personal progress and self-realisation. Social pressure to conform, lack of guidance and a reluctance to share feelings are just some of these issues. She views Pure You as a tool to encourage young people to embrace their uniqueness – and to help them reach their full potential.
“Our workshops are delivered in a creative and engaging way involving opportunities for self-reflection as well as paired and group discussions,” she says. “We incorporate different learning styles to suit a variety of learners.”
Asked why the project resonates with the pair on such a personal level, Bennett’s smile briefly fades. She reveals that she was made fun of as a child for being overly talkative, to the extent that she convinced herself it was a negative quality. Now, as an adult, she realises that not only is it one of her greatest gifts, allowing her to connect with people on a deeper level, it makes her who she is. Without this quality, she says she never would have become a counsellor at ChildLine or worked at a young person’s befriending project. Both experiences helped inspire the work that powers the Pure You project.
McNulty echoes this sentiment. “When I was younger I had a lot to offer but this wasn’t appreciated or nourished through mainstream education,” he says. “I was sensitive and not particularly academic. The famous Einstein quote – “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree then it will spend its entire life thinking it’s stupid” – definitely applied to me.”
Reflecting on his experience, he adds: “It was only by doing a lot of work on myself that I was able to change that thinking and realise how much I do have to give.”
When asked about the concept behind the name, McNulty says its meaning is two-fold: It represents that fact that everyone is pure in nature, but also plays on the local colloquialism ”pure”, which is often used as an adverb to emphasise a point. “Do you get it? As in that’s PURE brilliant,” he jokes.
To get Pure You started, they developed the concept and designed the workshops, and then began searching for partner organisations to expand their reach. Bennett and McNulty quickly established a relationship with PEEK (Possibilities for Each and Every Kid), a 20-year-old organisation that works with young people from the ages of 5 to 21. Their mission is “to improve the quality of life for children, young people and their families through the involvement in effective, creative opportunities throughout the East and North of Glasgow”.
Pure You’s very first workshop was delivered at the offices of PEEK on 9 February. Bennett says that the young people who participated were engaged, enthusiastic, and related to the message the project delivered.
“They were extremely open and gave various insights into their life as young people today, their emotions, and what school life was like for them,” she says. “They spoke openly about feeling pressure to be in competition with their peers and reported that teachers discouraged any individuality.”
The sense of success that came with the first session was reflected in direct verbal feedback after the workshop, which Bennett and McNulty say was extremely positive.
“One participant was particularly enthused about a quote he had chosen during an activity and asked if he could take a photo of it, as it summed up a feeling he had never quite managed to articulate,” McNulty says. “That moment alone made it all feel worthwhile.”
He adds that all of the workshop’s activities encourage the participants to think about the extent to which their early life has impacted on their self-esteem and ability to connect with their own individuality.
“We definitely sense a general appetite for what we are doing and a survey we conducted definitely reflected that in the comments we received,” he says.
The idea that our formative years impact on our self-esteem in later life is one that the NHS website supports, stating: “Teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media send us messages about ourselves, both positive and negative. For some reason, the message that you are not good enough is the one that stays with you. Perhaps you found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of you, or to your own expectations.”
According to leading mental health charity Mind, one in four people experience a mental health problem each year. Asked what impact the pair think the project will have on the mental health of those participating, Bennett says that although the project was not set up specifically to tackle mental health issues, she believes that any social action project that encourages positivity and builds self-esteem will improve mental health.
“A lot of mental health issues stem from people being disconnected from their individuality and what they have to offer the world,” she says. “Pure You helps people focus on what’s right with ourselves not what’s wrong. This kind of thinking will inevitability increase mental well-being.”
When asked about the future of the project, the pair exchange an optimistic glance. McNulty views Pure You as an ever-evolving project. He says that they feel on track in terms of their initial goals, aims and vision. And though they are keen to continue developing the workshops, the core idea to inspire self-belief remains unchanged.
In terms of expanding their reach, the duo plan to also work with younger children between 5 and 11 years old all over the country. However, at the moment they plan to concentrate on the immediate Glasgow area and work with young people between 12 and 25 years old.
Longer term, their plans are more ambitious. Bennett would like to see Pure You workshops being delivered in schools, to help as many young people as possible connect with themselves and discover their core gifts.
She pauses as she considers the impact Pure You could have on the lives of young people across the country.
“Ultimately, our goal is to create societal change”