* by Manikandam Pari, Research Assistant at PIECEs Research

Namma Area is an innovative hang-out space for people in treatment for mental illness across Chennai. It was inaugurated in May 2022, as a part of the celebrations of the World Schizophrenia Day by the SCARF team, alongside Mr Paul Heritage, Professor of Drama at Queen Mary University of London and Director at People’s Palace Project, UK. Ms Mariana Steffen, Arts Project Manager and Ms Renata Peppl, Programme Manager, PIECEs Project, also joined the occasion. The presence of Namma Area is advertised through social media, posters, and pamphlets for the local public in Chennai and at SCARF.

It is currently functioning two days a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 2 pm and 6 pm on SCARF premises. It’s aimed to be a safe space for service users to develop activities as they wish, creating a sense of autonomy and ownership.

Namma Area (which means ‘Our Space’ in Tamil) started with indoor games like chess, carrom board, and other board games.  The users choose the activities themselves. for example, if they want to exercise, Bike exercise machine was made available. It provides an excellent opportunity to socialize and gradually start interaction within each other.

In the early stages, people visited out of curiosity and became interested and kept coming to the space to see what it was about and gradually more people started to use the space. Some users who have been regularly coming have started to become more comfortable with themselves and others around them. The users gather for monthly review meeting to discuss use of the space and suggestions on what they want for the next month.

In the first meeting, some of the users requested to have indoor plants, play music, books and magazine in regional language Tamil. Over time, the interactive activities and games in that space will increase based on their suggestions.

We aim to evaluate the development of Namma Area and the patterns of use after Namma Area has been in existence for atleast 6 months. It will be interesting to understand the types of people who use the space and how the space is perceived and governed by the users.

In the pictures illustrating this post, you can enjoy some of the drawings made by service users and images of other activities participants are engaged in while hanging out at Namma Area.