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Fay Stewart had hit rock bottom in January. But then she discovered Antidote’s brand of ‘wholesome escapism’. Now the future looks decidedly brighter...

10 August, 2017 — By Fay Stewart

Pure fun is the order of the day at Antidote

IT is dark, drums are banging and people are singing and dancing. There is an hypnotic feel to the air.

No one wants it to end. But it does.

The lights flash back on – the caretaker needs to shut up the building for the night.

Even as we methodically pack up the drums and make our way out, I feel like something has shifted in me. The blanket of sadness that seemed all-encompassing is somehow now letting in a sliver of light.

Although I cannot quite work out why or how, from that moment I just sense things are going to be OK.

This came at a time when I most needed to find joy again.

After years of caring for a sick parent (who was now in the palliative stage of care) coupled with the deeply painful end of a relationship, I had reached rock bottom.

And it was January.

A friend had suggested in passing a weekly event called Antidote where people meet, try different activities in what is billed as “wholesome escapism” for adults. Its catchline: “sing, dance, play, shake off the day. Every Thursday” seemed impossibly cheery.

In truth I agreed to tag along more to see my friend than for the session at the WAC Arts Centre in Belsize Park, and was not entirely sold on the idea that adults really needed to “play”.

I had visions of it being a very select group of people earnestly trying to find themselves and, while I had nothing against that, I struggled to see where I would fit in.

From the off, however, it was clear, this was not a heavy, pious environment. The people were friendly, funny and certainly did not take themselves too seriously. Having fun and laughing was the objective.

I feel very lucky that my first session was with Tom Morley, who is witty, warm and kind. Within minutes he had won over the room.

Lots has been written about the need for adults to “play” and theories abound on how, apart from being fun, play can be hugely beneficial in helping us lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

(Indeed it was this wish to inject fun into people’s lives that prompted Antidote being set up in 2008 ).

Since that dark winter night at the beginning of the year, I have continued to go to Antidote. Each week for an hour-and-a-half there has been a new adventure to try with different, expert “facilitators” who lead the session.

I have done hula hooping (and rediscovered my love for the “hoop”); European folk dancing and contemporary African dance. I wore full plaid for the line dancing session and belted out “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” in the soul singing sessions and realised just how much joy can be had by singing with other people.

I have also played old school playground games and gleefully indulged in foolish games with a twist with the inestimable “Timfoolery”.

But as well as these most joyful of experiences I have met a really tremendous group of warm, open-minded, kind people. From Amelia Jayne, the wonderful head of programming and production at Antidote, to the collection of people who gather each week, with a twinkle in their eye, ready to try something new. They have become treasured friends.

The blanket has well and truly lifted and I see the sunshine more and more each day.

I now feel more confident, less self-conscious and perhaps the gift of all gifts: I am once more able to see fun and embrace it in a way that had previously felt so remote.

As a new term of Antidote is about to begin, I look back to how gloomy the start of 2017 was for me, and I cannot help but think how it’s surprising what you can learn when you play.

• Antidote takes place every Thursday starting from 7 September from 7pm-9.30pm at WAC Arts, Belsize Park NW3 4QP. The first session is free and thereafter it is £10 online or £15 for a drop-in session. A Flexipass for £30 can be bought which will last you from September until December. Concessions are available so drop Antidote a line. For details go to www.antidotelondon.com or email info@antidotelondon.com

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