We Are Poppy is a project that explores women’s experiences of the First World War and how the War affected their mental health. It is a story developed and told by young people, aged between 14 and 19. Created in a time of Covid-19 and lockdown, there are new parallels to be explored.

One hundred years ago, in November 1920, thousands of women wrote letters to the government asking to be part of the ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 11 November. They were convinced that the Unknown Warrior being buried there that day was their son. This was just one of the stories our young team unearthed in their quest to find out how the Great War affected women’s mental health. They wanted to find out what has changed for women in the past 100 years and which challenges women still face today.

“Nobody seemed to remember that women had been affected too. Nurses working on the front lines saw terrible things. Women at home had their houses destroyed and workers in ammunition factories often had life-changing injuries.” Daisy, 14

“I knew about the men and their shellshock and how mental health wasn’t such a well-known thing back then, so how they were all discovering what that was but it hadn’t even occurred to me that the women would get shellshock or PTSD from working on the frontline.” Amelie, 14

We Are Poppy, was set up by Make (Good) Trouble with a team made up of teenagers from Hove Park School in Brighton and the East Sussex Youth Cabinet as well as local volunteers.

The project culminated in a one-off podcast which will be broadcast on BBC Radio Sussex and Surrey on Sunday 8 November at 5.30pm as part of Armistice Day commemorations. The podcast imagines a conversation between today’s young people and the young women who lived through the First World War. It looks at how the war shaped the lives of a generation of women as they dealt with trauma, shellshock and loss as well as new-found freedoms. We hear excerpts from the letters, diaries and medical records of women living through the War, and interviews with experts. We ask why women’s experiences and mental health have been ignored for so long.

“I feel like it’s opened my mind more than it would have been because we don’t learn much about women in our lessons in history. The project really expanded my view of what women were doing and how women felt in the First World War.” Arielle, 14

This project is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Our We Are Poppy project team members are awarded a Cities of Learning badge in recognition of their work. These digital badges give people a verifiable record of achievement and give employers a new way to connect with talent in cities.

Take a look at our dedicated website: wearepoppy.org which includes interviews, research and creative projects plus a comprehensive schools pack aimed at secondary school-age children. 

Teen in WW1 and modern dress
We Are Poppy student, Daisy

We’d love to know what you think of our project. Let us know in the comments!

With VE Day being commemorated today, we thought it would be a good day to launch our online project about women living through the First World War. Women’s mental health was affected in both world wars, but little has been written about this.

Make (Good) Trouble CIC, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, is working on Project Poppy, exploring the mental health and wellbeing of women during the First World War as well as the perception of mental health in society at the time. We are working with a group of students from Hove Park School but since lockdown, we have had to move the project online. This means that we can invite everyone to get involved! 

If you would like to follow the project, learning about the First World War and women’s role in it, we have created some online resources and information for you to follow.  We’ll be adding to it each week with things to read, watch and listen to as well as creative and research tasks. 

Project Poppy logos
PROJECT POPPY LOGOS DESIGNED BY STUDENTS AT HOVE PARK SCHOOL

We’ve called it Project Poppy. Our focus is on interpreting the story of what happened to women during the First World War, about how the War affected their mental health (a story that hasn’t really been told), and to explore what that might mean to young people today. We want to find links between then and now. In this time of Covid-19 and lockdown, and of people volunteering to help those in need, there are also parallels to be explored.

There has been a huge focus on men and shell-shock in World War One but little information available about the effect on women’s mental health during that time. Our project aims to uncover the lives of women affected and create new narratives which will look at how mental health was perceived then, in comparison with today.

If you’d like to be part of this project, find out more here: Project Poppy.

Thank you!

Journalist Jan Edwards describes how an ordinary day of door-to-door fundraising led to his involvement with Make (Good) Trouble. 

It was early January, and winter had firmly clasped its unrelenting, icy grip on Brighton and Hove, suffocating the distant memories of summer. 

Shivering, my resolve to fundraise for homeless young people spurred me on. I started a new road, willing an answer for some warmth. I knocked, but there was no response. Maybe the next… “Hello! Sorry, I was cooking.” I rushed back. “Hi, I’m from Centrepoint.” “Ah, I know all about you!” says the woman, smiling. “Come in.” 

While door-to-door fundraising can be discouraging, I relished meeting all sorts of strange, eccentric, but often wonderful people. At Centrepoint, I was yelled at, sworn at and chased down a garden path with a broom (only to be invited in for tea and an art lesson by the less cranky next-door-neighbour!).

Naturally, I was intrigued by this friendly woman who had provided respite from winter’s wrath. “You don’t need to say anything. I’ll sign up,” she said. I was bemused as even the most willing of donors usually take some persuasion. “I work for a social enterprise called Make (Good) Trouble, helping teenagers. I’m Daisy, the co-founder.” 

Daisy explained that her company aims to challenge society’s narrative that young people are a nuisance. The media is often full of teenagers’ misdemeanours, so Make (Good) Trouble uses it to celebrate their achievements and improve mental health. Based on my passion for helping young people from my own experiences, I was eager to get involved. 

As a teenager, I suffered from low self-esteem, unexplainable anger and bouts of anxiety and depression. This informed my behaviour: impulsiveness, drinking and trouble at home and school. In fact, I spent more time out of school than in! If only I’d had a means to express my feelings, to channel my complex coil of emotions. 

Enterprises like Make (Good) Trouble are essential if other suffering teens are to make a difference in the world, inspiring creativity and motivation. As a journalist, I feel that nothing boosts self-confidence more than completing a project and seeing the results. “I would love to help,” I enthused, leaving with Daisy’s number and feeling warm inside and out. 

I was delighted when Daisy scheduled a meeting to discuss my involvement with Make (Good) Trouble. She explained how revered the enterprise has become, securing a donation from Sussex Police. “We have Project Poppy coming up, which looks at women’s mental health in the First World War. It’ll be perfect for you.”

My Grandad is a Holocaust survivor, so I am familiar with the impact of war. A survivor of three camps, Grandad has harrowing memories which he seldom discusses. He was taken away from his mother as a child, and never saw her again. Nobody knows what became of her. A story lost. 

Indeed, the impact of war on women is rarely considered. I realised that in learning about the First World, the experiences of wives, of female nurses and doctors were not taught. With a Mum who won the NHS “Woman of the Year” award, I know how strong women are. It is imperative that the stories of these heroes be told. 

Meeting with Tayler, Daisy’s sister and project leader, I was amazed at her research and determination to bring the project to fruition. “Mental health is a current issue”, Tayler said. “We want young people to get involved and to compare mental health then with what’s happening today. We want everyone involved in the project to help build a picture of a fictional woman, Poppy, who lived through the War and use media to flesh out what her experiences might have been, to bring her to life.”

This project is part of the First World War Centenary, a programme set up by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that aims to help people understand the war, uncover its stories and explore what it means to us today, creating a link between then and now. Project Poppy participants will research the subject and create a film and a blog detailing the process, plus a presentation for schools.

Students at Hove Park School are participating in the project and we met up with them before the schools were closed due to the coronavirus. I was struck by the young people there, their compassion and confidence as they created diagrams of influences on mental health, both in the First World War and now. “Have you ever had mental health issues?” one girl asked. “Most of us have.” I was confused:  happy with her openness, but sad at the prevalence of mental health issues she had expressed. 

Walking home from the school that day, I was lost in thought. Isn’t it great how open young people are about mental health now, actively wanting to enact change? I smile. One thing’s certain: It’s incredible how interrupting someone’s cooking caused me to get involved with such an inspiring project.

Jan Edwards

We’re having to re-think Project Poppy due to the coronavirus lockdown. Make (Good) Trouble is now looking at ways to share the project online which will mean that more young people can get involved if they’re interested. Watch this space!