Annie Nicholson’s taboo-tackling Fandangoe Whip parks up in school playground

In summer this year, artist Annie Nicholson – aka The Fandangoe Kid – set out in a specially designed van, the Fandangoe Whip, dishing out ice cream and taboo-busting conversation in a bid to get people talking openly and candidly about loss, grief and mental health. Funded to the tune of £10,000 by a SpaceHive crowdfunding campaign, the project saw Annie travel to a host of locations across London and beyond, offering the public a safe and engaging space to share in some of the emotionally difficult conversations that most of us tend to avoid.

After successful stints at destinations including Latitude festival, Tate Britain, South London Gallery, the Design Museum, the London College of Communication and Canary Wharf, the Fandangoe Whip has reached its final, permanent destination: the playground of St John’s & St Clement’s C of E Primary School in Peckham, South London. Here, the Whip will become an integral part of the school’s wellbeing programme and the centrepiece of a specially planted new garden area, offering the children a safe place to come and talk about their feelings, challenges and anything else they wish.

Working closely with the school, artist Annie Nicholson led positive mental health activities with the students.

The arrival of the Fandangoe Whip marks the culmination of Annie’s ongoing collaboration with the school. For the last few months, she has been running a series of mental-health and identity workshops with the children as part of a mural-painting project. Having the Whip on site will give the children space to continue exploring and expressing themselves and their emotions.

“They already have a language around who they are and how they are feeling that is so impressive and inspiring, so it’s brilliant to have a permanent home for the Whip here. It will be a platform and a prompt to encourage these bigger conversations and I can’t wait to see and hear how it facilitates that.”
– Annie Nicholson, the Fandangoe Kid

Having worked with young people and marginalised communities in inner-city London for many years, the Fandangoe Kid has actively set out to create an environment that will reach out to those who don’t feel comfortable going into galleries and institutions, as well as those who may be reluctant to talk about complex, sensitive and difficult subjects such as grief and mental health. Because the ice cream van is recognised as a fun, safe space across ages and cultural boundaries, it makes an ideal platform through which to engage diverse audiences on the subject of trauma as we emerge from the pandemic.

Next stop New York
The Fandangoe Whip’s installation at St John’s & St Clement’s is far from the project’s only legacy. After a summer of frank, insightful conversations with people from all walks of society, The Fandangoe Kid is looking forward to evolving the Whip to its next level.

As a mental-health outreach initiative, the Fandangoe Whip was perfectly timed, launching in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when thousands of people across the UK were forced to deal with grief for lost loved ones, economic instability, isolation and other threats to their mental health. The Whip offered them a space to share their stories free from judgement, with the universal appeal of ice cream helping to open up dialogues unrestricted by barriers of age or class. The van thus served as an effective outlet to indulge, explore, and release negative feelings. The response over the summer was phenomenal, and Annie and her team were inundated with requests to bring the Fandangoe Whip to different locations. For Annie, listening to so many extraordinary stories, it was a poignant reminder that, for all that we’ve been through as individuals, we are stronger together, when we are sharing our experiences and listening to each other.

She is now aiming to build on her learnings to develop a similar project in New York, working with young people and community organisations to offer something new and helpful in the area of grief, loss and mental health.

“We want to use what we have learned from Fandangoe Whip, and from a decade of working in and around grief, to develop a project that can be useful to diverse communities in NYC. We want to create a similar touring idea in the US, working with young people in NYC and beyond to help them talk more openly around mental health, loss and collective grieving. We plan to grow our team and really hone the mental-health/grief-support side of things so we can make a profound difference to communities in 2022.”
– Annie Nicholson, the Fandangoe Kid

The Fandangoe book
Alongside planning the Whip’s next iteration, Annie is now channelling the experience into a book, combining honest stories from the public with interviews with and expert guidance from grief and mental health professionals. Drawing on Annie’s 10 years of exploring grief and featuring a diverse spectrum of voices, the book aims to provide its readers with the resources they need not only to make it through times of difficulty themselves, but also to give people the tools to effectively support others, practically and emotionally.

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