UCLan graduate takes hands-on approach to improving mental health

13 December 2022

Sam uses creative skills to craft handmade products designed to improve mental wellbeing

A local designer is utilising his creative skills to promote positive mental health.

Sam Elliott-Black, who this week graduated from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) with an MA Fashion and Lifestyle Promotion degree, has recently launched his brand, Sam’s Naturally Handmade, featuring a collection of products crafted to improve mental wellbeing, including essential oil aromatherapy, candles, wax melts, and loose-leaf tea.

After completing his course, the 31-year-old, who lives in Westhoughton near Bolton with his husband James, set up his business to help people manage anxiety and depression by creating a multisensory experience around the five senses of mindfulness; sound, sight, touch, taste and smell.

The products are all inspired by how Sam has dealt with his own mental health struggles over the last couple of years.

Sam, who studied part-time over two years to complete his MA, said: “I’ve had a lot to deal with, including losing my dad to cancer during the pandemic, and suffered with depression and anxiety. Luckily, I had the constant support of my fantastic husband and best friend. My tutors were also amazing at supporting me too.

"It was the hardest thing I have ever done. But I would do it all over again in a heartbeat"

New UCLan graduate Sam Elliott-Black

“All of my products are inspired by the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) I received on the NHS for my anxiety and depression, and the five-senses mindfulness technique I was taught to manage my symptoms.

“In the end, the difficulties I experienced influenced the direction of my studies at UCLan and my future career. Being able to be creative again, but also think about how concepts can be visually communicated, was something I’ve always found interesting.”

Sam now sees his career is going in the right direction after feeling unfulfilled in recent years. He completed a fashion brand management degree at UCLan in 2014, but he lacked confidence and didn’t follow the career path he’d hoped for.

“Life happened and I ended up working in various non-creative roles, with my most recent being a sales role at a fashion agency for three years” he said.

“Then the pandemic came and I was made redundant from my sales job. I had a decision to make, find another full-time job to pay the bills, knowing it wouldn’t make me happy, or go back to university to do a Masters, reigniting my creative skills. Thankfully, I chose the MA.”

"I’ve been so overwhelmed at how well everything is going so far, and even at this early-stage, sales have completely surpassed my expectations"

Sam Elliott-Black, creator of Sam’s Naturally Handmade

Sam’s return to University has been a rollercoaster of emotions, particularly having to deal with bereavement during his studies, but he says it’s all led to where he is now.

“I don’t know if I would have been as successful, or if my work would have been as strong, if I hadn’t have gone through the tough times in year one.

“It wasn’t easy at all, in fact, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. But I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I felt every emotion you could imagine; I’ve laughed, cried, been so excited about my work, felt unimaginable tiredness, sheer panic and doubt, but I’ve also been so determined to succeed.”

Sam is now focused on developing his brand and has set up a website, samshandmade.co.uk, as well as selling his products at artisan markets all over the North West.

He said: “The reaction has been incredible. I’ve been so overwhelmed at how well everything is going so far, and even at this early-stage, sales have completely surpassed my expectations. Everything I have created is so personal, so I’m incredibly passionate about it.”

Sam added: “I feel really proud to be graduating and I’m so grateful for the experience. It’s been life changing and I can finally say I enjoy my work now.

“What has been the most valuable thing to come out of my studies has been my confidence. I now know where my strengths and weaknesses lie, what I enjoy doing, what I definitely don’t enjoy doing, and most importantly that I am good at what I do.”