THE STORY OF SASHA
THE MYSTERY DISPLAY
On the 27th of April 2015, shop owners and visitors to Fleet were surprised and somewhat baffled to find that a tree in the High Street had been adorned with worn ballet shoes. The shoes had seemingly been placed there overnight and had various messages written on them. For the next six months speculation ran rife about who was behind the display and what the meaning of it was.
The person behind the creation was Sasha Forster, a young woman who lived in Fleet. Sasha struggled with mental health issues and was all too familiar with the crushing weight of expectation placed on people by a society that demanded ever increasing levels of perfection. The idea behind the project? To shine a light on the mental health struggles that many faced but few talked about…and she achieved just that.
Over the following months, more and more people discovered the ballet tree for themselves, reigniting conversations about unrealistic goals for perfection and acknowledging the affect that had on both mental and physical health. Comments on social media at the time described the display as “thought provoking”, “a very powerful statement”, “a brilliant work of art” and “poignant”, whilst noting the effort it took to create it. Sasha’s tree had already made a difference, it got people talking.
Angela Forster, Sasha’s Mother explains:
“Sasha contacted the English National Ballet and asked them if she could have a sack of used ballet shoes. She wrote words and messages on them, paralleling the strength and determination needed to be a successful dancer, with all the pressures to be ‘perfect’ and the pain endured, with life as a teenage girl. Then in the middle of the night, she hung them from the branches of a tree on the high street.”
“Part art instillation, part provocation. Sasha achieved her aim of getting people to talk about the issues mentioned on them, illustrating the search for perfection in today’s superficial world, aiming for unrealistic perfection and trying to deal with the failure. Unrealistic perfection because of photo shopping, editing etc that means people try to emulate what isn’t real, and then get depressed.”
Sadly Sasha passed away less than two years after creating the ballet tree.
Following the devastating loss of Sasha, her parents Steve and Angela made the decision to set up a charity in her memory, to help those facing the same kind of pressures and ensure that they always had a place to turn to. And so, “Sasha’s Project” was born.
The aim of the project is to establish a night time crisis house in Fleet, offering a safe space for vulnerable adults and young people, in a time period when most of the the usual 9-5, Monday – Friday mental health services are closed. Sasha’s parents share their thoughts on the project:
“Sasha found the early hours the most difficult to deal with, which is why this crisis house will be open throughout the night and will welcome all those who struggle as Sasha did.”
Steve Forster –
“We want to share the ballet tree so people realise just how mindful and caring Sasha was, and that she wanted to help others always. That’s the work the charity is being set up for, to help more people. Despite being a wealthy area statistically, many young people suffer from severe anxiety and can be profoundly worried. Things often aren’t as fine as they seem. Mental health is so important and many are struggling – and real help can be difficult to find, or get.”
In a year that has seen a dramatic increase in mental health issues in both adults and young people, it is a particularly poignant time to highlight Sasha’s message.
Don’t feel pressured into pretending that you are bigger, better, stronger or happier than you really are. The perfect images you see so often online are only one side of the story…and a very incomplete one at that. If you’re struggling then please reach out and seek help, you are far from alone.
If you would like to know more about Sasha’s Project, please visit their Facebook page.
A SIMPLE MESSAGE
The ballet tree was created over 5 years ago. Its message is as relevant now as it was then, maybe even more so.
Today, Saturday August 22nd 2020, would have been Sasha Forster’s 24th birthday.
Below: Sasha Forster, the girl behind the ballet tree.
If you would like to talk to someone in confidence, please take a look at Hart’s local helplines.
Please don’t suffer in silence, you are not alone.
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