Cars & Cameras: How the Car Community Benefits our Mental Health
What if I told you Herbie Car was real? That cars have feelings and a mind of their own?
Well, no. Not quite.
But to the car community, cars are more than pieces of metal that take us from A to B. They are a passion. A creativity. An escape.
As a Mental Health Researcher at King’s College London and a lover of cars, I thought I’d do some digging into how the car community benefits mental health. Speaking with several friends from a car group I recently joined (BMW.M.UK) and touching upon my experience, in this blog I share the positive impacts this somewhat unusual hobby has on people’s lives.
What is BMW.M.UK?
BMW.M.UK is a fairly small group of car enthusiasts that conduct drives across the rural areas of the UK. For members, this is a chance to explore new places and take incredible photos of their cars amongst the breathtaking scenery. Not to mention the great pub lunches in and amongst the day!
To put this into perspective, take a look at these incredible photos taken by Andy Sephton and Micky Wilson, two founders of the group whose passion for cars are coupled with their love of photography.
This car-photography duo is a common love amongst many of the group members, whether it’s taking photos or simply admiring those taken by Andy and Micky.
Though BMW.M.UK is only one group in the rapidly expanding car community, it perfectly reflects the sheer beauty of this hobby.
So, what does BMW.M.UK mean to me?
To me, this group is an escape. A freedom. A sense of belonging.
Prior to the group, I didn’t have any like-minded people to share my passion with. I felt somewhat alone in my hobby. But now I feel a sense of belonging. Not only in my hobby but in the unconditional support from the group when life gets a little tough. And as an extension of that, I also have an incredible circle of wisdom to help me develop my knowledge and support me in hopefully modifying my own car one day.
As for an escape, driving has always been a therapy to me. Growing up in the countryside, whenever I felt overwhelmed or at a crossroads in life, the tranquility of driving the rural routes with beautiful scenery always brought me clarity. Now living in London, driving out to the rural parts of the UK to meet the group offers an escape from the hustle & bustle of the city, allowing me to reset my focus.
And, as an added bonus, the group allows me to do something else I absolutely love — travel. With meets around the UK, I get to see so many amazing new places! We visit areas of outstanding natural beauty often with breathtaking mountain ranges. Driving on some of the best roads in the UK and stopping to look at the incredible scenery really brings a freedom like no other.
But anyway, enough about me.
How does BMW.M.UK help other group members?
Community and like-mindedness
Similar to my experience, several of the group members emphasise a sense of community in their shared passion for cars.
For example, group member Paul Craffey expresses that:
“Aside from the feeling of freedom I get when I go for a drive, the people I have met along the way have enhanced that love and passion. A sense of community where like-minded people get together and share a common interest and hobby. Great days out and memories made with people I would have never met if it wasn’t for the love of cars.”
Andy further reinforces that:
“Creating the group [BMW.M.UK] has helped provide a positive outlet to support my mental health and meant I am now surrounded by like-minded people who I can share my hobby with.”
Micky highlights how sharing his modification journey on Instagram particularly helped him face the loneliness of lockdown:
“When covid lockdown occurred, life became very lonely and tedious. During this period I started posting more of my car on Instagram and got talking to some other like-minded people about car modifying and photography.
This gave me something to focus on as cars have always been my passion and logging the cars progression on Instagram gave me chance to interact with people who have the same passion.”
Emotional connection and support
Many group members highlight the positive impact cars have had on their mental health.
For Paul, modifying his car got him through a very difficult period:
“For the past 18 months, I have gone on a journey modifying the car and forming an emotional connection that has quite simply got me through the worst months of my life. It has been an incredibly positive outlet for me and provided reasons to smile and be grateful.”
Similarly, the connections Micky has established with other group members has improved his mental health:
“This [interaction with other like-minded people in the car community] coupled with a new found interest in photography has made a big difference to my mental health, particularly as I’ve now made some great, life-long friends from it all.’’
Moreover, Andy emphasises how cars help him make sense of life:
“Cars have always helped me make sense of life. When I’m struggling, they are always a constant thing that puts a smile on my face. Being at car shows and racing events, anything like that makes me happy.”
For Andy, modifying his car has also been an expressive and creative outlet:
“Cars are an extension of my personality — the way I customise my car and make it unique represents who I am.”
Preserving our inner child
Many of the car events and group activities continue an excitement developed in childhood.
For Paul, buying his M240i and joining the BMW group has allowed him to fully immerse himself in the car scene and satisfy his early fascination:
“I’ve always really loved cars. From as young as I can remember I was fascinated by the sound and the feeling of excitement they gave me. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that I fully immersed myself in the car scene, having spent the last 10 years with company cars. On a whim I gave back my company car and bought my BMW M240i which, outside of marrying my wife, was the best decision I have ever made.”
Though Andy cannot pin-point the true route of his passion, he also expresses an early interest in cars that continues to excite him:
“Cars are something that, from an early age, I had a passion for. I couldn’t tell you why, it’s just an interest that grew deeper and eventually became an outlet to support my mental health when I am struggling. I often feel like a kid in the way I get excited about it and often makes me forget about the pressure of other people’s opinions.”
This may be a small snapshot of the experiences and thoughts shared by our group members, but I hope this blog highlights the importance of the car community to those who partake in the hobby. And though cars may not be your interest, I hope this blog also inspires you to get involved in any group hobby you may be considering; Trust me, it’s worth it.
Header image by Tom Davis (t7ykd)