23 July 2018

Mental health service users celebrate culmination of community arts project with exhibition

A group of service users who receive treatment and support from Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP) have celebrated the culmination of their community arts project, a twelve week artist guided course, with an exhibition of their works. The course concluded with a public exhibition at Bath Artist's Studios, as part of the Fringe Arts Bath Festival. The donated work from the project is now proudly exhibited at AWP's headquarters in Bath.

The focus of the Fresh Art @ project has been to provide creative engagement for people affected by, or caring for those who have experienced, mental health challenges, enlivening spaces accessed by service users, carers and visitors at premises around the Trust's various sites. The project was designed to create opportunities within these spaces to engage individuals visually whilst using the premises, as well as creating discussion between service users, carers, clinical and non-clinical staff and visitors.

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Fresh Art @ is a partnership project supported by AWP, Creativity Works, The Holburne Museum, No1 Royal Crescent, The American Museum in Britain and Virgin Care. The partnership works to enable people with lived experience of mental health challenges to create, explore, develop and grow through creativity and contribute to community projects.

The partnership delivered sixteen artist guided sessions, the first four within the context of an inpatient ward and twelve further sessions delivered in the community within Bath museums. As well as artistic guidance from the program leads, participants could make use of the specialist knowledge available at each of the sites, informing their practice and in some instances allowing unprecedented tactile access to some exhibits.

The sessions promoted and empowered participants to live happier, healthier lives by developing self-confidence through new skills, engaging with new spaces such as museums that they previously felt they were not welcomed in accessing, and working divisively on a shared project.

Fresh Art @ worker, Tasha Beesley, said: "Fresh Art @ started in 2014, and was an idea initiated by nurses and service users on an inpatient ward, this project has really demonstrated that creativity can make a huge difference to the happiness, wellbeing and confidence of the participants."

AWP Arts Psychotherapist, Sarah Parkinson, said: "I used to think there was a linear movement between crisis, treatment and social inclusion. But we're finding that offering people help in getting involved in the local arts community as soon as possible during their treatment may have added benefits in terms of the service users' confidence and ability to make the best use of treatment - especially art therapy."

She added: "I'm finding that if service users are engaged in the arts community the impact of the art therapy sessions is more effective, service users are more engaged and build confidence more rapidly. The relationships between the therapy sessions and community arts projects have a causal effect in terms of the service users' self-confidence and want to engage."

As well as offering preventative support to those at risk of social isolation, the partnership's project seeks to reduce the number of repeat admissions to inpatient units, as well as preventing first time admissions. The structure of the course creates a journey for participants, a journey that leads into the world of community arts and participation. Again, giving access to a community that those without previous arts experience may have felt they could not or did not have the credentials to be welcomed into.

Participants of the course remarked: "Being on the course has helped bring new experiences to life, it has helped inspire and involve those of us on the course to engage with the arts and experiment when previously we hadn't had the chance due to work and other life commitments."

Creative Works continues to develop opportunities with and for participants with creative wellbeing courses across B&NES with an opportunity to engage with the Victoria Art Gallery in the autumn.

Project artist, Barbara Disney, said: "The South West is at the forefront of integrating the arts and mental health, with interest internationally from organisations and individuals interested in setting up similar schemes, which is really exciting.

"Next April the Holburne Museum in Bath will be holding a symposium on mental health and the arts, and making art for physical and mental health."

A new project with the Victoria Art Gallery in the autumn will generate more art works which will contribute to AWP's collection, and will be rotated throughout the Trust's sites giving service users, staff and visitors an engaging and evolving space to be in.

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