FEATURE: C'Art group at Christopher Centre in Sudbury gives support to people with mental health difficulties
The plight of a homeless man in Sudbury spurred the creation of an art and craft group to support people struggling with mental health conditions.
Following the death of the ex-serviceman, who had been sleeping rough in the town centre, Karoline Wells and Teresa Bishop set up C’Art at The Christopher Centre.
The weekly classes at the Gainsborough Street venue enable members to unleash their creativity through a range of activities, with the main objective to boost wellbeing.
Teresa, who manages the resource centre, highlighted the importance of providing a safe environment.
“It’s a relaxed atmosphere – there’s no pre-conceived idea of what you have to do,” she says.
A rewarding part of running the classes, which are therapeutic and aim to boost wellbeing, is witnessing a dramatic improvement in the confidence of attendees.
“One person wasn’t even going out on her own before coming here,” explains Teresa, who has seen a marked difference since.
“Now that she’s better, you wouldn’t ever have imagined that she had a problem. At an exhibition, she was able to talk to the public.”
Other members, who initially appeared more reserved, have gained the courage to take part in activities.
“Their confidence has grown and now they join in without even thinking about it,” says Teresa.
The relaxed setting has enabled members to adapt quickly to the sessions.
“They come in a little apprehensive at first, but then they sit down and feel relaxed,” explains Teresa.
Some members attend the classes to socialise and meet new people.
Penny Nichol, from Sudbury, who teaches art during the sessions, has suffered from depression in the past.
After learning about the initiative, the 50-year-old was keen to offer her artistic knowledge, while embarking on her own journey to boost her sense of wellbeing.
“It was something that I needed,” she says. “It has helped me to feel I belong to something. I have met some fantastic people.
“We all get along with each other – it’s like an extended family.”
The sessions help to break down the stigma associated with mental health conditions, which, by their nature, are not always discernible.
“If you asked members if they had a mental health issue, they probably wouldn’t know because a lot of people think they have to be physically unwell to experience that,” says Teresa.
Trust is a key component within the classes, with members able to talk freely to each other.
“What goes on in the group stays in the group,” says Karoline, who is the centre facilitator.
Staff are happy to listen and talk through any concerns that members raise or wish to discuss.
The individuals are never asked to reveal their reasons for attending, which the group says is paramount to building trust and creating a warm environment.
Former carpenter and avid writer Bob Darvell, of Orchard Place in Sudbury, attends the weekly group.
“It’s a great environment with a lovely social mix,” he says. “It’s somewhere to go in town for a couple of hours to meet different people.”
The 66-year-old credited the classes with instilling confidence in the group’s members. “They wouldn’t have received that recognition before coming here,” he says.
The creative writing sessions have provided members with a platform to express their ideas and emotions.
“When it can be channelled into something positive, it’s a good release,” says Teresa.
The group prides itself on inclusiveness by welcoming people from all backgrounds, regardless of their artistic abilities.
The very nature of art enables members to engage with the activities and apply their own interpretation of the craft.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do it – there’s no set of rules with art,” explains Penny.
Sudbury town mayor Sue Ayres offers her support during the sessions and has seen first-hand the positive impact of the classes.
“As a retired art teacher, I know how beneficial art can be,” she says. “It brings people out of their shell.”
Recognising the therapeutic qualities of writing, Mrs Ayres has provided each member with their own notepad.
An art project, which proved a particularly effective and collaborative exercise, involved decorating a chair to represent various seasons.
“Everyone took ownership of their work,” says Penny.
Championing the qualities of art as a therapeutic and creative platform has proved vital in enabling individuals to regain structure in their lives.
“It gives people confidence,” says Teresa. “That’s the whole ethos of the group.”
More by this authorPriya Kingsley-Adam