Arts Together

Vulnerable and elderly people isolated by the pandemic are being entertained and inspired by weekly art projects through our grant programme.

Arts Together, which supports 70 members across Devizes, Trowbridge, Pewsey, Marlborough, Melksham and Bradford on Avon, usually meets once a week to bring them together with professional artists to work on projects to combat loneliness, anxiety and other metal health issues.

But since the lockdown the group has had to show its creativity in other ways. A £2,500 grant from the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund has helped fund weekly art packs posted to every member to keep them occupied and connected.

The charity’s director Karolyne Fudge-Malik said: “It is pretty well established with research how beneficial art is to peoples’ mental health. The problem with the people we target is that they are really frail and isolated and mental health is one of the things they suffer from. Now they are isolated they are in an even worse situation than they were before, and they are very scared.

“We know from what we are sending out to them, and it is not just the art projects, it is letters and quizzes and so on, it just take them out of themselves for a while and it gives them something else to think about apart from ‘here I am stuck on my own’.

“Every week they get this boost saying ‘what about doing this?’. It keeps them engaged, plus they have got their network of people to call. They know they are part of a community, they know they are doing something they enjoy and they have got something to look forward to each day – its not just an empty day staring into nothing.”

Each week the charity’s team of three design an art project and then post out instructions and suggestions, together with materials if they are needed. “Some of the members have got Parkinson’s or dementia and we have to design projects they can do,” said Ms Fudge-Malik.

“We’ve had quite a big response from them, and it gets them thinking. They are doing some extraordinary work by themselves. One is writing a daily diary of her isolation and illustrating it, and another is painting pictures of her cat in different colours, depending on her mood.”

As well as giving the members a creative purpose, the charity is also keeping in touch by phone to check on their welfare, particularly those who have no family network or are living alone in sheltered accommodation.

Ms Fudge-Malik said: “We are making five calls a day. Quite a lot of our members have been referred to us by the mental health teams and the isolation has been very tough for them. Some of our members are in sheltered housing and they are just stuck in a room. No visitors and they can’t get out.”

She said having a creative outlet is good for getting vulnerable members out of themselves and gives them a sense of purpose. The group’s ethos is that being elderly shouldn’t necessarily mean a lack of creative purpose.

“The attitude to older people is ‘you’re old, therefore you just sit there and think of your memories, you haven’t got a tomorrow, you haven’t got any purpose, you don’t want to learn anything else’,” said Ms Fudge-Malik.

“Well they do, they are a real feisty bunch and they are really funny. This gives them an opportunity to be themselves, their true selves.”

She said the grant has allowed the group to bring some hope and light to people who might have no other entertainment or contact with the outside world.

“The grant has made a huge amount of difference - it is keeping us going. Normally we would be fundraising, we raised nearly £25,000 from donations and local fundraising and that’s all stopped,” she said.

“Your mental health and wellbeing are more important than anything. If you sink into severe depression, you are not going to eat, you are not going to bother. Isolation lowers your immunity too and it causes greater ill health and earlier death. Art overcomes that.”

Grant awarded: