A creative viewpoint, then and now

Project overview

For the past year, Devon Guild of Craftsmen (DGoC) has been working with the Devon branch of the charity Headway, a national organisation which supports people with acquired brain injury. In partnership with Headway, DGoC has been running regular craft workshops for most of 2017 and the early part of 2018. Work made during these workshops is about to be exhibited at DGoC’s Riverside Gallery as a two week ‘window’ exhibition.

Project aims and objectives

The aim of this project was to provide creative (and sociable) sessions for Headway users where they could engage in a range of craft/making projects in a familiar space with continuity. The sessions aimed to allow for progress and outcomes – the work produced will be on show in a public exhibition. The workshops have now finished and the exhibition opens in Riverside Gallery at Devon Guild of Craftsmen from Friday 9 March to Sunday 25 March 2018.

Image courtesy of Devon Guild of Craftsmen.

The participants

Headway is a charity which supports and helps people to rebuild their lives after life-changing brain injury caused by illness or accident. At the suggestion of a Headway service user, DGoC began working with Headway clients, on an occasional basis, in 2016. We funded a pilot series of workshops which proved to be well attended and popular. A group of 15 participants attended the weekly workshops.

Image courtesy of Devon Guild of Craftsmen.

Learning

Artist Charlotte Turner has been leading the workshops at Headway and has built and maintained a relationship of continuity and trust with the participants. She describes her approach:

I came to Headway as an artist with knowledge of running community art projects and youth work. I’m not trained in art therapy and have deliberately not been looking at the art activities in this way. The sessions have been about play, trying new things, having fun and working together. Many of the participants have mobility and communication challenges and I was always looking for ways to help as many people take part as possible. We have found new and innovative ways to help each other; I was in awe of the kindness and support that’s shown to anyone who needs it.

I started with collage and collagraph printing projects, we didn’t have specific outcomes as I felt that if we just played with ideas and techniques the work would develop and show its direction. The dioramas, books and banner were all a result of a flow of ideas between myself and the participants.

I noticed how the group grew in confidence over the year; when we started I was met with a lot of fear and lack of self-confidence, now there’s a real ‘can do’ attitude, a real sense of excitement.

Image courtesy of Devpn Guild of Craftsmen.

Planning and preliminary work

Charlotte Turner (lead artist), Megan Stallworthy (bookbinder) and Tracey Benton (mixed-media artist) all had to adapt their techniques and find creative solutions to make the workshops accessible for the participants. Tracey Benton describes her adaptions:

I worked out how to adapt the tools I use so it would be possible. The first thing to do was to observe myself felting. In doing so it struck me how reliant I am on the use of both hands in my work; simple acts like constantly turning the wool to create a 3D form or holding the sponge in place with one hand while felting with the other. I soon realised that a 3D project with constant turning could be a frustrating first project and I also needed some way to lock the sponge in place so that it wouldn’t move while felting.

I’d already made a few butterflies and decided that this was the perfect project for Headway as it could be done with either one or two hands. The design could be detailed and complex or simple and colourful. The participants would also have the choice of making it more 3D.

My original idea was to attach the felting sponge to a flat piece of wood – to weigh it down, tying the sponge on with some string to keep it in place. My mitre saw was on the blink so that ruled out chopping up some wood myself. As a wandered around a store, I landed in the food storage isle and … bingo! Small plastic food containers were the perfect size for my felting sponges but what was I going to weigh them down with? Sand? Stones? When I got home, I realised that the simplest thing to do would be to fill the containers with water. I gave it a test drive and was thrilled to see that it worked. I love a simple solution. At the eleventh hour I realised that I had completely failed to take into account the fact that when I pick up the wool to use in my work, I need two hands. With a bit of improvisation we ended up tying one end of a handful of wool onto some string on a weighted sponge. This worked well.

Outcomes

Social and emotional wellbeing

The craft/art workshops have allowed participants to socialise while engaged in creative activity. Participants self-confidence, support for each other and sense of purpose visibly increases when they sit down together to make things. Friendships have been made, conversations taken place, small but meaningful things, which have added to their wellbeing and engendered a sense of achievement.

Practical and transferable skills

Art activities are an effective way of supporting people with brain injuries to develop practical and transferable skills. Fine motor control through undertaking delicate and detailed work, regaining flexible thinking through taking part in creative exercises, improving attention and concentration through participation in an extended project, improved planning and understanding of sequencing to use materials effectively, and developing spatial awareness have been monitored by Headway Devon staff throughout the project.

Public awareness and education

The exhibition of artwork as the final outcome of this project will inform the wider public about brain injury and the implications it can have for survivors – both negative and positive. It will promote both the skills and contribution of disabled people in society and the use of the arts as a therapeutic and effective tool in rehabilitation. Feedback forms will be available at the exhibition and audience numbers will be monitored. We believe the project has proved that well directed creative activity results in a range of positive outcomes for the participants.

The exhibition of work will provide a legacy for the project as well as advocating for further activity of a similar kind for Headway Devon clients. Projected visitor numbers for the exhibition at DGC are 4,500. We are currently looking at one other exhibition venue which is in Exeter.