The opportunity to take part in creative activities can be a very positive contribution to an individual's wellbeing. Self-expression boosts self-confidence and in turn supports better mental and physical health.
Across the Country, social prescribing is directing people to groups for arts and crafts, as well as singing and dance. In the Summer of 2018 Healthier Fleetwood worked with local resident and creative artist Heather Johnstone to set up ANON - A Community Arts Project.
Over two years later the group has evolved to widen its audience while continuing to offer invaluable peer support - a safe, friendly environment for the members to enjoy each other's company.
Two pieces of good fortune came together in May 2018. Heather Johnstone lives in Fleetwood and was just about to graduate from her degree course in Fine Art. She called into one of the Healthier Fleetwood drop-in sessions at Fleetwood Library and said she'd like to make a contribution to the community. Around the same time, Healthier Fleetwood was advised of the Building Recovery in Communities fund from Red Rose Recovery and the Lancashire User Forum. This was to fund a project supporting individuals in recovery or with anxiety, depression and mild mental health issues.
We asked Heather if she'd like to put together a creative outline and she enthusiastically came back with ANON. The title derives from the idea that members of the group could remain anonymous or choose to put their name to their works as they grew in confidence. A bid was submitted with supporting evidence based on health and wellbeing statistics for the Fleetwood community. Heather would be project manager and creative lead, supported by Nick Steele another local artist and Healthier Fleetwood would be the agency for finance, admin and promotion. By the end of the month we had attended a presentation to the funding panel and were informed soon after the bid had been successful. The feedback from the panel was the bid fully met the criteria and represented a great opportunity for the community to engage in the arts while inproving their wellbeing.
The first course began in September 2018 with 6 members and within 3 weeks had grown to a 'core' group of 12-15 each week. Members came to the group for a number of reasons, there was no pressure to share their stories but it soon became clear how important the sessions were.
Michaela says, "Coming to the ANON group has made a big difference to me. I'm more confident and feel happier. It's helping my health too and we all have a good laugh when we meet up!"
As well as the weekly sessions there was a trip to see the Grayson Perry exhibition at Blackpool's Grundy Gallery which inspired 2 of the group to apply for the foundation level art course at Blackpool & Fylde College.
To celebrate the completion of the 10 week course we held an exhibition of work at the North Euston Hotel attended by family and friends. It was a lovely evening, so much positivity, and all of the members were presented with an art kit to encourage them to continue their work at home.
But the story doesn't end there! With the materials from the first course, and a top-up of funds every now and then from Healthier Fleetwood we've been able to run an additional three courses through 2019 and early 2020, welcoming around 30 residents. We have held sessions in open spaces, socially distanced at Fleetwood Museum and we are in discussion with the Affinity Lancashire Outlet about a base there when the COVID restrictions are eased.
ANON has evolved and will continue to do so, always using the power of creative arts to connect and support the wellbeing of local residents.