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Art project delivers life-changing experience

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One resident enjoyed a ‘life-changing experience’ when East Kent Housing invited community outreach group Espression Arts to visit Lang Court Sheltered Housing Plus Scheme in Whitstable.

The visit, part of the Our Work of Art Project, had a big impact not just on residents at the scheme but also on the volunteers who worked with them to paint mugs and create mosaics at two half-day sessions at the scheme.

The welcome they received was so impressive that Espression Arts Director Catherine Arnell is planning another three more workshops at Lang Court and is arranging to take her skilled volunteers into two more East Kent Housing (EKH) properties, Whitgift Court in Canterbury and Windsor House in Whitstable.

Chief Executive Deborah Upton said one resident “was really brought out of her shell by the sessions and found a love for creating art which has stayed with her.” She added: “The visits have made a huge difference to her life and had a big impact on everyone who took part.”

Deborah said the two morning sessions had been “absolutely brilliant” and had been thoroughly enjoyed “not just by the residents but by the volunteers who helped deliver the sessions and who loved working with our group”.

Our Work of Art is a partnership project between Espression Arts, Age UK Canterbury and Age UK Herne Bay and Whitstable, supported by Kent Arts and Wellbeing and funded by a Canterbury City Council Strategic Grant and an award from the National Lottery Community Fund.

Catherine Arnell said working with the team at Lang Court had been “absolutely amazing” and had inspired her to take the project to Windsor House and Whitgift Court. “We had a huge amount of support, the team was easy to work with and they encouraged the residents to take part.

“They made everything very easy, the communal lounge at Lang Court was a wonderful space to work in and everyone had a great time, including the volunteers who are at the heart of our outreach project,” she said.

Espression Arts a non-profit making community interest company that grew out of a pottery-painting studio in Palace Street Canterbury.

Kent Arts & Wellbeing co-director Fay Blair leads on the fund-raising, evaluation and development aspects of the venture, allowing Espression Arts to brighten the lives of residents in schemes such as Lang Court, where Deborah said residents were very excited about the thought of more sessions before Christmas.

“The project team brought everything, including tea and coffee and home-made cake, which made those taking part feel really special and contributed to a fantastically creative and social experience for them all,” she added.

EKH’s Sheltered Housing Plus Schemes aim to help residents who need a higher level of housing support to retain their independence for as long as possible. “Our outreach project aims to reach people who can’t easily get to an Age UK day centre for one of our sessions,” explained Catherine.

“We loved visiting Lang Court and we are looking forward to closer links with East Kent Housing in the future,” she added. “We believe everyone deserves a chance to be creative.”

The volunteers who help deliver the workshops are themselves active older people who are trained to work with more vulnerable people, including those with dementia. “They are an amazing bunch and I couldn’t do this without them,” said Catherine. “I think it’s fair to say that getting involved in projects like this enhances their lives as well as the lives of those they support.”

The volunteers at Lang Court certainly enjoyed their visit, according to Deborah. “One volunteer also sings with a local choir and has promised to bring the choir back to sing for the residents,” she added.

Our Work of Art was a finalist in the ‘Arts & Culture Organisation’ category at the recent Dementia Friendly Kent Awards.

 

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