Before I commend Open Arts and how it has helped me & so many others during the terrible Covid Virus lock down period and commend the wonderful and Irreplaceable Jo Keay, the fantastic Paul Alcock and all of the selfless & brilliant volunteers and the members of the Open Arts family (That is exactly what it is for me and I am sure all of us there) All of which making it so special. I wanted to explain a bit about my journey with it first...
I have been a member of the Open Arts family for over 3 years now. It has literally saved my life! When I first did the Great 12 week visual art course with them via my care coordinator at EPUT, I had been doing such damaging things in response to my mental health conditions. Going to Open Arts opened up my mind, broke down my barrier and offered me a safe, warm, friendly, caring fun environment and learn amazing new skills and using lovely art materials and being taught exciting techniques!! New people going through pain like me that I could meet, get me out of my isolated lonely flat and be part of something so special!
I had awful issues from 2016 after moving to Southend, away from family and friends spending time alone breaking down. The visual arts course gave my unwell mind a focus....a new exploration to get lost in new art techniques! In a great chilled friendly safe environment....plenty of lovely tea and biscuits! And friendly caring faces. It is like a safe precious bubble to feel like I might be ok again....Using paint, collage and charcoal to express my feelings or just have fun with a new material! Or a laugh with somebody. I looked forward every week to going to Open Arts!
The wonderful thing is not only what you learn, the great time you have but there is 'bridging". You don't do the course then are left and abandoned. Open Arts collate a document for us at the end of the course with a number of groups and courses we can go on to...And the wonderful opportunity to join the Studio at Open Arts! This is great because you don't feel that loss after making such great connections.
I have done more of the 12 week visual courses! Lovely to have such great opportunities. And that feeling that I am still part of something.
Due to my mental health I do relapse a lot so I dipped in and out of the studio...But Jo and Open Arts never gave up on me and stayed in touch! It has really been since 2019 I used the Studio consistently! Because I felt part of Open Arts and it gave me a purpose! And a safe and exciting place to go to. I got excited about every week! It encouraged me to do free wellbeing courses at the Southend adult college as it rekindled me with my love of art...I had a passion...a hobby.
The studio gave me that outlet and place to create! Talk to lovely people, feel safe and enjoy myself and not only have a life of mental health hurt. That welcomed smile and jolly greeting from Jo every Thursday morning keeps you positive! And looking forward to going again....a purpose.
I would be making a collage...and Jo or a volunteer would ask about it, or suggest new ideas. The kindness and support of Open Arts also contributed to me wanting to volunteer somewhere which I slowly am introducing. Open Arts plain and simply aided my recovery! The only thing that I tried from counselling etc...Open Arts gives me the feeling and encouragement to feel I can do things again...where I have been sick, unemployed and isolated for years...it opened me up again, socialised me, taught me and offered me kindness, support and encouragement in every way possible! I could not be more grateful for them....they saved me more than my frequent upsetting trips to A&E.
So, there is some context about my journey. Now I would like to talk about Open Arts Support in the Covid virus Lock Down....
I relapsed a week before lock down. It was especially hard for me as Open Arts, and other groups in the community I do were my sanctuary....they are what aided my recovery, that routine, purpose to get out of bed, that chat I would have with the people there.. It stopped with lock down it tipped me further.
Open Arts stayed in touch!!! Of course....corresponding and calling members to see we were safe....had food...and of course Art materials and a Sketch book!! Jo said If not they would bring us stuff round! How kind!!
I struggled a lot to motivate myself being in relapse, on heavy meds and having all my coping strategies halted. So that connection with my Open Arts Family was VITAL in giving me a reason to carry on, as cheesy as it sounds, it is true!! I have realised a lot....before Open Arts all I had was A & E or Samaritans to call....Now I have a group who were there and I was part of them despite bring in my home and not being able to access the studio. Yes I had family to contact etc...but Open Arts was my journey through art and I made these friends, understanding, a safe place, connections and was given this opportunity to be part of something! My special place.
Jo, all the staff and volunteers did lots of things to make me feel connected. Emailing links of helpful safety tips for staying safe in the virus, positive affirmations, stuff to help us and access in the community and support numbers...checking in.
Open Arts set up a safe private Facebook page in which we could all still feel connected, chat to our friends and other members too....Sharing our feelings and of course our art! Seeing what people were doing was inspiring! Giving you ideas....and a motivation to join in and be part of Open Arts again....yes, it was in a new format due to the restrictions but it meant so much!!!
A safe whatsapp Open Arts group was then set up for us...checking we were happy to be part of the group and join. I did...I slowly dipped in....where I felt unwell...seeing how my friends...and new friends were doing...what they up to...what they were creating! I did not feel so alone. I felt part of Open Arts again. I then began really getting involved as I felt gradually better.
Jo texting and checking in on me and us all! Calling in the day I would be going to Open Arts meant so much! That chat was so important to me! I felt connected. Cared about. I enjoy the whatsapp group the most! Seeing beautiful work and how everyone is supporting each other, good causes and all pulling together as an Open Arts family! I felt confident to share my thoughts, ideas, work and even got ideas for things from members!
Hearing a funny joke or happy song...a good morning! Means a lot in such an isolated lonely hard time!!
Recently, Kathy a volunteer made a stunning Video, which collated all of our work, our journeys, our chat.....in a video and I actually cried!! I felt the connection. I felt what a Vital, Giving, Inspiring Place Open Arts is to me and so many of us! I literally would not be coping with out it!
I cannot thank Open Arts enough for helping at this awful time and just in general over these years!!!