Scheme helps to support artists

Jill with some of the greetings cards she has produced thanks to support from the Branching Out scheme.
Jill with some of the greetings cards she has produced thanks to support from the Branching Out scheme.

A therapeutic mentoring scheme is helping budding artists to find their creative spark.

The potential artists, who have a range of mental health issues, have been inspired to consider starting careers using their talents thanks to a project run by Newcastle-based Helix Arts and the North Tyneside Arts Studio.

The mentoring scheme, called Branching Out, partnered professional artists with a group of eight people involved with the Art Studio, based at the Linskill Centre in North Shields.

The mentors were recruited by Helix Arts, but individually chosen by the artists.

Among those to benefit was Jill, 51, from Whitley Bay, who has produced 1,000 greetings cards in 17 designs and hoping to sell them at Tyneside Market, along with cushion covers and scarves.

She said: “My mentor was excellent. She gave me confidence, self esteem, new skills and focus.”

“The focussed attention I got made me realise that I do have something to offer.

“My mentor was impressed with what I was doing, she liked my work and it was wonderful to have some acknowledgment that I do have some artistic skill.

“It’s had huge benefits in improving my mental health.”

Allyson, 39, from North Shields, worked for a major phone company until two years ago, when she lost her job while undergoing treatment for her mental health problems.

Art was always a hobby throughout her life, but inspired by her mentor she is now determined to start a new career using her artistic talents.

She is embarking on an HND in Fine Art, with the chance to convert it to a full degree course and move towards a second chance.

Allyson said: “Art was a hobby I fitted in between work shifts.

“This project gave me a chance to sit down and work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

“There are not many people who get the opportunity to do that – to get a second chance of achieving the life that you want.”

Wayne, 54, from North Shields, is determined to make a career as a professional photographer despite being medically retired from work in January 2014.

He said: “I’m too young to retire and I don’t want to retire, but the types of work I could apply for are limited now.

“So if I can make a career out of photography it would be like a dream come true.

“My aim was to produce something that someone somewhere would like to hang on their wall and I’m now in that position – although I’m not making any money yet.

“But this project has turned me from a holiday snapper to someone who has the confidence to seriously think about a career in photography.”

Andrea King, director of the North Tyneside Art Studio, said: “It was very rewarding and gratifying to see people grow in confidence and determination through the mentoring project and humbling to see them fight for that opportunity, even though it was a huge personal struggle for some of them.

“We work with a challenging group of people and it was great to see this group prepared to take a massive step out of their comfort zone and accept the challenges of this project.

“It also provided a much needed nudge for some people and it has been a joy to see how they’ve moved on and progressed.”

Helix Arts senior project manager, Kate Anderson, said: “It’s using an imaginative approach to help people move towards the labour market through creative arts.

“But it’s not about having them sitting in a studio, or a classroom or an ivory tower, it’s a ‘real world’ programme. It encourages people to set their own agendas and goals, challenge their perception of themselves and work towards ambitions that they have, but in a realistic way.”

For more information on the Branching Out scheme, contact Helix Arts on (0191) 241 4931.