When Joanne Jackson lost both her parents, she found herself alone in the world. Then lockdown hit, and she found herself even more isolated.
Falling into depression, Jo, who has learning difficulties and hadn’t lived independently before, only took her first tentative steps out of the house to join a workshop at Artistic Spectrum in Thorne, South Yorkshire once it was safe.
It transformed her life, and since then she hasn’t looked back, even becoming a volunteer to help others.
“I’ve always lived with my parents and it’s been very, very hard on my own,” says Jo, 47.
“Coming here gives me something to look forward to. I’ve been very lucky to meet such nice people and we have a great laugh. It makes me very happy.”
When Jo first arrived at Artistic Spectrum, a welcoming space which offers art workshops, she had spent most of lockdown by herself and was deeply upset.
Now she’s the first through the doors on a Friday morning and brings a packed lunch so she can stay for the whole day.
Jo is just one of many people that founder Emma Wilson, 48, has seen benefit from Artistic Spectrum.
The sessions are aimed at a wide age range, with members from three to 79!
Their centre opened in 2014, with a celebrity patron - Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera - cutting the ribbon.
“People who come here have such mixed abilities. Currently in the workshop we’ve got a lady of 72, who’s deaf and non-verbal. She lives in residential care and was constantly drawing in black and white to communicate,” says Emma.
“We invited her to a workshop and now she’s painting in colour and exhibiting her work. Art is her main form of expression and communication.”
The old coal mining town of Thorne, South Yorkshire, where the project is based, is a hotbed of artistic talent and different generations come together on Fridays to paint, draw and create.
“A lot of things were lost when the mines shut down, but there are so many creative people who are good with their hands. They need a way to express themselves,” says Emma.
“On Fridays we have an open workshop, where the participants come in and decide what they want to do on that day. Some are working towards exhibitions and others are making gifts to take home.
"I think it’s quite relaxed, so people feel like they can achieve. There’s no pressure. All the support workers and carers take part too, so we set up activities for them. It’s their time to relax too.
“One of the ladies, Lyn, is deaf and she draws all the time. Another, George, lives in residential care and he doesn’t draw all week, but when he comes here he just continuously does it for an hour and a half. He’s amazing at drawing, but before he joined us, no one realised it.”
Many people have built friendships and links to the wider community with exhibitions through the project. It’s bringing people back together after the isolation during lockdown, when Emma would distribute art packs to people who needed them.
“Art is just the tool to get people chatting. Now we see people forming friendships and going to the pub together, which is brilliant,” says Emma.
“Coming to the workshops or receiving an art pack gives you time to yourself. Just someone making you a cup of tea and handing you a biscuit means so much. It’s like being looked after for a couple of hours.”
It’s amazing to see the creative, supportive environment Emma has set up – and funds raised through The Health Lottery are an important element.
“The funding pays for the artists' materials, art pack and room rental for one day a week for 30 weeks of the year. That’s a lot. It keeps us running,” says Emma.
“We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve received two lots of funding, so we can develop and reach more people, especially those who are isolated, so we want to say a massive thank you to everyone who buys a ticket.”
Artistic Spectrum Factfile
Artistic Spectrum: bringing people together through creativity
Creative workshops for adults, plus outreach work with children in Thorne, South Yorkshire
A supportive environment for disabled people, young and old and single parents
Friday art classes explore a wide range of materials, including clay, collage, painting and drawing
£32,178 funding raised through Health Lottery Yorkshire and Humber