Throughout this spring the Minehead Mind Group have welcomed artist Megan Players to their regular Wednesday morning art session. The group meets in the Quaker Meeting house, a light and airy venue perfect for drawing and painting. These informal creative sessions have been running for over a decade and for the past eight years have been managed by local stone mason Rachel Gundry. Many who regularly attend have been doing so throughout this period which underpins just how much they value and benefit from the communal aspect these sessions provide.

Entitled Quiet Places for Unquiet Minds, the SAW workshops aim to help those struggling with mental illness to stay well, express themselves, to feel more engaged in their communities and experience a better quality of life.  The solid foundation of Rachel’s group was the perfect place to trial this pilot project. Rachel and Megan were able to sensitively establish the strengths and interests of the people who attend and consider how this would shape the project, the group are also continually consulted, and this gentle discourse will of course help evolve the work created throughout the six workshops.

I was able to join one morning to see how the sessions were progressing. Both Rachel and Megan had a light touch when it came to engaging the participants, who could interact as little or as much as they wished. One woman explained to me that she was experiencing a particularly ‘bad day’ and was happier to work on her own painting, she had thoroughly enjoyed the previous week’s project set by Megan and felt positive that she would participate again the following week. The fact she still felt comfortable to attend was reassuring and encouraging. Megan is very familiar supporting groups with emotional needs explaining that ‘Our creative nature is delicate and can easily retreat further and further until we feel it is lost, and that it never existed in the first place. The activity of making a mark, either with a pencil, pen, paint brush or in clay, within a safe and held environment can be incredibly liberating and healing.’

Naturally the Minehead group all have varying artistic abilities one woman had the most wonderful sense of fluid line when I watched her draw and it transpired that she had worked for many years in the Staffordshire potteries hand painting ceramics – a job that certainly requires confidence in mark making. I was also pleased to discover that practically all of the group having realised the immersive and serene space drawing can create continue to sketch at home; their sketchbooks were bursting with evidence!

The overriding theme for Megan’s project is the garden, of flowers blooming and wildlife being metaphors of the self, of opening up, accepting and managing change and forward positive thinking. On each of the tables were vases of bright spring flowers while the walls were adorned with colourful paintings from the previous session. The skill being introduced at this particular workshop was lino printing, but previously they had experimented with collage, pen and ink and the art of colour mixing, the results displayed all around. The plan is to exhibit the work produced during this year’s SAW Festival, hopefully at a venue in Minehead, and from previous experience enabling this boosts confidence as it would with us all.

This first phase has been paid for by SAW’s Arts Council NPO funding and further financial assistance is at present being sourced to enable Beccy Swaine to continue the project well into 2021, she hopes to engage with three different Mind groups per year across the county and is currently in discussions with Yeovil and Bridgwater, she is also welcome to suggestions of other health and well-being groups who may like to get involved.

While I was photographing the work on display, I caught sight of the most irresistible, playful dragon fly and asked who had made it? The answer was tinged with sadness and joy as it had been made by one of their regular participants, who so excited about the garden themed project and the prospect of working with Megan had made it before the workshops began, unfortunately she was now seriously unwell and unable to attend.

I sincerely hope Somerset Art Works is successful in their bid to roll out this project across the county, pairing different Mind groups with suitable artists obviously benefits those who attend but it also supports individuals like Rachel who runs the Minehead workshops single handed. I admire her for her dedication and commitment in understanding that the Wednesday morning is for many the focal point to their week.

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WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY by Davina Jelley

Published on March 27, 2019 // Davina Jelley