‘I think this project saved my life...when things were dark’ - Participants in Studio 2 Creative Ageing programme in Derry tell how art is a great mental health salve

Derry community worker Ollie Green has described the participants in a powerful new documentary about harnessing the creative arts to improve mental well-being as ‘heroes.’

Friday, 14th May 2021, 5:07 pm

Mr. Green, arts director at Greater Shantallow Community Arts/Studio 2, was speaking as it launched its ‘Creative Ageing’ Programme with the screening of the film produced by its ‘Arts in Mind’ group at Studio 2.

The idea behind the programme and the film is to help people improve their mental health through creativity.

Mr. Green said the team at the Galliagh arts hub had developed a new ‘Recovery to Discovery’ programme to try to make a difference to those experiencing mental health and recovery issues in their lives.

James, Patrick, Gerry and Tony who took part in the Creative Ageing documentary, made by Arts in Mind at Studio 2, pictured the launch of the programme at Studio 2 on Wednesday morning last. DER2119GS – 012

A number of participants who feature in the new documentary spoke powerfully about the value of getting involved.

“I think this project saved my life. It came to me at a time when everything was dark and I felt lost. What I loved most about the Studio 2 group was the humour and how we spent our time really enjoying each other’s company. The crack was brilliant and I never realised that I could make so much art,” said Tony.

Garry, another participant, agreed: “I just loved everyday we were together and missed it so much when the Covid came and ruined everything. The Zoom thing was strange at the start but then you really looked forward to our contact every week. I went through some dark days in the last year. I suppose we all did. But it was great knowing that we were there for each other and that Studio 2 had our back.”

Pat said it provided a real fillip: “I can’t wait until we get back together again. I missed the crack and making stuff. It is great when people see me differently. This project has done a lot for my self-esteem and confidence. I would recommend it to anyone. It is brilliant.”

Eddie Kerr speaking about the ‘Recovery and Discovery’ mental health project at the launch of the Creative Aging Programme at Studio 2 on Wednesday morning last. DER2119GS – 013

Jim echoed this: “On this project I have learned so much about myself and how to deal with my emotions and tell my story. I now own my own life and I have found a way of telling my story which I am very proud of. Also I have met some really great people on this project and I am ready to meet more.”

Mr. Green said the Creative Ageing group’s attitude was amazing. “The guys who have spoken out on this are the real heroes. These guys are brave enough to put it out in public. They are going to be stronger champions of this than anyone.”

‘Arts in Mind’ facilitator Martin Meenan, suggested: “Making art is helping many people express themselves, without having to use words. It is about people reconnecting to themselves and their communities.”

Dr. Siobhán O’Neill, Mental Health Champion for NI, said: “The arts have a powerful role to play in improving many aspects of well-being. It is well documented that participatory arts can help both physical and mental health – aiding mobility, as well as protecting memory and promoting cognitive function.”

Liam Hannaway, Chairperson, Arts Council, NI, Colr Brian Tierney, Mayor of Derry and Strabane and Ollie Green, Artistic Director of Greater Shantallow Community Arts pictured at the launch of the Creative Aging Programme at Studio 2 on Wednesday morning last. DER2119GS – 011

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I greatly welcome the steps GSCA are taking to improve the mental health and emotional well-being within these communities.”

Noelle McAlinden, board member NI Mental Health Arts Festival, Ollie Green, Artistic Director of Greater Shantallow Community Arts and Shauna Houston, Improvement Manager, Public Health Agency, pictured at the launch of the Creative Aging Programme at Studio 2 on Wednesday morning last. DER2119GS – 010