Art in Action at the Skills Centre
Louise & Sarah creating some V.E Day Celebration artwork
Work displayed at Great Exhibition
David with his work at the Great Exhibition
Up-cycling bottles for World Earth Day
Exhibition of work for Wildlife Awareness Day
Having volunteered at Changing Perceptions since 2016, Rachel gained valuable experience of working with some of the people we support in skills-based group sessions. When a Support Worker role became available in May 2019, Rachel jumped at the chance to work at The Meath. While Support Work was rewarding, Rachel soon felt that she missed working in creative sessions. Since November 2019 Rachel has been a Skills Centre Activity Coordinator which she loves, and she has never looked back!
The past year has been especially busy and her ability to remain adaptable has been key. Here Rachel’s qualities and experience have served her well and have allowed her to support residents with engaging arts activities throughout the lockdown periods. Post lockdown, Rachel is thrilled to once again, welcome supported living and soon also day clients, back to her sessions.
For anyone that has seen Rachel in Skills Centre sessions with the people we support, it is clear to see that she has found her calling. I was interested to learn more about her background. “At 17 I did a BTEC in general Art & Design then completed a degree in interior design. I also later completed a BTEC in photography.”
Photography had always been an interest of hers but using her skills in a past job for an estate agency, led her to experience a temporary loss of appetite for it. Pleasingly she told me that “working with the people I support at the Skills Centre has rekindled my love of photography. Supporting the photography group gives me an immense sense of satisfaction.”
While Rachel’s skills and experience as an artist, photographer and designer are something that she uses every day, she also explained that her experience of education has shaped her character and approach to her work immensely.
Rachel was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 30. School was not a positive experience for her. “I always held back from going into teaching due to my dyslexia and experience of school, but I realised that I wanted to work in education, just in another setting.”
Looking back, Rachel can see that the lack of support with academic subjects at school is what drew her to the creative and vocational aspects of education. It has also led Rachel to have an ingrained sense of wanting to include everyone; she knows what it feels like to be left out, and sadly Rachel understands from personal experience that this can easily undermine one’s confidence and self-esteem.
Rachel is determined for everyone to be included and enabled to have a voice, “I encourage every member of my sessions to share their views with the group, to express themselves. I guide them to give them the confidence they need, and they get a great sense of achievement and personal satisfaction when they complete their work and see it on display. I’m pleased that, despite being in lockdowns for much of the period since I joined the Skills Centre, I’ve managed to put a greater emphasis on displaying, and celebrating their work.”
The positive impact of Rachel’s sessions is obvious to see; the opportunity to improve their creative, verbal, social and research skills and to see their work on display is very empowering for many of the people we support. “Stephen recently finished a picture that took him 5 months to complete during group sessions and 1:1 session time, he is a comparatively slow worker which can easily knock his confidence but I’m so pleased that he kept going. His Roald Dahl inspired artwork is now framed and up in the Skills Centre.”
Rachel has learned much from the people she supports and through experience has honed her approach to sessions to better cater for the broad range of abilities in each group. “I’ve learnt to go with the flow. I spend a lot of time planning and researching projects, but I’ve learnt to be prepared to be unprepared and to think on my feet- epilepsy and autism are guaranteed to put you on the spot!”
In addition to developing creative skills, Rachel encourages the group to research and discuss topics and to appreciate and explain what went well with each other’s work. She has seen that receiving praise from peers can be a huge confidence boost for the people she supports. Recently they have had to support each other through tough times and Rachel has felt very proud of the peer-to-peer support that is evident in her sessions.
During lockdowns Rachel adapted her sessions so that residents completed part of a group project within their household bubbles. An example that she is proud of was their wonderful work for the V.E Day Anniversary Celebrations that were enjoyed at The Meath. “It was a real achievement for the residents to complete all the work in their household bubbles. From painting backgrounds to crafting poppies, everyone got involved and it was wonderful for them to see all the elements fuse together for the result.”
During September’s hiatus from lockdown, the Skills Centre were able to hold socially distant sessions in household bubbles and they worked towards a Skills Centre wide ‘Great Exhibition’. The project, which enabled the people we support to learn about the 1851 Great Exhibition at Alexandra Palace, saw some impressive contributions from all groups. Rachel explained how the exhibition project enabled everyone to research and focus on areas of individual interest. “When the official Great Exhibition took place, photography was in its infancy. We therefore worked on creating some sun prints, which was the first form of photography. By using chemical paper left out in sun with leaves placed on them, each print was individual and the activity was suitable for all abilities.”
The group also researched postcards, which were mostly drawn when they originally became in vogue. Rachel used this as an opportunity for the group to capture their own take on the pandemic zeit geist. This resulted in a display of rainbows, thanks to the NHS and advise on hand washing- a true souvenir of 2020! She explained how she was able to adapt the project to include the broad range of abilities in the group. “Someone was worried as they didn’t feel they were good at drawing, so they decided to do a collage which they were pleased with. I also have some very able members of the group who produced their individual artwork for display, such as David’s Banksy inspired comic take on hand washing.”
More recently the group produced an impressive exhibition for World Wildlife Day. The project celebrated the beauty of animals while highlighting endangered species. Rachel explained that “the project required lots of conversations and research about animals, they chose what they want to learn about and create. The project incorporated both individual and collaborative work.”
The group are currently completing a project on bees which tied in with ‘no mow may’ and an important season for insects. With the easing of restrictions, Rachel sees some new scope for the group. “Now we can visit places to take photographs the photography group has more opportunities to develop their skills. I am hoping to work towards developing our skills so that we can make some cards to sell. I know that the group members would find that very rewarding- as would I!”