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Arts charity’s creative solution to Covid mental health impact

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An arts charity battling a post-Covid ‘mental ill health crisis’ is boosting its reach across south east London and online thanks to new funding.

Arts Network, which provides arts and crafts workshops for people with severe and long-term mental health issues, is expanding from its Lewisham base into neighbouring Lambeth and Southwark.

The charity has moved groups online during the pandemic and launched a magazine with creative projects, tips and interviews – Stay Connected – which has seen its circulation rocket to over 1,200 readers.

The organisation will be able to help hundreds more people thanks to a £125,300 three-year grant from City Bridge Trust – the City of London Corporation’s charity funder.

City of London Corporation City Bridge Trust Committee Chairman Dhruv Patel said:

“I’ve been so impressed by the way charities operating under extremely difficult conditions during the pandemic have found creative and innovative ways to adapt their services, and Arts Network is a perfect example.

“By moving workshops online and launching a really successful magazine, they’ve been able to ensure people with mental health issues can stay connected and enjoy the therapeutic and cathartic benefits of exploring their creativity.”

The City Bridge Trust grant will fund two new workshop facilitators and a relationship officer tasked with building links with service users’ care co-ordinators and outside organisations.

Arts Network Founder and CEO Mo Saunders said:

“We’re already seeing increased demand for our services and we fear a mental ill health crisis will follow from the Covid pandemic. This funding will allow us to reach even more of the people who are most in need of our services.

“When people are with us they are not labelled as someone with a mental illness –

they’re just artists. It gives them a sense of self-respect, they learn new creative skills and start to build up social connections in a really supportive environment.”

Case study – ‘It’s like life on another level’

Jean Marc, 61, from Deptford, has been attending Arts Network workshops since 2014.

He said: “When I first joined Arts Network, I was very ill. It has been a lifeline to me – it’s a reason to get out and have somewhere to go. I enjoy being there and having people around me that have an understanding of mental health issues.

“The great thing about going to Arts Network is meeting people, talking to people, sharing activities and learning about crafts and skills I have never had access to. The outings and exhibitions are great because I wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise and I wouldn’t want to go on my own, so having people there to support you is fantastic.

“If I’m not doing art, I’m not a happy bunny, it helps me pass the time and distracts me from my day-to-day anxieties. When I’m at Arts Network, I am able to take my mind away from my worries about money, illness and even some of the pain – it’s like life on another level.”

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