‘I was made so welcome’ – community gets creative in combatting loneliness

People in one Derbyshire village have been getting together to combat isolation and unleash their creativity, thanks to a group run by Junction Arts. The Creswell Gets Creative sessions are funded by money raised by Health Lottery East Midlands, and the group of regulars who attend have formed bonds so close that they were able to support each other throughout the pandemic.

Junction Arts, based in Chesterfield, was founded in 1976 to offer creative activities that would bring people in the area together, and over the past year it’s proved invaluable in helping them stay connected.

The group of 18, who are mainly in their sixties and seventies, call themselves the Arty Ladies (even though they do have one man in the group, Derek).

Project co-ordinator Jane Wells has seen their friendships blossom, and when the sessions were interrupted by lockdown she offered them the chance to get together over Zoom. They declined because they felt it would exclude people who hadn’t got to grips with technology, but they kept in touch via a WhatsApp group and now their community is stronger than ever.

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“That was just one example of how the group really look after each other,” says Jane. “Unless everybody could be included, nobody would do it. They were very supportive of each other over lockdown and were constantly in touch over WhatsApp, offering advice and support or just making each other feel a bit better. People also offered help with practical things like shopping, and it’s been so rewarding to see.”

With the return of face-to-face events, Jane has found a new venue with more space to socially distance. “The investment from People’s Health Trust with money raised through The Health Lottery has reaped so many rewards,” she says. “We wouldn’t have been able to deliver this project without it.

“It’s fantastic for us, because it’s not just a one-off intervention, and that means it allows us to develop relationships with people and make more of a difference. The staff here have creative backgrounds, but now we can afford to bring in some really highly skilled artists.

“I’m putting together another programme with ten new workshops. I’ve got some exciting activities lined up including pottery, marbling and making mosaics.”

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And the people of Creswell are reaping the benefits. “When you’re in the same room, you get to know people really well and you can see how much they benefit,” says Jane. “You also watch their relationships developing. People have made friends for life and they’ll never lose touch even if the project finishes. You can’t put a price on that.”

‘I was made so welcome’

Making new friends, trying new crafts and feeling supported are just a few of the reasons why Creswell Gets Creative love getting together.

“I’d been coming for less than a year before lockdown and everyone was so welcoming,” says Tina Chadwick. “It was great to try crafts I couldn’t afford to do at home on my own.”

For Helen Winnett, the group gave her a chance to make friends. “I was new to the village and I didn’t know anyone at all,” she says. “I was invited to the group and was a bit dubious at first as I’m not very good at crafts, but joining was fantastic. Everyone made me feel welcome, and being praised for the work I produced really built up my confidence.”

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