Room for Art: Visual Workshops for Adult Carers in Edinburgh and Dalkeith
A story by Art in Healthcare
Room for Art: Working in partnership with VOCAL we provided visual arts workshops facilitated by professional artists to unpaid carers in Edinburgh and Dalkeith in order for them to take time out from their caring role. These took place on both a weekly and monthly basis, online and in person.
What Room for Art: Visual Workshops for Adult Carers in Edinburgh and Dalkeith did
Altogether we delivered 27 art sessions throughout the year 13 online and 14 in person. In person sessions took place at the VOCAL Carers Centres in Dalkeith and on Leith Walk and there were gallery visits in Edinburgh to the Dovecot Gallery and National Museum Scotland. For those taking part in the online workshops, art material packs were sent out on 2 different occasions.
No art experience was necessary and we encouraged experimentation, exploration and play with different techniques and materials. We worked with clay, mosaic, watercolour, design, printmaking, drawing and collage to name a few.
For the Edinburgh group, carers agreed that having the majority of sessions online was favourable but having an opportunity to meet others face to face was important to develop relationships and to ‘take time out’ for socialising in a creative space. The final session in each block was held at an exhibition chosen by the group.
In Midlothian, many of the carers wanted to meet in-person, some stating that attending online meant that they never really felt ‘away’ from their caring role. Many felt unable to commit to weekly sessions so a monthly group was formed. Like the Edinburgh group, meeting in person provided carers with more opportunities for social connection.
VOCAL managed the participant lists in both locations on a first come first serve basis. All were unpaid Carers, some accessing services for the first time, and others involved for a while. Altogether we worked with 49 unpaid carers and 2 volunteers.
Our partnership with VOCAL has been really successful and essential to have them present in the sessions to provide further support to participants and manage bookings. It is a mutually beneficial relationship where we focus on managing the artist, activities, and budget. Our project addressed all the Creative Breaks Principles - Mutual Benefit, Personalisation, Targeted Support, Adding Value and Developing Knowledge and Understanding.
All groups formed into vibrant and supportive communities. Verbal and written feedback from all sessions and gallery trips was excellent and was observed that participants often ‘did not want to leave’.
What Art in Healthcare has learned
In Edinburgh, engagement with new carers has been challenging, and they are looking at different approaches to this going forward, including building relationships with referring professionals who identify and support carers early on in their caring role. They will aim to further strengthen their internal referral pathways through their carer support team, to ensure appropriate and early referral of new carers. They will prioritise new carers to join the sessions in the future.
There was an underspend in travel and the Dalkeith group did not come along to the gallery visit – although there was money available to support this. We could have done more to organise, advertise and communicate this opportunity to increase access to attending.
Although the online workshops are more convenient for some, the impact of meeting in person seems to be higher in terms of social connection. It is definitely important to have an in-person element when providing workshops online - the Edinburgh group will meet both at the start and at the end of each block of online workshops going forward.
How Art in Healthcare has benefitted from the funding
Support from Creative Breaks has enabled us to expand our work with unpaid carers into new geographical locations, working with more groups. We have developed new partnerships within VOCAL and have a successful format which can be replicated in other contexts. Our artists have continued to learn about challenges unpaid carers face and adapt and design activity to their needs. We’ve been able to hone our skills of delivering content online and achieving a good balance with in person sessions.
20 carers to have the space to take some time from their caring role to be creative and each week to have two bustling art groups happily producing an array of work.
Both groups were very well attended with 49 carers benefitting in total. A range of art materials and techniques were explored, and activity was directed by the interest of the carers and sometimes inspired by works in the Art in Healthcare collection. When asked what they enjoy most about the art workshops, all responded ‘having some time for me’. “Thank you – I enjoyed the space and time for myself” Carer “It made me take time for myself to do something I used to love doing and to recharge my batteries in a friendly supportive environment” Carer “What a great group, a lot of laughter….fab artwork - with some abstract work, and themes of Black Lives Matter and family.” Artist Carers stated they looked forward to the sessions and took comfort in knowing they would get a break from their caring role at a regular time rather than attending a couple of one off sessions throughout the year.
Several carers have stated that due to the nature of their caring role and/or since COVID-19 lockdown, they have struggled to socially interact. Some have lost contact with friends and no longer took part in hobbies and interests. One participant attending online always kept her camera off and rarely interacted online. She attended the gallery visit and commented on how much she enjoyed the event because it was a chance for her to do something completely new and creative outside of her caring role. It wasn’t just the visit to the gallery, but it was the planning of the trip, researching the artist, travelling to the gallery, and socialising with the other carers that she commented benefiting from: “It is a joy to spend time with the other carers” Nine carers who attended the art workshops had been registered with VOCAL Midlothian for over a year, however this group was the first activity session they had attended. They received other support such as benefit application support or power of attorney application but had not engaged in any social activities. These sessions allowed the carers to enjoy life socially outside their caring role were they often only focused on essential practical tasks.
Relationships/ friendships established in the group/ Peer support network/ Creating a space for creativity and open discussion to share experience
The art sessions, whether face to face or online, provided a safe and relaxed space for carers to have general conversations with each other about services, opportunities or other VOCAL or external creative training that could be helpful. Encouraging carers to attend Caring Centres allowed them to reduce any anxiety around attending social activities and they also accessed other support at the Centre available after their art session. Some carers who met at the art sessions, have become friends and meet outside of VOCAL, providing essential peer support. Many have similar caring roles and have exchanged knowledge and experience and continue to support each other whilst enjoying a shared passion for art. “Such a great group of ladies…such fun” Carer Many carers stated that the workshops gave them activities to do with their cared for person rather than always focusing on appointments and practical tasks.
During one of the sessions while the group were working on an art project, a carer asked if it was ok if she could ask the group for advice about an issue that was concerning her within her caring role. The carer was new to VOCAL and this was the first course she had engaged in. The group were warm and receptive to her questions and were able to advise her from their own experience. The staff member was able to contact her afterwards and offer her more specific support. We have often seen that when Carers attend a creative group like Room for Art ,it helps them to feel more confident to sign up for and engage in additional VOCAL sessions which can support them with more practical aspects of their caring role. “We find that the Room for Art sessions are not only an opportunity for carers to explore creative ambitions in themselves but a gateway for them to feel more confident about engaging in other more practical support that VOCAL offers. It is exactly that warm, supportive, and creative environment that is forged through Room for Art that lays the foundation for individuals to feel able to pursue other interests and reach out for additional support that they need.” VOCAL staff member
Relationships/ friendships established in the group/ Peer support network/ Carers more relaxed after each session
Through taking part in therapeutic art activities, connecting with others, taking time out and having time for themselves, these sessions helped make people feel better. Art making brought joy, calm, relaxation and improved self-esteem. All participants felt that taking part in the workshops had made a positive difference to their health and wellbeing. The session also benefits the cared for person – not just because the carer is going back more relaxed and recharged but because they have then taken part in the activities together. “Having time to do some painting was good for my well-being - so therapeutic!” Carer “I love switching off and calming down. The laughter turning to soothing – it’s bliss.” Carer “I feel positive and energised afterwards.” Carer "Thanks very much for providing these sessions, they're such a valuable resource for carers and, to me personally, an escape from every day worries and anxieties."
One Carer had only attended a couple of practical VOCAL sessions prior to the Room for Art course. She had reported feeling ‘extremely challenged’ and ‘isolated’ in her caring role. The carer was not confident about doing an art course and felt that she was not ‘in the least bit creative’. She experienced some technical difficulties in the first session, but persevered and began to focus entirely on the art which she was “surprisingly” really enjoying. It was observed that through the weekly sessions, her facial expressions had changed and that she was laughing, smiling, and participating in the conversation more – asking questions about materials, techniques and being palpably proud of her work when she held it up or shared it. She attended every session and produced some fantastic work that she was visibly delighted with. Prior to the workshops, this carer had presented as troubled and exhausted. Towards the end of the block of sessions, she became happier and more confident with her abilities and herself. She also attended the gallery visit at the end of the course and commented that it had been a ‘wonderful experience’. She visited a gallery she had never been to before and socialised with the other participants on the course. She brought her completed artwork too and was proud to share it with others. “Feeling relaxed and accomplished, looking forward to the next time.” Carer
Additional project outcome
New skills - Carers learn creative skills with many different art materials and techniques, developed their visual literacy, digital literacy and self-management skills to cope with the stress of the caring role. Many carers stated that they have shared their skills with the cared for person.
A carer in the Edinburgh group had some difficulty with joining the session online. She reported enjoying the art project but had been frustrated by her own inability to manage the online technology to access the class. She received support and tuition from the staff member and the group assured her that they had all struggled with online technology and that it just took practice. Since completing the workshops, this carer has now engaged in digital support classes. Prior to attending the digital support class, she bought her first Smart phone, and the support staff were able to help her to set it up. She reported that doing the Room for Art class had “pushed me out of my comfort zone digitally and creatively”. This improved skill has opened up the services and support she is able to access.