Words by Ed King / Pics by Ellycia Gardner – with additional images from Ali Walker and Robert Alden
On Monday, 8 August, The Recovery Foundation launched their art showcase exhibition at the Secret Arts Studio Space (SASS) in Erdington.
Over the past few months, more than 50 local residents picked up a pencil or paint brush, many without any previous art experience, to create over 100 pieces of original artwork – as part of a programme of workshops to support mental health, wellbeing, and social inclusion.
Still on display at SASS, situated downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre, The Recovery Foundation exhibition can be seen through the gallery windows and on selected open days – and will remain installed over the next few weeks.
Running six separate groups over six weeks, The Recovery Foundation art sessions were free to access workshops – supporting anyone with “lived experience of mental illness”, or those just looking for a social or creative outlet.
Formed in 2020 by Emma Sitole, after her own issues with mental health and subsequent recovery, The Recovery Foundation places ‘hope’ and the centre of its support programmes.
Also embracing creativity and art as helpful tools of recovery, the six week workshops followed a series of oversubscribed Art in Parks sessions, where people would come together in outdoor green spaces, such as Rookery Park, to learn new art techniques.
As part of a post lockdown programme to help bring people out of isolation and come together again in community groups, the subsequent workshops allowed The Recovery Foundation to continue its work in Erdington – reaching out to more people and building a wider network of budding creatives.
Emma Sitole explained: “We trialled Art in Parks last year, which was really successful, and off the back of that people were saying they’d love something that explored different techniques and looked into different things.
“Angie (Chapman), our Creative Arts Director, put together a programme and we’ve seen about 50 people come through our doors with these workshops.
“It’s a privilege to walk alongside people and see them discover they’re really creative – and they’ve created some incredible artwork.
“Today is the showcase… there’s a real sense of pride around people wanting to show what they’ve created.
“There’s been a lovely buzz about the place, some lovely conversations. But also lovely to see that community come back together again and support each other.”
A local mum, Ali Walker, took part in The Recovery Foundation art workshops after suggesting the programme to a friend.
With a new born baby to look after, who she took to each session, Ali found the workshops a chance to meet other people and further explore her passion for art – already being a keen photographer.
Attending the showcase exhibition at SASS with her now 10 month old daughter, Ali told Erdington Local: “I got a range of things from it (the art workshops), on the art side I learnt a lot of skills and techniques and things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.
“On the other side of things, it was connecting with people from different backgrounds and getting involved in all sorts of conversations. And getting to know about Erdington a lot more, which I really enjoyed.
“I was trying to encourage someone I know, who struggles with their wellbeing, to come along but they couldn’t make it.
“I’d already put my name down and thought because I’m a new mother it was a good chance to get out for myself as well.”
After the success of Art in Parks and the subsequent art sessions, The Recovery Foundation are looking to establish a more permanent home in Erdington – and will be running another series of creative workshops in September.
Birmingham based professional mixed media artist, Eddy Aigbe, knows first hand the impact both creating and exhibiting art can have on people’s sense of self-worth.
Eddy told: “It’s something I’ve promoted myself in my previous job, where we had a community centre in Lozells.
“The problem was a lot of people were isolated and had mental health issues… and had a lot of talent. Just like you do here in Erdington – there’s a lot of talent going on.
“But there’s not much space to exhibit and show it off. A key part in being an artist is not just producing the work but showing it off – it validates you as an individual.
“As an artist, it’s a way to evaluate all the processes, styles, and everything you’ve been doing.”
The Recovery Foundation art workshop showcase on Monday, 8 August was open to the public, with the exhibition still on display at SASS.
Local resident and campaigner Basharat Dad attended the showcase’s opening. He told Erdington Local: “I think it’s brilliant, The Recovery Foundation have been great at engaging with the local community.
“Some of the artwork is the first-time people have tried art, and they’ve created some amazing pieces.
“There’s more of a need in Erdington, in terms of art spaces and projects, that could really help not just with mental health but also community building and bringing people together.”
Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden also attended The Recovery Foundation art showcase launch.
Cllr Alden has long championed the constituency’s creative industry and endevours, alongside his running mate Cllr Gareth Moore – from the mural on the hoardings around the old Maplin site, to the ongoing Active Arts and Kaleidoscope events.
Cllr Alden added: “It was great to be at The Recovery Foundation art event in Central Square and to see so many people from across the area together who had benefited from the art sessions that they have put on locally, especially in Rookery Park.
“These kind of events can help provide people with that support and community conversations that help people when they need it.
“Cllr Gareth Moore and I will be doing what we can to help support The Recovery Foundation with their plans for further events and services to support the local area in the coming months and years.
“While this was their first Erdington art show, at the Secret Art Studio Space, I have no doubt it won’t be their last.
“Well done to all of the local residents who produced some stunning pieces of art as part of the show.”
For more on The Recovery Foundation visit www.therecoveryfoundation.org.uk