Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) service users have been training as volunteers at the Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester Museum. In conjunction with GMMH’s Creative Wellbeing Service, participants have learned how volunteering, arts and culture can play an important role in their own, and the city’s wellbeing.
Using a wide range of creative techniques and lots of discussion, service users gained hands on practice to explore the ways in which the arts and creativity can enhance lives. Service users and other volunteers used mindfulness to notice what happens to their bodies in a public space and how it helps sooth some of the anxiety that can come with the many social interactions that take place in busy locations. Creative writing was used to explore personal responses to objects and artworks from the collections. Guidance from curators and conservators helped participants to uncover other stories and histories.
Karen Brackenridge, Volunteer Assistant, at Manchester Museum, said: “The course allowed us to get to learn about volunteers over a period of time and see beyond the symptoms of people’s illnesses to the talents within.
“We can match personalities, strengths and interests to the right role and give volunteers time and support to get over fears and uncertainties. We are always adapting the role to fit the volunteers and there’s a real sense of community.”
As well as learning about the benefits of creativity for wellbeing, the seven-week course prepared people for the different roles that were available, by getting to know staff, visiting other venues and talking with existing volunteers. People reported really valuing this group experience, mixing with people of different ages and feeling that they ‘fitted in’ and ‘had a sense of belonging’.
Course participant Malcolm said: “It’s a reason to get out of bed and keeps your mind occupied. You never know what you’re going to come across in the museum. It’s given me ideas for artwork and I’ve started reading at home again because my concentration is better.”
Malcolm’s progression through the course and his volunteer placement is a great example of this tailored approach. The initial sessions were stressful for him as he was unused to being in a large group and he said he was very close to leaving the course after the first week but decided to come back and try one more session. Malcolm did complete the course and took up a placement behind the scenes in the botany department as he did not want to be in a public facing role. After the initial six-week place placement in botany, this role was made permanent and soon after Malcolm felt ready to try an additional role on the object handling tables, working with the museum visitors.
Danielle Garcia from Imperial War Museum North wrote the original volunteering course. She said: “Working with the Creative Wellbeing Service was of huge benefit to our volunteering for wellbeing programme. They worked closely with our staff at galleries and museums to create a bespoke, supportive induction and training course with embedded wellbeing techniques. They were able to carefully select service users who would benefit from our unique heritage volunteering programme and the course was a huge success.”
GMMH’s Creative Wellbeing Service is planning further partnership courses for service users who are interested in volunteering in the cultural sector and will publicise these under the Arts for Good Health (A4GH) programme for 2018.
The next course is starting in February 2018 at Manchester Art Gallery
For additional information, please contact Cathy Fortune, at GMMH’s Creative Wellbeing Service, by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or alternatively call: 07435 763 398.