Many heroes have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and we hope to acknowledge them all in any way we can when this is all over. But our latest Community Ledge is someone who has not only helped out during the current crisis but has been busy behind the scenes helping the less fortunate for years.

Thanks as always to their Albion for their sponsorship and the provision of one of their famous pie meals to each Community Ledge.

You seem to have had an interesting life. Is this true? 

I am not sure about whether other people will find my life interesting, but I’ve found life interesting! I’ve lived in Hastings most of my life; I’m a single mother – proud of my two sons and four grandchildren who I am missing so much now! I backpacked in Asia, taught English in Cambodia, worked on a yacht, went motor biking in Europe. When the boys were two and three, I drove down to Spain in my 2CV and lived there for a year, returning to live in Powder Mill Woods for a short while until I settled in my new Hastings home. I worked as a researcher for the Arts Department at the Open University and I’m an artist inspired by memories and hidden secrets, working with clay and mixed media.

When did you feel the urge to help others? 

I suppose I’m driven to help people feel included, I enjoy seeing people flourish. Unless people have confidence or a good family network of support, I feel they often miss out on opportunities. Hastings is a very creative town, but it’s often the same people at art events, exhibitions and things like that. I had a friend, Baaydha Yahya, a very shy person, who wrote the most amazing poetry. But when she read out her poetry she really glowed and was an amazing performer! She’d have gone far with her writing had she not died so tragically young. Anyway, after hearing her read I set up Other Words – I wanted to take away the perception that poetry is too posh – and I brought it into schools and community settings. 

When was that?

That was in 1999. Other Words’ open mike platform ran for ten years bringing people to the town back in 1990s like Attila the Stockbroker, John Hendrikse, Salena Saliva, John Cooper Clarke, Laurie Laughlin Young, Seething Wells, Justin Coe, to name a few, as well as involving locals like John Knowles and Mike Hatchard.

You often mention your mother. Was she a big influence on you? 

My mother has MS and you’d never really know as she is such a strong character! She is a doer and doesn’t sit about looking at obstacles despite her disability. She just gets on with things and this is very inspiring to me … she has great style and has a very artistic way about her in all she does. She can definitely make a velvet purse out of a sow’s ear!

You give the impression of being more interested in practical ideas than bureaucracy; is that true? 

I can’t say I enjoy spreadsheets and evaluation reports, however I’ve had to learn. I played a lead role in the implementation of an award-winning social prescribing service three years ago; it won a Royal Society of Public Health Award. This supported people with social and economic issues that impacted their mental health and well-being. Working on that made me realise the importance of having the correct system in place to ensure that people are safeguarded and that projects are able to achieve their goals while at the same time having a meaningful outcome. But it’s true, I believe in getting the job down and am always looking at solutions to overcome challenges.

If so, has this ever got you into trouble? 

Not really, although it’s sometimes caused me a lot of work! But I really believe that a project has to be led by community needs and that it should be a source of inspiration rather than a dry service that just ticks the boxes. I believe the most successful projects are ones that have grass roots passion but also build a strong infrastructure to enable them to respond and be adaptable to challenges and needs such as we have now with the Covid Pandemic.

You also appear to take on too much sometimes. Are you good at getting others to help out? 

Hah, now that’s a question. It’s difficult to ask people for help especially as Arts on Prescription is only partly funded and much of the work is volunteer led. We’re going to be working closely with Hasting Voluntary Action to help with this and to help with funding bids as being a not for profit we can’t afford to pay the high fees of a professional bid writer.

How did Art on Prescription come about? 

I wanted to combine my passion for art, networking and the knowledge of the proven benefits that participating in arts has on wellbeing and health. I gathered a team of local artists linking them via a GP referral pathway to people who would not usually engage in art activities. Arts on Prescription (AOP) is a free service set up in June 2019 to reduce loneliness and isolation to people who have challenges accessing activities in the community. These could be for a variety of reasons including, long-term health issues, being a carer, lack of confidence, mental health. AoP has been very successful in introducing a wide variety of creative activities in a safe, accessible environment to those who might otherwise be socially isolated.

We published an article about Arts on Prescription during the Corona virus (HIP Issue 149). Is there any update you’d like to add?

Arts on Prescription free art for wellbeing sessions are still going ahead. But now we’re using an online platform to deliver weekly art and creative sessions in ZOOMLAND. The aim is to reduce feelings of isolation, keep the group connected and maintain the creative flow. Every Friday at 10 am – Keep Safe, Stay Connected and Be Creative. Our free online weekly art sessions are a great opportunity to try something new, inspire you and a place to meet new people! Join us on Join Zoom Meeting: Art Friday morning at 10.00am-12noon; Meditation and Mindfulness with Nadene Searle, Tuesday 10-11.00am; Singing Mondays with Jenny Miller, 10.00-11.00am

How do you feel the pandemic is affecting the Hastings Community? 

Ironically, I think it’s brought a lot of people together. It’s been amazing seeing so many volunteer support groups set up to reduce loneliness and isolation such as Isolation Station, and support services such as Hastings Emergency Action Response Team (HEART) who shop, deliver, take people to hospital appointments, etc. And then the weekly clapping for the NHS bringing neighbours out on the street and talking to one another, and so much fundraising activities for the homeless services. It is a scary time for everyone, but the community spirit has been heart-warming and just another example of why people genuinely love this town …  

How do you think it will affect our attitude to helping each other once the pandemic is over? 

I think people are going to be more empathic to the everyday challenges that some of our community have been facing for a long time, social isolation and loneliness and being housebound … I like to hope that people will keep speaking to their neighbours and looking out for each other. I hope that we’ll continue to smile and ask how we can help and not point fingers and pass judgement on people whose backgrounds they are unaware of. 

All information can be found on Arts on Prescription Facebook page; there is also a private AoP Facebook page (AoP members) where participants can share and connect via art and wellbeing posts on Facebook

Alison Cooper
John Knowles
Claudine Eccleston
Alan Turing
Rachel Holtom
Ruaidhri Guest
Erica Barrett
The Horse & Groom Pub
Jane Grimshaw
Will Stevens
• And read what it takes to be a Community Ledge here

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