Members of an arts for wellbeing group are supporting each other through lockdown after taking their weekly sessions online. Members of RCT-based Breathing Space have been meeting via Zoom since the beginning of the Covid pandemic and painting, sketching, writing and even dancing and hula hooping in unison from the comfort of their own homes!
Usually held every Thursday afternoon in rooms above St Catherine’s Church, Pontypridd, Breathing Space is a creative group dedicated to enhancing wellbeing and reducing loneliness in Cwm Taf Morgannwg. While lockdown could have been a major setback for several members, the group moved online during the very first week of restrictions, proving a lifeline to those most at risk of social isolation.
While some regulars to the group have been unable to attend due to the digital set-up, the online sessions are proving an unexpected bonus for those who sometimes struggle to leave home due to anxiety and depression.
Coordinator Katja Stiller said: “Zoom is proving an extra stepping stone for some people who are anxious and allows us to be more inclusive. People who are not very well can join us without having to travel, or people who have moved away can stay involved.
“It’s the only date in the diary for some of the group who are shielding or self-isolating, and in the future we will continue to offer this option for members who are too ill or for some reason can’t come to come to the church.
“The group dynamics are interesting and the members have all been helping each other through lockdown. It’s such a good support system. We all have our ‘down’ days at different times, so there is always someone to pick us up. Art is the focus; we share our experience of lockdown and it’s important that everyone finds a way of expressing themselves and finds a way to process what is happening at the moment.”
The Zoom meetings have attracted a core group of six or seven members each week, with others joining in when they can. Members have written poems based on the themes of ‘In the Middle of the Night’, ‘Through My Window’ and ‘My Street’, listening to music and dancing and hula-hooping. Participants paint and draw individually during the two-hour session, while chatting if they wish to or otherwise just listening to everyone else.
Member John said: “Most of us are not sleeping too well at the moment, which is why we have written poems about the middle of the night. We’ve also been looking at surrealism, as some of our dreams have been so strange! I’m missing the friendship with some members who are unable to join online, but it’s a good way of keeping in touch with others.”
Joan said: “It’s been lovely to see how much we have in common. We have done some dancing and Katja sent us journals, pencils and brushes,” while Sarah added: “It’s been nice to see each other’s pets!”
The group, which was launched two years ago as a joint initiative between Taff Ely Primary Care Cluster and Tanio, the new name for Valley and Vale Community Arts, had been planning to stage an exhibition in September and now hopes to hold this online too.
Initially established as a 12-week project, Breathing Space is seen as a long-term solution in improving mental wellbeing and reducing social problems. Jointly funded by the health board, the Arts Council Wales and the Welsh Government’s Integrated Care Fund through the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Regional Partnership Board, the group has become a lifeline for people managing anxiety, depression and chronic pain.
Some members are referred by their GP or another community organisation, and individuals are also welcome to self-refer. There’s no obligation to attend every week, meaning members can dip and out as their health allows. For more details, phone Katja on 01656 729246.
Featured painting by John Gavan.