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Therapeutic power of art helps abuse survivors in Mansfield

Posted onPosted on 3rd Mar

Women who have been helped by a pioneering project at Mansfield Museum have been showing how it has helped them overcome challenges they have faced in life including abuse and trauma.

A new exhibition at the award-winning museum by the Art Power project opens next week to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March. It is open to the public from 9th March until 31 March.

It includes the creative results of interactions the members of the group have had with artefacts in the museum’s collection of ceramics, paintings and jewellery, as well as photographs of the women’s hands engaged in art activities including clay, felt, print and stitch.

The museum set up the two-year therapeutic creative project a year ago to support women who are survivors of trauma including domestic or sexual abuse.

The district has a higher than average incidence of domestic abuse and is also in the lowest 20% of all local authorities in England for cultural engagement and highest 20% of most deprived districts in the country.

In its first year, it has helped a total of 48 women from a variety of backgrounds. They have been referred by support services including NIDAS, NSVSS, Women’s Aid and the Jigsaw Support Scheme as well as through social prescribing.

Some of the participants have become involved through word of mouth on the recommendation of other members of the group.

The groups meet at the museum to learn more about objects and artworks in the collection and to take part in creative activities to develop their own artistic skills with sessions guided by input of freelance artists and an art therapist.

The main objectives of the project are:

• to build self-confidence
• to make friends and connections
• to take pride in creation
• to increase sense of place
•to continue to support longer term, post project.

One of member of the group, Rachael, said: “It was tailor made for my life, it just fell out of the sky from heaven. I didn’t really have any vision about the group. I just thought it would be something to do to distract me.”

Another member, Jade, added: “I am so grateful to be part of this group. It feels like it was made for us.

“It was a bit awkward at first. There were only four of us but we were soon all giggling. It feels safe and it is nice to know you are not on your own.

“I really love that sense of community. I would like to continue to work here as a volunteer because I really enjoy it  – it’s nice.”

The scheme has been funded by a grant of £89,680 from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, a charity that aims to strengthen bonds in communities in the UK.

It is the first time the museum has been involved in a scheme of this kind and it is part of an ongoing Mansfield District Council Cultural Services programme of ‘arts on prescription’ to help address health and wellbeing challenges in the district.

Tamsin Greaves, a graduate community projects aAssistant for the council, has been managing the project and evaluating its progress as part of a PhD she is completing at Nottingham Trent University into the benefits to wellbeing of creative activities as part of a social group.

She said: “This project tests the museum’s potential to make a difference to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

“Mansfield has high levels of deprivation and a relatively high number of women who have experienced violence, abuse and trauma.

“We aim to be a caring, loving, and non-judgemental safe space for these women and offer them a special creative experience they can be proud of.

“We also hope Art Power has enabled them to find comfort and support in new friendships and networks.

“The creative process seems to facilitate this. Being involved in a physical activity, such as making felt, or a clay tile, or a digital portrait, engages the hands and allows the women to relax and talk without being self-conscious.

“As a result, new friendships have been forged and some women are now meeting independently outside the sessions.”

The project allows the women to explore the museum store for inspiration for their own artistic endeavours and the outcomes are directed by the women’s interests.

Among the items that have been examined are the picture of a woman wrestler imagined by pop artist Peter Blake in 1968; images of female figures representing faith, hope and charity on ceramic lustreware; a Victorian portrait of a mill owner’s wife; sewing samples from the 18th century and a photograph of Edith Wainwright, one of only a handful of female mayors in Mansfield’s history.

The woman praised Tamsin for the way she has supported and encouraged them to reach into their creative sides.

“Tamsin’s been amazing,” said Rachael. “For this particular project I think she was made for this.”

Jade added: “I was a bit worried because I am not very good at art – and I am still not very good at it – but Tamsin sees the good in what you have done when you can only see the negative.”

Working with women who are survivors of abuse and trauma has not been without its challenges. Staff have received support and training by the council to ensure they can cope with the emotional burden of issues addressed in this work and that they can safeguard those taking part.

Tamsin added: “Summoning the courage to attend the first workshop is a big step for many. Sometimes we have held the sessions when the museum is closed to the public to help allay some participants’ social anxieties.

“The barriers to attendance can be financial, practical and social. We have tried to remove or lower these barriers by funding the transport costs of participants and providing free childcare in the museum.”

It is hoped that the scheme will build resilience, and may lead to employment, apprenticeship and volunteering opportunities for a number of the participants, as a legacy of the project.

Coun Marion Bradshaw, portfolio holder for Safer Communities, Housing and Wellbeing, said: “This project is proving a big success so far and a great example of how to use the resources of a cultural asset to benefit some of the hardest to reach sectors of our community.

“Sadly in Mansfield too many women experience domestic violence, abuse and trauma which can leave women in a long-term vicious circle of low self-esteem and poor mental and physical health.

“Projects like this can help to break that cycle and make a lasting difference to women’s lives.”

The scheme is one of number of social prescribing projects at the theatre and museum. These schemes align with a wider set of council Wellbeing priorities to improve the quality of people’s lives in the district and objectives of the Mansfield Health Partnership which was set up in 2019.

For more information about Art Power contact Tamsin at [email protected].

Find out more about domestic violence and abuse and how to report it at