“We’re making more of an impact than we thought we would,” said Graham Duncan, director of the Art House, looking back on the first 12 months of the creative haven in Sheffield city centre.
“Financially we’ve got a bit of a way to go, but for the first year we’re really pleased.”
The £1.5 million project opened last August in part of St Matthews Church on Carver Street, providing a community pottery, workshops, a café and workspaces.
Since then, hundreds of people have enrolled on pottery and art classes – and Graham, the facility’s founder, said that for many regular visitors it has proved a life-changing experience.
“We’ve been really pleased. What we’re trying to do is to improve people’s quality of life and wellbeing through doing art.”
Among the courses on offer are programmes aimed at people experiencing mental health difficulties and the homeless, along with groups for Alzheimer’s and Asperger’s Syndrome patients.
Graham said it was an advantage that the Art House was not ‘labelled’ as only being meant for particular sections of society.
“They are just participating in art in a really high-quality building, and that benefits them,” he said.
“The other thing that’s nice is we’ve had lots of people coming who have just got stress in their work lives, or are at a difficult point in their lives. We’ve had lots of feedback from them, saying that art is really helping them to deal with stress and whatever difficulties they face. That’s surprised us – we didn’t expect to have that level of impact straight away.”
The Art House has South Yorkshire’s biggest pottery, fully equipped with wheels, kilns, a spray-glazing booth and a bank of skilled tutors.
Pottery co-ordinator Sarah Vanic said: “People tell us they feel under pressure and stressed at work. Being absorbed in creating something uses a different part of their brain and so they are refreshed and recharged at the end of sessions. Once they experience it, pottery becomes a way of life for many people.
“Doing pottery is such a healing process. You touch the clay, you get a bit messy, you make mistakes, and as you persevere you make something beautiful. For people whose lives feel out of control that is such an important process and you can visibly see people change and become more whole.”
The project has built up a supporters’ database of 1,500 people, most of whom have participated in a course of some kind. The Tudor Trust, which helps voluntary and community groups, is the biggest funder, while during the initial building phase, grants were provided by organisations such as the Sheffield Town Trust and the JG Graves Charitable Trust.
While exploring the healing power of art with vulnerable people is a key ambition, attracting regular paying visitors is equally important.
“They’re really vital to us, as it provides income that keeps the project running and helps us to pay for the work with people who need more support,” said Graham.
“I think there’s quite a lot of interest – but we’d like more people to know about us.”