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Mental Health and Wellbeing Take Centre Stage

A free five-week course at Towner Art Gallery, run in partnership with Sussex Downs College, shows how a collaborative community approach can support mental health

The Community and Engagement department at Sussex Downs College has collaborated on a national research project funded by the Department for Education. The project explores how learning and strategies affect personal wellbeing. The College counts Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, among its supporters and as a collaborator on the project. For 2017, Towner has taken a particular focus on wellbeing, seen and experienced through their exhibitions, community programme and ever-expanding partnerships.

‘Wellbeing Green’, the free five-week course run in partnership with Sussex Downs College, finished last Thursday (25th May) at Towner. The name stems from Towner’s learning programme, which uses the gallery’s exhibitions and extensive collection of contemporary, modern and historic artwork as its starting point.  The course was inspired by OUS, an exhibition by St Leonards based artist Becky Beasley currently taking place at Towner, which includes the theme of wellbeing amongst the ideas it explores.

Marina Castledine, Head of Learning at Towner Art Gallery, says, “Wellbeing Green is the name of the colour used throughout the exhibition by the artist. We run a number of mental health courses but the opportunity to work with Sussex Downs College allowed us to look at this exhibition as a starting point for a new audience. The programme is available to those actively seeking support and those who are more confident about their mental health. That mixture was one of the strengths of the programme. Working with artist Clare Whistler, participants used poetry and movement to discover more about themselves through the lens of the exhibition.”

It has already had a significant impact on the people taking part. Andrew, a learner explains, “The course has made me realise what I can do if I think outside of the box. I didn’t think I could do any type of creative writing at all and I surprised myself. The course has inspired me to believe in my own creative abilities a bit more, not be side-tracked into thinking I can’t do something when I can, and to believe in my own opinions. The course is really helping me to think positively.”

Henrietta Valler-Still, Engagement & Community Co-ordinator at Sussex Downs College, adds, “In supporting our local partners and the community, we aim to break down barriers of what it means to stigmatize mental health. Community and Engagement at Sussex Downs College is integral to ensuring that our local Sussex-wide communities become more resilient, confident, skilled, and interested in learning and the opportunities provided therein. The department, made up of passionate volunteers, coordinators and instructors, thrive in working with a broad range of local partners across sectors to ensure that all programmes within the department represent the very fabric of community learning, ensuring that we remain adaptive and supporting an element of self-efficacy in our work.”

OUS, by Becky Beasley continues at Towner Art Gallery until 9th July 2017. For more information visit www.townereastbourne.org.uk

Find out about Sussex Downs College and other ‘Be:Well’ programmes by contacting community.info@sussexdowns.ac.uk or find them on Twitter: @SDCcommunity.