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Growing Lives participants use art to tell their story of homelessness

People who have been through tough times such as homelessness, alcohol and drug use have been given the chance to tell their stories of loss, despair and hope through an innovative arts project.

The freshly fledged artists are all participants at our Growing Lives project. They took part in a two-year Arts Council project aimed at breaking down the stereotypes and barriers to producing and enjoying art.

Growing Lives aims to build up confidence and to help people with recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, through a range of projects including woodworking, growing vegetables and taking part in walks.

This particular project has involved three main elements: creative writing, making a textile banner and making monoprints. The work created has been shown to the public including at the prestigious Wirksworth Festival earlier this month, where the Growing Lives artists rubbed shoulders with many creators from the local area and further afield.

One person who took part was Gareth Smallman, a qualified joiner and decorator who has been attending Growing Lives, and provided work for the creative writing element of the project. This involved writing poetry with a professional writer which was then placed in a small box.

Gareth used the experience to express how he copes with worry, saying he had found out aged 21 he was born with Kleinfelter syndrome, which is where men have an extra ‘X’ chromosome.

His poem included the lines: “… Might go back to the unit/To get more support/And I want to put/All of my little carvings/In the box you bought.”

Jackie Carpenter, assistant director of strategy for Derventio Housing Trust, said:

The aim of this project really was to give opportunities to people who don’t think of themselves as being involved with art at all, to create work themselves, to realise that everybody has the ability to bring out the artist in themselves.

We are really proud of what people have done. It’s amazing what people can achieve, people who thought they could not achieve anything, people who society might think couldn’t achieve anything. These are people who have significant difficulties and challenges in life, so to have something in their life that is a big positive is something you often can’t put into words.

Showing at The Wirksworth Festival was a video documenting the project, as well as a large textile banner that participants made after visiting the People’s History Museum in Manchester, home to the world’s largest collection of trades union and political banners.

Jackie said:

Lots of visitors loved the banner and the film. And there was so much interest in what we do at Growing Lives, and Derventio in general, which was fantastic. I had so many conversations, explaining homelessness to people who knew little about it, and chats to fellow professionals sharing info about our services. Four people who come to Growing Lives came to help on Saturday, and proved to be excellent at explaining why it’s needed and how it works. And people enjoyed being Artists, with a capital A, too.

Darren Cox, who has recently started attending Growing Lives to gain help for his own mental health struggles, said he had enjoyed going to the festival to talk about Derventio’s work, as well as using art himself to try and express his feelings. He said:

It’s about expressing your feelings, spreading awareness about mental health and addictions. At Wirksworth I stood at the stall and talked to people about what Derventio does and how it has helped me.