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Community art group share lockdown experiences at new exhibition

A community art group that helps people with mental health issues and loneliness is sharing its experiences of the pandemic in a new online exhibition.

Breathing Space, which is a joint initiative between Taff Ely Primary Care Cluster and Tanio (formerly known as Valley and Vale Community Arts) uses art and creativity to connect with people who may be struggling with depression, anxiety and isolation.

The exhibition, ‘Of Windows and Worlds: Out of Lockdown’ is a celebration of the work the group created during lockdown and is available to view online here.

It offers some honest perspectives of how individuals managed during the pandemic and how important creativity and being connected to others was in helping to maintain wellbeing.

Creative Wellbeing Practitioner, Sarah Featherstone, who worked with the group over the past 12 months, said, “The sessions really were a lifeline particularly as many of the group were completely on their own so this provided a vital chance to have human contact, to talk and to support each other. Many were finding it hard to sleep and there was an increase in anxiety and loneliness.

“The creativity helped to keep us all motivated because there was a focus and a way of expressing our emotions through artwork, writing, music and knitting.

“It was so inspiring to see the progression of people’s work during the lockdown period and this exhibition provides a real snapshot in time which we hope others can relate to.”

Breathing Space was launched in January 2018 and provides a weekly session with a mix of mindfulness, creativity, support and coping mechanisms.

The group usually meets in St Catherine’s Church in Pontypridd every Thursday afternoon but since the pandemic has been meeting online from 1-2pm.

People come to Breathing Space in a number of ways, either following a referral from their GP or mental health charity Mind, after seeing information online or word of mouth. An increasing number of men are also coming to the group and forming friendships.

For Joan Mascord, Breathing Space provided a consistent place to come during lockdown and connect with others.

She said, “I found the support vital as there was nowhere to go apart from a local walk and this was a date in my diary and a coming together of people that I could still see.

“Creating art for me was a way of making sense of the world during this difficult time too but I wouldn’t do it on my own so Breathing Space is perfect for giving me the inspiration and push I need.”

Sara Mayo, whose work is showcased in the exhibition, echoed Joan’s comments about the group providing vital support.

She said, “During the last year I have explored creative writing by participating in Breathing Space which has proved to be an important coping strategy for living with mental illness, unemployment and the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.”

Breathing Space, which is funded by Welsh Government and Cwm Taf Morgannwg Regional Partnership Board, is seen as a long-term solution in improving wellbeing in the community.

As well as providing a space to talk and create, it also works closely with charity Interlink RCT who can signpost people to services that can provide further support to improve wellbeing and make a positive impact on peoples’ lives.

Lisa Davies, CEO of Tanio which oversees the project, said, “It can be really hard to get help and we use an empowering approach to work together with participants and improve their wellbeing and quality of life.

“Breathing Space is a safe environment where people can meet others, feel connected and build on their strengths and talents. This exhibition is a culmination of participants work over the past year and we hope it reaches others who may need help and encourage them to come along. We know it’s a big step but everyone is really welcoming and supportive.”

For now the group will continue to meet online and in July, as long as restrictions allow, it is hoping to reconvene face to face meetings back in St Catherine’s Church from 1-3pm.

To find out more about the group or just have an initial chat to see if it’s right for you please contact Sarah Featherstone on 07792 452361 or email or Ruth Morris at Tanio on 01656 729246.

 *For further information please contact Alison Watkins in the communication team on 07854 386054 or email