Occupational Therapy at The Art House


Over the past few months we’ve been lucky enough to have two Occupational Therapy students – Yvette Haynes and Simon Jacques – from Sheffield Hallam University on a role emerging placement working at The Art House.  They’ve been working to complement our services by scoping out the organisation, assessing the needs of our clients and planning new Occupational Therapy lead groups and activities. We caught up with them recently to talk about Occupational Therapy, their time here and what they’ve learnt from the placement.

So to begin with, what is Occupational Therapy and how does it fit in with what we do at the Art House?

Simon: Occupational Therapy is about working with people to enable them to achieve what they want to do in their everyday life and giving them the tools and opportunities to do it.

Yvette: Sometimes there are barriers that prevent people from doing the activities (or occupations) that are important to them. We aim to work with people to help empower them to overcome these barriers, as it is important for people’s health and wellbeing to be able to do the things they the need and want to do. Because the Art House is a centre that concerns itself with wellbeing through art and craft, Occupational Therapy ties in really well.

How did you go about integrating what you do into The Art House?

Simon: Occupational Therapy is about working alongside people rather than us simply deciding what would complement the venue so, to begin with, we attended the groups which take place here to find out what people thought was good and to identify barriers that we could target through our placement.

Yvette: People said that The Art House provides a solid community for them, that is supportive and non-judgmental. People also expressed that attending the creative groups at the Art House is very important to them, but they wanted more opportunities to explore environments outside of the Art House. This included connecting with nature, wildlife and Sheffield’s architecture, street art, art galleries and museums.

We organised groups to enable participants to get out and explore some of the urban and green artistic environments in Sheffield. This brought users from different wellbeing groups together, contributing to the Art House’s sense of community and the supportiveness between participants.

Simon: During the groups participants could capture the experience however they liked – some people used sketching, others photography or writing. And for some people, the experience was just to be part of the group, talking about what we saw as we went. There’s no right or wrong way for participants to engage. Also we’d work towards creating photography and art based on these trips to show in a group exhibition at The Art House in May.

So where did you go?

Yvette: We visited a mixture of green and urban spaces to explore how art and creativity worked in different settings. So, we visited The Millennium Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, Weston Park Museum and the Longshaw Estate to enable people to access and experience creating art in a green space outside the city centre.

Simon: Trips like this can achieve a lot – from gaining confidence on public transport, to socializing, to enabling people to connect with their own creativity. And, of course, exercising.

So how does all this work in art and wellbeing context?

Simon: Well firstly, it’s worth saying that wellbeing is something that is important to everyone; it’s not just people who are unwell. The process of actually engaging in art is a very positive experience for most people and can help to shut off day to day stresses and distractions.  And at the end of the groups participants will have produced something tangible which, if they want to, they can go on to share with others.

Yvette: For people who enjoy engaging in creative art activities, the benefits can include really positive attributes such as increased self-identity, sense of purpose, self-expression and all round psychological wellbeing.

What most surprised you about The Art House?

Yvette: The overall sense of community. I didn’t know about its whole wellbeing side and I’d encourage people who’ve never been to pay it a visit. I’ll take away memories of the great people I’ve met and worked with here. And being involved with art so closely has made me get my old painting easel out so maybe I’ll start painting again.

Simon: I come from a mental health background so I was aware of it but I’d never actually visited. Again – I was surprised by the number of wellbeing classes and their quality. The venue is really committed to making a positive difference in people’s lives.

And finally, where would you recommend to help people discover the city’s cultural side?

Simon: I like the art of people like Pete McKee and, as a sculpture, I’d encourage people to check out Stoneface (Andrew Vickers.)

I do wish there was more public sculpture in the city as I think there’s the potential for so much more.

Yvette: I’d say to check out the independent art galleries and events like Craft Jam and the Peddler Market.  Also APG gallery is worth a visit.