As 2017 winners of the Creative Arts award at the 3rd Sector Care Awards, we’re immensely proud that our work is being acknowledged. The ceremony itself was very emotional, and it was fantastic to hear how other organisations like ourselves have delivered life-changing services to people and communities, and how they have supported people through incredibly tough times.
Working in the health and social care industry can be frustrating and there are many ups and downs. My team do their best to use the resources available, to use imaginative and innovative ideas to motivate our service users. They face challenges and behaviours every day and they do it with a calm, professional approach, a smile and a laugh, and a real ‘can-do’ attitude that never ceases to amaze parents, carers and myself. This award reminded them that there are people out there – like-minded people who simply ‘get it’ and appreciate the hard work they have put in every day.
Our creative arts department is part of an extensive suite of day services provided by Autism Together, based in Wirral. These workshops have developed over the last five years from two multi-use rooms to six well-resourced rooms specific to different arts.
We now have five highly-skilled and formally-trained instructors – two qualified to degree level – allowing up to 200 clients a week to use a wealth of resources such a potter’s wheel, sewing machines and screen printing equipment.
We’ve invented a variety of methods to assist people with lower ability levels and more complex needs, using templates and masking techniques to guide clients to form shapes. Alternatively, we use their hand painting and cutting-out to create more sophisticated works.
We also love to get involved in community projects, which can be a wonderful way to help service users develop their communication skills. Our ceramics department produced a beautiful ceramic wreath of red poppies which is laid at a memorial on Remembrance Sunday, and we currently have an exhibition running for a month in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
These community projects allow our fantastic artists to be proud of their achievements and show off what they can do. As a department, we also sell a series of prints, greetings cards and postcards based on our artwork.
Each individual with autism can get something different from the arts. Some have an extraordinary ability to think visually and express ideas through drawing or other artistic media. For others, it’s about encouraging communication and nurturing emotional growth. Through recognition of this award, we have been able to encourage our service users to take up more creative activities, with our trophy beaming proudly down over us.
In our creative arts department, we implement a lot of group projects to encourage social interaction and turn-taking. We design these collaborative projects around all ability levels, allowing everyone to participate and have a sense of achievement in the end result. We use interactive smart boards and touchscreen technology to ‘paint’ in light. Even an everyday program such as Paint has been used to create some amazing artwork.
We have consistently achieved excellence through creativity, and have many success stories to show this. One service user, Peter, had a history of very challenging behavior. He loved ‘acting’ so we encouraged him to develop plays based on his favourite films, such as Harry Potter. He makes the props, costumes and back-drops in the art sessions and the staff are the players. His behaviour is far less challenging now.
Another service user, Allen, loves washing machines, so with lots of support he made his own life-sized washing machine from cardboard and even used the sewing machine and old bits of fabric to make the ‘clothes’ to go in it.
A mother of one of our service users has commended our department. She said, ‘My son is 25 and he visits creative arts twice a week. He’s very proud of the artwork he produces. I’ve seen him displaying challenging behaviour and watched staff calm him down and get him back on track. It’s not an art class where you sit someone down with a project and they just do it. The staff are incredible. They make sure service users are involved and understand what they are doing.
‘My son doesn’t have a lot of language but he has drive and determination. Other clients have less drive – so staff have to work hard to keep them engrossed in what they are doing. My son is very proud of what he produces and it’s helping him develop language.’
Continuing our work
There is no other art-based autism workshop as highly skilled and resourced as ours in the North West and parents and specialist schools are eager for young adults to attend. We have learned that investing in equipment and staff is worthwhile.
Since winning the award, we have been inspected by The National Autistic Society and won accreditation of our day services. I am sure this award went some way as evidence of the fantastic work we do.
We have our lovely trophy in a display case for everyone to see as they enter our main headquarters. This award helps us prove to people that we are a specialist service, that we are the best place for their autistic son or daughter to come to and that the staff supporting them are highly commended.
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