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Art helping to heal the mind; In association with the NHS Painting, pottery and textiles are being used to help people with mental health problems at a Tyneside hospital's art studio. Health reporter JANE PICKEN visited St Nicholas' Hospital to talk to Studio users about the service.

Byline: JANE PICKEN

WALK down one of the main, nondescript corridors at St Nicholas' Hospital in Newcastle and you will reach a small, equally unremarkable door to your left.

Go through this door and you will be amazed at what lies behind it.

Colourful paintings, sculptures and sketches adorn every inch of wall, art materials are spilling out of boxes, from drawers and off shelves, and artists of all abilities busily sketch, paint or skillfully work on their latest creations.

At a giant table in one of the studio's three main rooms, Les Roadhouse, 60, from Jesmond, is completely absorbed in his studies of Raphael and is producing a

pencil drawing of a young woman. Large canvases show bright works in progress.

All the artists who use the studio have been treated for mental health problems and have been referred on to the studio by their doctor or care co-ordinator as a way to help them cope.

But it's a world away from medication, appointments with psychologists or other treatment and trained artists Lisa Corken and Kevin Meikle, who run the studio, are only interested in helping service users create works of art they can be proud of.

Many of them even end up on display at some of Newcastle's finest galleries, including the Hatton, run by Newcastle University.

"This gives me a way to channel my energy and it also helps to keep me calm," said Les, who also plays the saxophone in his spare time.

"I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder and hypermania about 20 years ago.

" Now I see a psychiatrist and take medication. I see this art project as part of my therapy." Every week between 25 and 40 people will use the studio, all of which have either had treatment for mental illness at some point in their life or are still getting help.

"There's no doubt something like this helps," said Kevin, who completed his art degree in Leeds and a masters degree at Northumbria University.

"If you're working on a painting or piece of art and you're really enjoying it, it's the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning.

"It gets you excited. That can take a person away from thinking about their mental health problems.

"We're not clinically trained, which is also quite unique. When people come here though they like it because we don't really know their diagnosis.

"All we're interested in is progressing their artwork.

Here they feel completely removed from hospital." The art rooms at St Nic's have been up and running now for 16 years and the facilities found there could rival any other studio.

There's a dark room, kiln, outdoor space and coffee room.

And many of the service users coming to the studio go on to develop their careers as artists at college or university, while seeing their self-esteem and confidence soar.

"We're actually quite unique. There aren't a lot of trusts in the country that have art rooms like this, actually on the hospital site," explained Sunderland art graduate Lisa.

"We're open to anyone who is having treatment in the community or who has been admitted to the hospital, but what we try to do is develop them as artists." The patients are encouraged to move along at their own pace and take part in group art projects. It's also up to them how long they stay with the service.

Studio user John, from Wallsend, experienced mental health problems a couple of years ago and is now recovered, but still attends the studio.

"I've found I'm good at doing things in three dimensions and the studio is a nice environment," said John, 52, who also works with patients on wards at St Nicholas' Hospital.

"It gets all the stress out and it's very therapeutic.

When I became ill I was treated in the community, but I'm one for getting on your feet and getting back out there as soon as possible.

"Although I was a bit nervous about going to the studio, I really wanted to do it. I wish more people would come here because it could be so good for them." Volunteer art students from Newcastle University and others willing to donate their time boost the service and projects run in conjunction with the Baltic and the Laing Gallery run regularly.

And the Workers Education Association provides tutors who can run courses in 10-week blocks.

At the moment artists are working on a project with the Discovery Museum, Newcastle, looking at the idea of being labelled as disabled. At the moment the centre piece is a large model of a wheel chair, currently under construction.

Helping them is volunteer Amin Hashkavai, who is seeking asylum after leaving his home country of Iran to study.

He's hoping the volunteers work will help progress his career.

"I've been volunteering for about one month and it's been very interesting so far," said Amin, who has completed a masters degree at Canterbury University in architectural studies.

"Initially you think it could be different working with people who have mental illnesses but it's fulfilling."

"If you're working on a piece of art and you're enjoying it, it's the first thing you think about in the morning, it gets you excited.

That can take a person away from thinking about their mental health problems."

CAPTION(S):

THERAPY - Art studio coordinator Lisa Corken; ENJOYMENT - Art studio co-ordinator Kevin Meikle; THERE TO HELP - Art studio co-ordinators Kevin Meikle and Lisa Corken encourage patients with mental health problems to explore art
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 10, 2007
Words:924
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