A member of the Anxiety Cafe project with the group's textile project.

The Anxiety Café is a project run by Independent Arts in the Isle of Wight and is funded through the Trust’s Active Communities programme. Independent Arts uses arts to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to reduce social isolation. In this blog, we hear from member and volunteer, Diane.

The benefits of the arts to improved health are well established. In 2017, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing released their findings on the impact of the arts on health in their report, ‘Creative Health’ stating "The arts can keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived."

“I’ve been going to Anxiety Café for around sixteen months now, since August 2018. Previously, I was a teacher working full time, but four years ago I was involved in an accident which left me with neurological and spinal injuries which developed into chronic pain. I tried to carry on working, but it became clear I couldn’t. I had to leave the profession I loved, which was devastating.

As part of my recovery I joined a neurological support group and one of the people from Independent Arts came along to talk to us about the Anxiety Café. I was in this deep void, so went up to the lady and started talking to her and she suggested I come along to a meeting. After the first one, I couldn’t wait to go back. What surprised me most was how high the quality of the activities were. Photography, creative writing, needle felting, ceramics were all taught by professionals. It made me realise the value the Anxiety Café saw in me, and what I could achieve if I put my mind to it.

I became part of Anxiety Café organically, slowing becoming more involved with the group, chatting with the others and building relationships with everyone. As I used to be a teacher, I feel I can listen to others and really understand what they’re going through. It started with me just making the teas and coffees, but now I’m the person who greets new people and makes sure everyone’s okay. It made me realise how much I loved helping people. I can relate to other people, and hopefully they can relate to me. It’s such a fantastic, supportive atmosphere.

One of the highlights of my time at the Café has been working with a professional photographer for a few weeks. We learnt how to use digital cameras, and mount our own photographs and they were then exhibited in the library, I remember just crying when I saw them. They were so professional. It’s such a boost for our self-esteem. After one of our projects we exhibited the work ourselves in the Independent Arts ‘People’s Gallery’ – we had to plan the exhibition and physically put the pictures up ourselves. The feeling of success and teamwork was amazing.

Most of the activities come from member requests, and the project co-ordinator will then find a practitioner on the Island who is an expert in that field to lead a workshop. It makes us feel listened to, and our ideas valued. Another highlight was when one of the members said they wanted to go outside and explore nature, but couldn’t do it by themselves. So we hired a mini bus and went out to a nature reserve together as a group. It was the highlight of the week for many people.

The project helps its members in so many ways, growing in self-esteem, confidence and trust. One of the things I like most is that the group is open to all and very welcoming, and is full of talented and creative people. That’s really important to me, getting people in and sharing your passion.

Anxiety can be crippling. It can rule your life. Fundamentally, we’re social beings and coming together and connecting with other people is healing in itself. Things happen in our lives and can change everything, but we can also change. Being together, and being creative can enable that. I always think that the Anxiety Café is like we’re all holding hands, making that change together.“

The Anxiety Café is funded by People’s Health Trust with money raised through Health Lottery South East.

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