We were all saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected death of Cllr. Andy Johnson, the newly elected Town Mayor of Devizes, on the evening of 25th May, only ten days into his term of office.
Many people across the Town have already paid tribute to his kindness and generosity as both a neighbour and a worker for local charities.
One of the traditions of the Mayors of Devizes is to use their term of office to raise funds for charities which support the people of the Town. Andy had chosen three deserving charities to support, the Devizes Foodbank, Devizes Opportunity Centre, and the new St James Centre, but his untimely death occurred before he was able to turn that intention into reality.
Please join us in making a donation to this appeal, set up in Andy’s name, to raise much needed funds for his chosen charities in his memory. The Covid-19 crisis has affected all charities, but has been a particular blow for smaller, local, groups whose income has dropped substantially now that “lockdown” has prevented their normal fund raising activities from taking place. The need for their services remains as great, so many are in real crisis. Your contribution will not only allow you to honour the memory of a dedicated supporter of our local community, but will make a real difference to the lives of people within Devizes
Who watched our Carmela and family on the telebox on Wednesday? Surely the most heart-breaking section of a documentary about life in lockdown and those taking the highest risks or making the worst sacrifices.
As her Dad, Darren said while driving his van around, delivery samples to hospitals, and unable to hug his daughter, the funding for muscular dystrophy research has dried up. But here’s a way you can help from home, and even win yourself a grand. The blind card advert can be found on Carmela’s Facebook page. You can help fill this lottery up. Pick a number from 1-150, pay £10 per number, so can have more than one if you so wish. Pay via PayPal.me/carmelasfund
Once all the numbers are taken the winning number will be revealed and the winner receives £1000, Carmela gets £500 towards a safe garden access area to play. Yep, it is play, Carmela’s family say, but only in a form of. It is, in fact, crucial exercise for her at a time when swimming, and other activities have been restricted. It helps build her muscles, and rather than most of us, being for a healthier life and perhaps some abs for the opposite sex to swoon at, muscle building is essential for someone with a muscle-wasting disease. The lockdown is already taking its tow on Carmela’s health and wellbeing.
So, please, if you can, support this sweepstake and be in with a chance of winning. Thank you. x
Huzzah, hurrah, hurray, whoop, bravo, hoot, shout, shriek, hosanna, alleluia and other synonyms for expressions of delight which I’ve shamelessly purloined from Word’s dictionary. Do I care? It’s March, time of the Mad March Hare, spring springing, birds a-singing in the blossoming treetops; after such a damp winter it’s refreshing to look forward to the April showers season!
Why do we even call them April showers when they tend to carry through from March to June?! Nevertheless, it’s warmer rain, with momentary lapses of sunshine, those little teasers of spring; don’t blink you might miss them. Still, just like a bear, I’m awakening from my hibernation, and heading downstream for a salmon supper!
In celebration of the feast, here’s some choosiest stuff to do over the coming month, as fished from our event calendar. The list is by no means comprehensive, you know the score by now, it’s updated (nearly) every day, so do try to keep up. Facebook is a good idea, if you do that, our page pumps posts out like Dwayne Johnson on a promise. Also, consider signing up for a weekly email, I don’t spam you, just once a week bulletin of what we’ve done and what’s to come.
First fortnight in March then, here it comes; the second half will follow…… I say that, then like a goldfish it’s a notion that’s gone in three seconds! Also, I can’t provide the links, but it’s all listed on our home page with links; it’ll take till April to do that, computer running at the speed of snail and all!
Devizes: First of the month is Sunday, nice way to ease into it. Georgina, Landlady of the White Bear, is running the London Marathon for Dorothy House, so there’s a pub quiz at 6:30pm to fundraise; £2.50 per person, max. 6 people on a team. Great Scott! St James Church hosts the monthly Devizes Silver Screen Film Club; Back to the Future showing this month. A great social meeting for our elders, and Driving Miss Daisy can provide transport.
If you’re looking for something wilder, The Three Horseshoes in Bradford on Avon is the place to head, where those Back-Wood Redeemers will be twisting those dark country and blues riffs into their splendid frenzy. Highly recommended from Devizine, tell them we sent you!
PSG has their regular Monday “Devizes session of Pop Soul & Gospel Choir,” at the Parish Rooms on Long Street, from 8pm until 9:30pm. Incredibly welcoming, PSG currently expect between 25 and 30 members on a Monday, and inform us “it’s a fantastic sound!” Join them for a fantastic start to your week!
Tuesday 3rd then, and it’s Devizes Film Club at the Town Hall. The Farewell (PG) from China, 2019. Director: Lulu Wang. To western eyes, this film has a curious plot but it becomes understandable in the telling. Billi has left China aged six, to be brought up in New York. Twenty-four years later, she is called back to attend a wedding that has been arranged purely to conceal from her grandmother that she is dying of lung cancer. Such kindly subterfuge is apparently common practice but Billi finds it hard to accept. She sees again many family members and it is her gradual reacquaintance with her Chinese heritage that provides this compelling, spiky exploration of family duty. A heartfelt, funny, emotional and rewarding film. The screenplay and production are wonderful, prompting The Irish Critic to call it the Best Film of the Year.
Wednesday is the regular acoustic jam at the Southgate. Marlborough’s folk-roots club has Edgelarks at the Town Hall; duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin combine exquisite folk with influences as diverse as the blues and Indian classical slide guitar, to create a sound that is “subtle, atmospheric and bravely original” (The Guardian.) Alternatively, one of the most romantic operas ever written, La Bohème is showing at Bath Forum.
Even if not for the weather, Thursday 5th should get heated. Extinction Rebellion Devizes and Marlborough debate with MP Danny Kruger at St Mary’s Devizes.
Friday night in Devizes looks loud; hard-edged vintage blues with Barrelhouse at the Southgate will yowl like the Howlin’ Wolf. To contend, AC/DC tribute, Hell’s Bells play the Exchange, but want for a local, loud, classic rock cover-band, the awesome Homer play The Crown at Bishop’s Canning’s, and you’ll probably hear them from the Market Place!
Lighter rock n roll tributes come from Melksham’s Assembly Hall, where you’ll find Buddy Holly and The Cricketers. Or Bath Forum has Elvis show, The King is Back, and Johnny Walker presents Sounds Of The 70s at Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre.
The 7th, first Saturday of the month then, here it is: A songwriter genuinely literate, sometimes almost literary, Ian Parker is an original craftsman. Expressed through a distinctive bitter-sweet vocal delivery, Ian’s songs hold nothing back. His ability and willingness to share with his audience, naked honesty and genuine emotion, is what sets him apart, and The Long Street Blues Club welcomes him and his band back. Meanwhile, a little more light-hearted, Teachers Pet Rock Show comes to The Cavalier Community Hall. If you’ve seen School of Rock, expect an East/West Midlands styled tribute, promising to be a “gut busting, face melting glorious rock show that’s suitable for all ages!”
There’s acoustic fingerpicking, electric guitar thumping rhythms, harmonica and a loop pedal at the Southgate with Jon Pollard, while Marlborough’s Lamb has the high-energy classic rock covers band, The Electric Troubadours. Down t’other end of that enlarged High Street, The Wellington has its Welly-Fest; check their Facebook page as there’s stuff going on the whole month long. Comes to ahead for reggae fans though, on Saturday when our friends Razah and Knati P bring their sound system; oh yes.
Tributes in Trow-Vegas with Abbamania at The Civic. Whereas it’s a Britpop tribute double-header at the Melksham Assembly Hall with Oasis Maybe and Ultimate Stone Roses, and always worth catching, The Blue Rose Band play The Talbot Inn, Calne.
Would you Adam & Eve it, Sunday March 8th is my birthday? Thank you, it’s just a number. Not spoiled for choice as I’ve only one gig listed at the moment, but I do love the White Bear, where Phil Jinder Dewhurst continues their regular Sunday Sessions. Talking Sunday sessions, Swindon promoters Songs of Praise do similar at The Tuppenny, find the Richard Wileman & the Amy Fry Experience there this Sunday 8th.
Second week of March then, then we’re done and you go vacuum the hallway, or whatever else is outstanding; never ends, does it? Extinction Rebellion Devizes and Marlborough holds workshop “Roots of a Regenerative Culture,” Monday 7pm at The Barge on Honey Street. This training demystifies how to make everything we do regenerative and, as such, it is the key to understanding how to build resilience within ourselves and our communities.
Tuesday 10th there be a Quiz Night at The Vaults, Devizes in aid of Opendoors. And the Devizes Film Club has a Mexican movie, The Chambermaid (15) at the Town Hall. Director Lila Avilés’ first film quietly pulses with life in a multi-storey luxury hotel in Mexico. We see the engrossing work of a young, single mother trying her best to be promoted by thorough work, and to study in what spare time she is allowed. There is no life-saving Hollywood romance, just the drudgery of her daily work, problems with her fellow workers and managers and her efforts to improve her life. Cartol acts with sublime understanding of her role. With persistence and wry humour, she rearranges her tasks for variety, wickedly teases the window-cleaners, goes to evening classes and reads Jonathan Livingston Seagull. A subtle gem of a film, beautifully shot against the boring and colourless back-rooms, lush guest-rooms and the stunning city views.
Wednesday 11th at Marlborough’s Merchants House Michael Hart presents “Protestantism and the English Character.” While one of the most intriguing and exciting collaborations on today’s folk scene, Peter Knight, legendary violinist and ex-Bellowhead member John Spiers brings an evening of improvisation and invention of mysterious tunes to Pound Arts in Corsham. In Devizes, it’s time again for the acoustic jam at the trusty Southgate.
Blossoms play the Bath Forum on Thursday 12th, revealing their new album, Foolish Loving Spaces. They explain, “The album is a pure celebration of love in all of its splendid and baffling guises, toying with the so-called sins of lust and forbidden infatuation. It’s inspired by a summer spent listening to ‘Stop Making Sense’, ‘The Joshua Tree’ & ‘Screamadelica’.” If you’re in Swindon though, head for The Tuppenny, where the awesome Jake Martin and Jess Silk perform acoustic. Acoustic, made for Thursday, eh? If you disagree, check out the Winchester Gate, Salisbury where top Ramones tribute, The Ramonas are guaranteed to liven it up.
Friday is the night when the county finally gets ready for the debut gig of super-group The Lost Trades. Highly anticipated amalgamation of our good friends, Phil Cooper, Jamie R Hawkins and Tamsin Quin. We wish you the very best of luck, guys. They’ll be supported by Timid Deer and Vince Bell at Trowbridge’s Village Pump.
Meanwhile, keeping Kalm ‘n’ Kind in Devizes, there’s a Restorative Yoga class with Kim Pierpoint, a Fundraising Quiz Evening for Opendoors at 7.30. Philippa and Declan Morgan are running the quiz at Wiltshire Museum. Tickets £10, including nibbles and a glass of wine. Reserve your ticket online and pay on the door! https://devizesopendoors.yapsody.com/event/index/533176/quiz-evening
On my never-ending list to do is get to “Pelly,” kudos for putting on live music gigs, guys, just got work early in the mornings! Drew Bryant is live at The Pelican Inn on Friday, Lewis Clark & The Essentials with folk, soul, and blues at The Southgate, and there’s a Queen tribute called The Bohemians at the Corn Exchange. Comedy Night at Bradford’s Boat House with Jake Lambert, and the amazing Frank Turner plays Bath Forum.
Tuesday is St Patrick’s Day, but Devizes’ Cavalier can’t wait, and present a St Patrick’s theme weekend with those brilliant Day Breakers in the Community Hall on Saturday 14th. On the other side, three-piece rock originals, the Lightnin’ Hobos play The Southgate, and if you’re not spoiled for choice this Saturday, I don’t know when you will be, as the one and only Pete Gage plays with Innes Sibun and Jon Amor, all backed by Ruzz Guitar Revue at the Sports Club, corrrrr, that’ll be awesome.
Extinction Rebellion Devizes and Marlborough are back at the The Barge, Honeystreet for a gathering, where the evening presents a stripped back, 3-piece version of Troyka Bristol, Troyka Mala. They play a stormy mixture of traditional and original songs and rhythms from the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans with brushes of Klezmer and the Middle East; intrigued? I am.
Powerhouse Gospel Choir play Melksham Assembly Hall while Jon Hopkins is at Bath Forum. For something more off planet, stoner rock and electro art-punk are promised at the Three Horseshoes, Bradford on Avon, with Head Noise, Conspiracy of Chaplains and The Forgetting Curve.
That’s about all, we will follow this up with the final fortnight of March, when I get around to it. I do, though wish I’d stop promising these things! One thing you can depend on, Saturday in Swindon will rock with Splat The Rat at The Merlin on Drove Road, unfortunately, I cannot recommend Talk In Code’s new single Talk Like That enough, see our review. Note, the launch party is at the Castle on this particular Saturday, the 14th, and I can’t think of a better way to finish this lengthy roundup off!
A commendable effort by two Bromham girls to give fifty goodie bags to the homeless this Christmas is quickly growing worthy attention. A massive congratulations goes to these kind year 6 girls, Greg and Al, for such a wonderful thought and their determination to organise this.
Still, they need donations of many items on their homemade list, including cosmetic products like toothbrushes, deodorant and soap, to warm clothes, torches and treats such as chocolate! In fact, I think they’ve thought of a number of valid items most us probably wouldn’t have!
They’ve set up a Facebook page for their campaign, with details on how to donate. Collections are possible, but the girls have set up donation stations at St Nicholas in Bromham and at Beezes in the Ginnel, Devizes. They also sought other possible places for these stations in various local villages.
So, can we give this wonderful idea a boost? I know we can! Start by giving their Facebook page a “like,” and see what you are able to donate, please. Thank you! We wish all the best with this brilliant idea, girls and hope that you will tell us how it went after Christmas; you are both on the good list, that’s for sure! Remember though, have a great Christmas yourself too!
After the results of our dare, I’m going to do it, but not without your help raising some awareness of Carmela’s Stand up to Muscular Dystrophy…..
Thank you for the kind donations, we’ve made £100 so far, but Spiderman isn’t coming out to play unless we can get some more!! Please donate to my dare, whatever you can will be a great help to Carmela and her family. A big thank you to The Gazette & Herald for covering the story, and Claire Perry MP who retweeted our campaign on her Twitter page.
I was delighted today, as for the first time I met Carmela and her mum, Lucy, when they came for a visit and, if a little hot and bothered, we posed for some photos! If anything though, it’s made it feel so much more real about doing this silly thing!
Writing my rant column about Devizes on Index, some years ago now, would rattle some cages on Facebook. The satire soared over the heads of some conservative-minded individuals. One commented “don’t give up the day job.” I replied, “for the record, I love my day job,” and, weather permitting, I do.
When children say what they want to be when they’re grownup, they tend to suggest jobs they see around them, a teacher, a policeman, something like that. With a love of drinking milk, I wanted to be a milkman, among other things. I’d take the bottles out of my fridge and place them on the neighbour’s doorsteps. They’d knock our door, bottles in hand, saying, “I think he’s been at it again!”
Forward wind some decades, I figured of all the things, becoming a milkman was as unlikely as my idea to be an astronaut, being supermarkets had seen off the trade. When the job came up at Planks, I gave it a go, and after five years, never tire of it. There’s a tranquillity, a gratifying element to it beyond your average delivery driver. We are the fourth emergency service, supplying milk to those in far-flung villages who otherwise would have to travel some distance. This is warmly appreciated, particularly from the older generation, and with ecological awareness on plastic, the occupation is back in fashion.
Just so you know, Devizine is a hobby, you’ll be sadly mistaken if you think it prints money. Still, love doing this too. It became apparent when I made it a regular joke, readers thought it strange or didn’t believe I was really the milkman, so a month ago I posted video proof. Being I get quite a few strange looks, this day and age, trundling around in a milk float, it wouldn’t make the slightest difference if I did it dressed in my Spiderman onesie; would it? I asked you all if you’d dare me to do my milk round in my Spiderman onesie!
With great milk deliveries must also come great responsibilities, never ran over a hedgehog yet; they’re too fast for me! The poll exposed a slim majority (98%!) dared me to do it. So, I half-heartedly accept the challenge, but ask you to put your money where your mouth is; think we can raise some funds for Carmela, a five-year-old girl from Lavington with a very rare form of muscular dystrophy called LMNA Congenital Muscular Dystrophy? Then, I promise, to dooooo ittttt.
LMNA-CMD is a progressive muscle wasting disease that weakens the skeletal muscles, to the point where Carmela relies on a powerchair fulltime and needs someone to do everything for her. The heart and lungs are affected too. LMNA-CMD is incredibly rare with around only 50 known cases in the UK. Many years ago, affected children would typically die before the age of ten from respiratory and heart complications, but modern intervention has seen an increase in life expectancy. Carmela now has a 60-70% chance of living to sixteen. If lucky, she could make it to her twenties.
All parents live to wonder, myself included, to their children’s future and inspire and encourage their success, as I watch my daughter run rings around me, football glued to her feet, I cannot imagine what life must be like for Carmela and her family at times. Though Carmela rarely doesn’t wear a smile. I’m no superhero by wearing a Spiderman onesie, more of a loon, but Carmela is.
Mind you, I received word she prefers Wonder Woman, but to see me in blue starry hot-pants is a step too far!
There is no cure or treatment to slow down the disease but to help with the discomfort, pain and stiffness that comes with a progressive muscle wasting disease, Carmela requires daily mobility and stretching exercises, massages, hydrotherapy, swimming, and cycling using an adapted trike for low tone children. As her disease weakens her, adaptations in the garden and specialist equipment will change, costing in the thousands. For more information on Carmela’s story, see here: http://www.carmelasstanduptomusculardystrophy.co.uk/
My spider-senses are tingling, telling me I’ve got to do this, on Friday 9th August, weather permitting. I will take some photos and make a video diary of my morning, travelling through: Potterne, Worton, Great Cheverall, The Lavingtons, Easterton, Urchfont, Chirton, Patney, Beechingstoke, Woodborough, Marden and back into Devizes, before returning to Plank’s Dairy in Poulshot. I’ll also try a live stream to our Facebook page for the last part of the journey, and Carmela may join me at some point too! If this isn’t enough proof for you, I plan to stop outside the Bear Hotel in Devizes, Friday mid-morning where you can meet and laugh, I mean cheer me on!
If there is to be a gathering, and any of my musical friends are free, I’d welcome you entertaining the any gathering few with an acoustic song or two, please let me know guys!
On the day, you should be able to track my progress on the Devizine Facebook page, and I’ll announce an ETA back into town; do, if you can support me, there will also be a bucket for donations, or you can use this donation page here. Please, I know times are tough, but one thousand four hundred bods like the Facebook page, near 40,000 of you read the website annually, if everyone just gave a pound coin, it’d make a massive difference to Carmela’s life. She’s such a happy-go-lucky five-year-old, despite this condition, and refuses to let it prevent her from smiling.
Here’s the link, let’s get this to as much as we can, help me by sharing and caring! If Steve Ditko could see me now… probably cry with laughter!
Hey there, just a quick one from me today, mind, I say that then I start waffling, you know how it is!
Delighted to announce that I handed a cheque for the total sum of £225 to Devizes Opendoors today, from our fundraising events at the Bear Hotel’s Cellar Bar in Devizes last month.
It was good to see the homeless charity still thriving, offering takeaway food after their cooked breakfast. Books and clothes are also available to takers; people in sheltered accommodation or sleeping rough in our neighbourhood. It has been over a year since I paid them a visit to highlight the good work they do, see the article here. It was great to know the followers of Devizine has contributed, even just this small amount to this often-overlooked charity.
With Devizes Opendoors saddened by the recent passing of one of their regular guests, Richard Manning early in May, the organisation could do some better news. They’ve raised funds from their recent Quiz Night, and The Sing Alive Choir’s event on the 11th May. You can find out from their exhibit at Devizes Health and Wellbeing event, and from the website, here.
It was even better to acknowledge that we had fun doing it! Reminders of our two events can be read here, and here. Again, a massive thanks for all who attended, to Luke and the Cellar Bar staff for putting up with us. To Harvey and Finely Trusler of the lively Truzzy Boys, Jordan Whatley aka The Hound on the Mountain for that fantastic and expressive set, Gail Foster for brill photographs which just seem to get better with every snap, and her witty and poignant poetry interludes, and the gents of those brilliant Roughcut Rebels; Jamie Elly, Doug Wilcox, Mark Slade, and John Burns.
Of course, that was just the first night, an assortment of live music. For our second, all-reggae night the following Saturday we have Nick Newman, aka Razah, and Knati P, aka Clifton Powell to massively thank. Alongside their dedicated team who carried the equipment down those wonky steps to build the loudest sound system the Cellar Bar has ever witnessed, and stayed to party with us! Particularly Sam Chaloner for assisting the door and encouraging punters to come party.
What comes next? Thanks for asking, but I’ve no idea. I’d like to get summer over and done with, so full of great events already. Then I’d like to do some more Devizine Presents gigs, using our many venues in town and highlighting the best of our local talent. There are many other charities I’d like to include and so, watch this space until the leaves fall from the trees (let’s not think about that yet though, eh?!)
Hi all, just a quick one from me today. I say that and then I waffle on; ah, you know me too well.
Learning lessons about event coordination this week I find it’s not as simple as it sounds. In all actual fact, it can be a bit of a headache. All those I chat with, wanting me to plug this, and that, well done you guys, I’ve experienced it from your side now! There was a point when I was like, yay; reggae in the Cellar Bar, then in one phone call it comes crashing down, and you’re left feeling now I got nought.
But spirits rising again, as from the failure comes two events, of which I’d like to run as a series; I dunno, bi-monthly or something. But I do want to blag what I can from our many venues and event coordinators, work with them to host some charity fundraising events, if they’ll have me and my shambolic procedures. But first, I need to thank everyone who’s overwhelmed me with positive responses to playing one of these, completely unplanned, disorganised chaos of events!
So firstly, we kick off with an indie/acoustic type thing, down the Cellar Bar on 11th May. There, for a fiver, or, look, whatever you can chip in pal, you’ll find an abnormal assortment. Not that the acts are abnormal, but the line-up, for though you’ll know Sam Bishop and Finely Trusler as those indie lads from Devizes, Larkin, we’re hosting both of them, without any fights, hopefully, as Fin heads the Truzzy Boys with his cousin Harvey Trusler, and Sam, he’ll be with a promised new band.
If that isn’t enough surprises, Melksham’s incredible, raw and energetic performer, the kind I’ve compared to a dreadlocked Jim Morrison in the past, will be there too. Jordan Whatley, aka The Hound on the Mountain, once member of the Compact Pussycat, returns as a solo artist with some new songs for us.
And we’re doing this for Devizes Opendoor, a registered homeless charity who’ve I’ve been to see first-hand the great work they do, providing a breakfast to kick off the day, lunch takeaways, clothes and books, but also advice, support and sociability for anyone sleeping rough or in sheltered accommodation. It’s a situation which never goes away, in fact increases, yet, with stereotyping and crass negative opinions, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to. Let’s not get all political, you know how I feel. Just know that this, and our second event will both donate all proceeds to Opendoor.
Wha? Second? Yeah, listen up, the reggae night, boomshaka-la, I did say, was merely postponed, and we should bash this one out too, the following week, same place, same time, on Saturday 18th May. Few bits to iron out at present, (and as you could imagine, I’ve an allergic reaction to ironing) but the man Knati P, and Raz-ah will be shaking the foundations of Devizes’ most prominent landmark, The Bear Hotel.
Look, don’t let me get carried away here, but we’ve a lot more on this to come, and I’ll let you know when it does. I’ve lots of acts wishing to contribute, from the incredible local acoustic Vince Bell, wonderful Sally Dobson, to some off the planet ska-punk, and much more. We’ve also a range of worthy charities to donate to, The Devizes & District Opportunity Centre are on my hitlist, along with the wonderful Arts Together.
Watch this space….no, bollocks to that, get yourself down the Cellar Bar on the 11th May, for what will be, I’m certain of it, a historic moment when Devizine ceases to become that crap you read online, and becomes actual, actually a darn good series of nights. Boom, that enough? Can I go now?!
Opps, nearly forgot; she’ll kill me, odds on bet. We will not, hopefully, leave you dangling in boring conversation about the weather during the band changeovers, no sir-y Bob. Our town’s wonderful, amazing, brilliant, Gail Foster will be drafted in to provide us with some mind-blowing, possibly a bit rude, poetry interludes. That is, if I’ve not annoyed her too much, see what I mean, it’s not easy being an event promoter; mine’s a Stowford Press by the way.
Here’s the Facebook event page, let me know you’re coming, because you need to come, tell me you will, but no fibs, do come! See, told you waffling, it’s not pretty.
“What we have learned is that simply offering support or information is sometimes not enough,” states Age UK, “older people who are in the worst place often feel there is no hope, leading to a vicious circle of low self-esteem, lack of motivation and reluctance sometimes to ask for, or accept help.”
What sounds bad on paper, is often not as the eye perceives. While undoubtedly this is fact, I’m visiting Kestrel Court in Bowerhill, sheltered accommodation for elderly. I bear witness to a lively group, not just engaged in an art class, but merrily lapping up every minute of it. There’re cakes in abundance, tea, and some Mozart as background music. At one-point Gerald gets up to strum a guitar, and once the class is all but ended, the artist Clifton Powell slipped on some reggae; despite hard-of-hearing and cataract, Gladys, from Paraguay, is up dancing.
This is the doing of a charity group called Arts Together.
“I’ve never been a person who joins groups,” Sue tells me as we sit together admiring her still life watercolour, “always been on the edge looking in. I really feel part of this group; that’s so unusual.” Arts Together is perhaps a slightly misleading name for this local charity, as while indeed it provides members with tutorials and equipment to engage in a wide variety of art projects, it also acts as wellbeing, and an invaluable social group.
I asked Sue about the community side to it, did she balance it’s worth with the actual art as half-and-half. She agreed it was equally vital, describing her battle with depression. “But this kind of thing really addresses it. There’s so many of the things they say you should do, going to your doctor, behaviour training and what have you, which has never helped me. And then you get something like this, which has been a real help. If this was on prescription, I’d be asking my doctor for it!”
Sue reveals a creative nature, she’s written poems and performed them. Other members of the group, such as Carol, who proudly holds up her painting to show me, has no previous artistic calling. There’s a varied degree of skill, but Clifton commends and encourages all, a reason they all sing his praises. He was joined last minute by Rachel Heard, a Wiltshire artist, known for her “explorations of natural forms,” painting.
Arts Together have thirteen accomplished artists, and many group volunteers. In the last year they’ve delivered 180 art sessions, over their six locations across the county. Arts Together meet, in Bradford, Trowbridge, Devizes, Pewsey, Marlborough and here, in Melksham. Projects are as wide as wire and clay sculptures, mosaics and textiles. Sue particularly warmed to the puppet making workshop. I’ve invaded the final meet of this still life project, frames are scattered over the table, once completed a windowsill becomes a makeshift gallery, presenting their work.
Arts Together works to support older people who have become physically and socially isolated. I did ponder if they catered for dementia patients and such like, but was informed care homes and hospices organise their own activities, while the elderly in sheltered accommodation are often left out. “There’s nothing like this around here,” I’m told. So, while I didn’t class this as “art therapy” in similar light, it’s indubitably therapeutic, it stimulates and actively encourages the participants to try new things, to be creative and social. In a word, it’s wonderful.
But I’m moved by Arts Together manager, Karolyne’s announcement, “We are on the brink of closure and desperately help.” While this is not the first time the charity has been under financial pressure, they assure me it’s the worst. “Any statutory funding from public money disappeared years ago and it has been our supporters and some enlightened Trusts that have helped us survive.” I find myself shrugging; sad sign of the times.
This isn’t some large charity with a whole department dedicated to fundraising, managers balancing campiagns with sessions. It’s lunchtime as I get my coat, I’m invited to stay but cannot. Agreeably I attended for some media exposure, but so welcomed I left with sensation of making real friends. I imagine life for these newfound friends without Arts Together, and shudder.
Without Arts Together members return to a solitary, empty week, consequently effecting their health and wellbeing. Wellbeing was a word passed around a lot today, the charity take pride in their achievement, help them maintain it.
I’d like to thank the members I met today, it truly was fun and an inspiration to meet you, and the team behind it. I was enlightened, and think Devizine should stage a fundraising event too, as soon as possible. Anyone interested in helping with me on that please get in touch.
Until then, you can donate on the website; please, please, if you can, do. If you’re an artist consider volunteering some time. Any donation from you will help around 80 very frail older people to rediscover their zest for life. Arts Together enables them to rebuild their confidence, self-esteem and resilience and remain living independently in the community for as long as possible.