Oakleaf Enterprises in Guildford, Surrey, are a charity providing counselling services, work related training and wellbeing and creative workshops to help people recovering from mental ill-health gain skills, confidence and employment.
During these extraordinary times with Covid-19, our creative workshops have found a new virtual platform, forming an online community for our clients. At Oakleaf, we believe that creativity and better mental health go hand-in-hand. So we wanted to shine a light on some of the wonderful work that is going on behind the scenes to help maintain and strengthen this connection; giving you a closer look at our creative workshops, the challenges our clients are facing on a regular basis, and the staff and volunteers who make it all possible.
Oakleaf is currently running two online alternatives to our art-based workshops: Creative Therapy and Art Therapy*, both of which serve as a space where creativity flows and participants who are struggling with feelings of isolation, anxiety or depression are able to join in without leaving the safety and comfort of their own homes. (*Activity leaders are not formally art therapists, but provide support with creativity and wellbeing.)
“In a typical therapeutic art session, we begin the session with a group share. This simple yet important ritual allows for a real sense of community to form.”
Calypso, Oakleaf Activity Leader
“Getting together online was a bit strange at first but we would each be given time to check in – we sometimes even meditated before starting our work. An all-round peaceful space that makes me really happy.”
Fiona, Oakleaf Client
Once the sharing has concluded, the participants receive instructions for the chosen artistic activity. This may include painting an abstract landscape in watercolours, drawing a flower from real life, modelling a small creature in clay or creating a vision board from collaged material. Regardless of the artistic medium used, the participants are reminded to focus their attention on the creative process rather than the finished product. The reason for this is that the creative process is intrinsically soothing and self-healing. It relieves stress, provides a sense of empowerment and personal fulfilment and offers clients the ability to express difficult feelings in a non-verbal way.
“I think both the Art Therapy and Creativity Workshops are amazing. They are what have kept me going.”
John, Oakleaf Client
It is important to note that it is not just our clients who benefit from these workshops. Oakleaf Activity Leader Sam told us of a time where her mental health was at an all-time low; she was severely bullied to the point where feelings of anxiety and depression completely diminished her self-esteem, and with it, her artistic spark. This was, until she happened upon a talk held by our CEO, Clive Stone – to whom she credits her first real introduction to Oakleaf.
Despite initial reservations, Sam signed up for some weekly art classes, which she says, “opened my eyes to all I can be, and achieve – not just around art.” This enabled her to not only return to work but to begin studying the things she felt most passionate about, like coaching, art therapy, and creative therapy. “Most importantly, in all this I rediscovered a deeply important part of myself that had once been lost, a part of myself that helps me get through good and bad days, that I would have been lost without if the Oakleaf team hadn’t help me re-find it.
Sam believes creativity can be a powerful tool, which we can and should use to express our feelings, worries and fears:
“Images go deeper than words alone and can give the artist and the viewer a real insight into ‘the self.’ I am deeply artistic; I cannot draw – my horses look like camels – but I still love to be creative.”
Sam, Oakleaf Activity Leader
It doesn’t matter if you’re an accomplished artist or if you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since school. Learning to create something just for ourselves with no judgment about whether it is good or bad, is deeply rewarding and builds confidence and self-esteem in our clients.
We aim to make our services, and particularly our virtual wellbeing activities, accessible to all. For example, some of our clients have very little creative/artistic materials at home, so they are instead asked to improvise with what they have to hand, even if it is just an old envelope and a biro. Sam, for example, encourages attendees to scribble, close their eyes, trust their intuition and sometimes even dance to music as they embrace what she describes as a “childlike innocence” of creating just for the fun of it.
“I feel grateful for the inspiration my creativity group provided, encouraging us to explore our feelings through art by just having a go. During isolation, all my usual support systems fell away, but the workshop taught me how to use creative tools to help me process my emotions.”
Andrea, Oakleaf Client
Each client has their own particular needs and requirements, so sometimes it can be hard to combat all their feelings at once; loneliness, anxiety, confusion, anger. What’s important is that we can provide them with a space where they feel safe and comfortable enough to share how they’re feeling with others, rather than hide it away. A space where a sense of belonging is achieved.
“The team at Oakleaf have been outstanding and have adapted to our new normal brilliantly. Their sessions have given me a much-needed focus; something which I now look forward to and rely on.”
Jan, Oakleaf Client