A GROUP that connects lonely and isolated elderly people through art has been awarded a coronavirus fund to help get its members online.

Arts Together, which runs 30 sessions a year in Devizes, Marlborough, Pewsey, Trowbridge, Bradford on Avon and Melksham for more than 70 members, has been awarded £12,400 from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.

The fund has already raised more than £1.2 million and distributed more than £1 million through 220 grants to groups across the county.

Arts Together will use the grant to buy laptops to loan to its members, most of whom are in their eighties and nineties. Many of them live alone. The planned rollout and associated one-to-one training has had to be suspended though, because of the latest lockdown.

Manager Karolyne Fudge-Malik said: “The members are an amazingly resilient bunch, but they do have issues as well. Getting them online is obviously a bigger challenge now.

“We have been sorting out some relatives who might be able to help some of our members get online but we have a hardcore of members who need someone to sit with them to help them do it and that isn’t going to be possible for a while.”


But the group is continuing its weekly art projects, which are sent through the post, and is running Zoom social sessions for those who can get online.

Ms Fudge-Malik added: “A lot of our members come to us through the mental health teams and they are the ones who are really suffering. We have set up telephone networks and pen pals.

“The volunteers and the members themselves phone each other but we have a list of those who are particularly vulnerable, and we keep an eye on them all the time. Those suffering from depression and anxiety normally are in quite a bad way at the moment.”

The group has begun training the artists it works with to adapt their face-to-face sessions to online. “We target people who are very frail and have up to four volunteers at our usual sessions who give them a hand, holding a ruler straight, guiding the hand of someone who has Parkinson’s and so on, but we can’t do that online so we have to design projects that will take all of that into account,” said Ms Fudge-Malik.

She said the group’s weekly postal projects, which are in their 40th week, are a valuable lifeline for members who are alone. “This week’s project is looking at naked trees and their underlying strong structure. They can either go out and sketch one or just look out of the window,” she said.

The group has set up a creativity in isolation page on its website where members can share their work. One member said of the postal projects: “I sat in my chair and didn’t move for two days. I felt so fed up I just didn’t move. Then I realised I couldn’t go on like this. My Arts Together pack arrived

and it literally saved my life. It gave me something to do. I spent the whole day working on my project. I feel so much better.”

Ms Fudge-Malik said the Zoom art sessions could become a permanent part of the group’s work because once more members are online, it will be easier for them to join in. “Long term I can see this pandemic coming and going for quite a while and possibly we could be running in-person sessions in summer and early autumn and then online in the winter months,” she said. “In previous years we’ve had to close groups when it snows so this gives us an alternative way to keep going.”

We've been sent two great interpretations of last week's postal project 'Make a Hope Totem'. A few of Juliet from...

Posted by Arts Together on Thursday, 14 January 2021

She said the companionship provided by the group and the regular contact, either by Zoom or by phone, is making a huge difference to older people who are at home with little or no company.

“Knowing that somebody cares is really powerful, which is why we are so grateful for the grant,” she said. “If they feel like crying their eyes out they can do it, and you can’t do that with a stranger. They have a cry when it all becomes too much but once they’ve done it, they feel better.”

Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Art Together does an incredible job of making sure that isolated people in our communities don’t feel forgotten or alone. The wonderful art projects give them a creative outlet and the companionship and care they receive makes them feel part of something special, we are so pleased to be funding this.

“Our fund is there to help groups who are the bedrock of our communities tackle immediate need and find their way out of this crisis, that’s why we need the public’s support so badly.”

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk. To find out more about the group go to artstogether.co.uk.