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Spirits lifted as art group finds ways to socialise virtually

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Restrictions won't stop members of Birmingham-based group keeping connections going. 

Members of Yardley Ventures Craft Group, a community arts group based in Stechford, East Birmingham, usually meet every Tuesday at Stechford Baptist Church. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown meant all face-to-face activity had to stop and the group had to figure out a way to keep things going.  

Back in 2019, Yardley Ventures Craft Group was a small arts group who originally met at Yardley Arts Forum a few years ago. People who attended quickly became friends and because they were interested in learning new artistic skills they got involved with other arts projects in Acocks Green and Perry Common that aimed to support isolated over 50. 

Members saw the need for this, and having found the arts and crafts therapeutic and relaxing, they decided that they would create a similar activity in Yardley to help isolated over 50's struggling with bereavement & mental health problems there. The group applied to the Ageing Better Fund which offers financial support to Birmingham neighbours and friends that wish to start activities that can help end social isolation and loneliness for people over 50 in our city. 

And while having initial support like that can be a game-changer for groups, the main reason groups continue is because of the people in it. Yardley Ventures Craft Group proved this as they were hugely successful in running their group, gaining new members each month and continued to sustain themselves through other funding streams from 'Arts in the Yard' and valuable membership contributions.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown meant all face-to-face activity had to stop. 

Kelly, one of the members and who leads the group said: 

"It was a real hit for us, this virus and I was really worried that members would lose their confidence and even their interest in art. I was concerned that some of them would fall into a deep depression."

As the consequences of the restrictions became clearer, Ageing Better in Birmingham devised a way to offer additional support to groups that could help them to keep connections going.  It was on the back of this support that the group decided that they would really benefit from having kits made up that they could all work on. 

Back in May and having applied to the Ageing Better Transition Fund, Kelly was able to create craft kits to deliver to group members every two weeks. These kits now keep members busy with weekly projects for everyone to do at home. Members check in with each other regularly through WhatsApp, phone calls and Facebook messenger. The first packs were for the garden (see pictures) and they have painting challenges where they get an independent person to chose the winner. 

Commenting on the packs, Kelly said: "It seems to have put a spring back in our step! Everything's going really well. I think we'll have some really innovative and interesting items to look at once we get back together! Everyone has been so encouraging and it has been a life saver for some of our groups members during this difficult and uncertain time.

We're glad to have the opportunity to keep people connected. 

Kelly, Yardley Ventures Group Lead

"Members have worked so hard to get their art skills to a really good level and we had a great momentum going right up until the lockdown, so when this happened it was a bit crushing for all of us. We're so glad that we have overcome the issue of not being able to meet in person."

Hanna Iacco, Senior Community Development Coordinator for the Ageing Better City Wide Hub and who has supported the group, said: 

"The Transition Fund has evidently helped this group to keep active remotely and has provided the members an opportunity to keep up a hobby that they have developed through the club over the past 6-9 months. Without it, the delivery of resources and the continuation of the group's activities would have stopped entirely. It's lovely to hear that Kelly's hard work has lifted member spirits!" 

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