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Senior art classes help to reduce social isolation

Andy Patton from Sion Mills Community Forum with Raymond Patton, Mary McDevitt, her husband Michael and Tom King. KMG43

AN inspiring art programme in Sion Mills has been drawing senior citizens in by the palette-load.

Taking place over the past 30 weeks, elderly participants have took to the programme with easel and created a series of beautiful paintings, ceramics and sculptures that were proudly displayed at a special exhibition in the village on Sunday.

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With a wealth of art showcasing the commitment of elderly participants, scheme co-ordinator Andy Patton reflected on the runaway success of the project.

“The interest and attendance we had from our participants showed just how important something like this is,” he said. “We originally planned to have 15 individuals taking part, but this soon grew to just below 25. The project was cross community, male and female, and we had a varied group of enthusiastic participants who were keen to get involved.”

According to Andy, the unique element of this project was the sheer number of contact hours, with each participant experiencing 60 hours of arts and crafts.

“Over a 30 week period the participants of the programme increased their skills substantially, which was due to the length of time they had to hone their skills.

“Those that were drawing stick figures at the start ended up painting detailed scenery.”

According to Andy, the project not only gave senior citizens the opportunity to pursue artistic endeavours, but also helped them combat social isolation during the winter months.

“Social isolation among the elderly is a big problem here. Rural isolation can be crippling, which is why I’m ecstatic that this project was such a success.

“Getting seniors to come out and engage is a problem, but once they feel comfortable they will commit, and not even bad weather could stop many participants coming.

“I think what helped with this was we were offering something senior citizens clearly wanted.

“A lot were interested in arts and crafts and wanted an opportunity to mix with like-minded people. The benefits to an old person’s mental and physical health as a result of this project were clear.”

With this, Andy is hoping to organise a similar project during the summer months.

“We are hoping to get a new project started in June, which will take a similar format. With the success of the project, we are confident this will be well received.

“Thanks to Leona Gallen and Rachel Leary for tutoring at our classes, and also to our Sion Mills Community Forum volunteers for giving up their time to our projects.”

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