Creative activities can be hugely beneficial to people after brain injury. Many survivors report a positive impact from creative activities on a wide range of issues they face, as well as boosting mental health and confidence. They can also help with rehabilitation by encouraging survivors to practice skills such as manual dexterity and memory.
In this feature, we showcase some of the innovative ways that Headway groups and branches across the UK are supporting their members in their creative pursuits...
In preparation for a move to new premises after many years at Rookwood Hospital, members of Headway Cardiff and South East Wales took part in an exhibition to reflect on the group’s history, identity and future, while raising awareness of brain injury. The exhibition was supported by funding from Cardiff and the Vale Health Charity.
Members were inspired by Jackson Pollock when creating this artwork, using paint bombs, water pistols and squeezy bottles to produce splatter paintings. In doing so, they demonstrated that physical disabilities can be circumvented to create impactful, expressive and explosive images, and that the joy of participating in the creative process can be as important as the final work.
Members of Headway East Lothian have access to a range of art lessons as part of their weekly sessions, giving them the chance to express artistic talents and emotions through their work.
Development Officer Joyce Cattanach explains more: “Brain injury survivors at our group have been exploring both rural and urban areas, taking impressions through sound, memory, photos and physical reminders. They brought this back to our group sessions for discussion, then transferred these ideas into physical artistic expressions using words, voices, paintings and other mediums.
This has encouraged our members, who are all living with disabilities and life-long conditions, to be more aware of their local communities and how they can relate to them and take a more active part, while building self-esteem, confidence levels, tackling loneliness and social isolation.
The group held a two-week exhibition at Dunbar Town House which gave them the chance to showcase their work.
Art is a fundamental aspect of Headway Worcestershire’s Wellbeing Services, with brain injury survivors benefiting from an experienced ABI art teacher who nurtures their ability to express themselves creatively.
Previously, our clients tended to leave their works in the art room. Now, however, the talented artists take home their creations to display with pride!
Anna Mumford, Creative Therapies Coordinator at Headway Cambridgeshire, has been putting her skills as a former art teacher to good use by leading art sessions at the group’s Chesterton Hub every Friday. Using a wide range of techniques, the group allows members to experiment with their creativity while unlocking its many positive benefits.
Anna explains how the art sessions helped one client to practice her memory skills: “While working on a particular art project, we started mixing paints together to create different colours. One of our clients, Elaine, struggled to do this due to her memory problems after a stroke, and the following week she couldn’t remember the right paints to mix.
“I created cue cards to show which combinations make certain colours, while our Community Rehabilitation Worker, Chloe Woods, used this as an exercise in her sessions with the client. Over time Elaine began to remember more colour combinations each week, which has been a big
Asked what advice she had for others who might be thinking of taking up art after brain injury, Elaine said: “You’ll only know if you have a go, so why not try it out and see? You might surprise yourself, and others too!”
Following a temporal lobectomy at the age of 11, Daniel McCullough struggled with the effects of brain injury throughout his early-adult life.
In his early 20s he finally turned a corner, getting the benefits he was entitled to after a long battle and feeling an “improved mental clarity.”
Having always had a creative side, Daniel took to photography when he noticed a decline in wildlife in his local area.
As a member of Headway Central Lancashire, he donated this series of photographs for their 2022 calendar, beautifully capturing the wildlife and landscape of the stunning Lancashire countryside.
Art Tutor Jo Chandler started the creative sessions at Headway Shropshire in 2021, taking in a wide range of techniques including watercolour, clay, chalk and oil pastels.
“The sessions help in a number of ways, particularly with social interaction, self- expression, building confidence and promoting discussion,” explained Jo.
I’ve noticed an increase in the length of time clients can concentrate on tasks, and while there can be frustration, there is also enjoyment, relaxation and a sense of achievement.
Kath Cooper has been leading the popular pottery sessions at Headway Gloucestershire for nearly 20 years.
“Being creative with clay offers great benefits on many levels to survivors of brain injuries,” said Kath.
“Using repetitive actions such as rolling out slabs of clay, making coils and cutting clay out gives survivors the opportunity to practice physical movement. Adding intricate decoration and modelling using tools or painting on glaze can help survivors practice their dexterity, fine motor, and co-ordination skills.
One of the most important benefits of pottery at Headway Gloucestershire, other than being very enjoyable, can be the opportunity it provides for survivors to build their confidence in trying something new and making a finished piece of work to take home. This can then can be shared with family and friends and can result in a great sense of achievement.
The art sessions at Edinburgh Headway are run by Mairi Perry Littlejohn, a rehab assistant at the group with a degree in Art Therapy.
Mairi explains the benefits: "Changes in the brain after a TBI may lead to in some cases enhanced creativity which could be artistic, literary or musically. Some people who suffer from a TBI can experience a creative awakening after having no interest or desire before their injury, sometimes referred to as ‘savant syndrome’.
"Our members are very creative, we run two art sessions per week in which they decide what they would like to work on within this time with help from staff and volunteers form our range of art materials."
Scott Murray is one member who benefits from the art sessions, expressing himself in different mediums and usually focusing on bikes, nooses and RIP-type images in the art sessions, but more recently trying new techniques with this painting of an apple tree.
When asked what he likes most about creating, Scott said: "You can do what you want and decide what you want to do."
Well said Scott!
We hope you’ve been inspired by this snapshot of some of the amazing creative works that brain injury survivors are getting involved with up and down the country. Many Headway groups and branches offer creative sessions, so if you’d like to find out more head over to our In your area page, pop your postcode into the ‘Find local support’ box and contact your local Headway.
You can also search online for local courses, groups and activities that inspire you and fit your needs.
Whether through your local Headway, independent art group or college, or by simply picking up a paintbrush and starting your own work, see how you feel about giving art a try.
Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to do it, it’s all about creativity, freedom and expression – and hopefully having fun and seeing some benefits! Also don’t forget we’d love to see your creations!
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