Lost for Words - a Year of Volunteering with Artlink Central

By Eleanor MacLeod

When I first thought about writing this blog piece for Artlink Central I was a bit terrified.

I used to write articles and content for websites, publications and the like in my full time work and even though I should be used to this by now, I felt lost for words.

The reason I felt lost for words was that it’s not often that we make time to say ‘so, what have I accomplished in this year and has it been worthwhile?’.

The other reason I felt lost for words was that since starting work as a volunteer at Artlink Central I could not fault the dedication and passion which I found to be present amongst the staff team. Every experience I have had with Artlink Central has been positive, and I continue to get up in the morning looking forward to my day ahead.

Schools work…

It all started at Wallace High School. I worked on a series of sessions with artist Michele Mathieson and young people with additional support needs in their transition to secondary school. I was quite nervous in the first session but quickly settled in and got to know the young people. We completed a range of activities including feltmaking, cutting and printing techniques. The young people got to know each other and I felt priviledged to work with such a great group of individuals.

Then on to Dunblane High School. Here I was working with an artist called Lisa Earl and again, a group of capable individuals with additional support needs.

'Steampunk Village' by pupils from Dunblane High School transition 2016

'Steampunk Village' by pupils from Dunblane High School transition 2016

In this group we took the theme of ‘Steampunk’ and transformed a great deal of cardboard into a magical and inspired ‘ Steampunk Village’. The group thoroughly enjoyed making name badges and laminating them plus sticking a variety of junk pieces to card.

This experience was a highlight for me, as not only had the confidence of the young people improved but mine had too! Every time I work with young people I believe that I learn as much about myself as they do from me. I gained a great deal of self-confidence whilst working at Dunblane High School and for this I am grateful.

..Meanwhile in the office…..

Since volunteering for Artlink Central I have assisted colleagues in the office with communications and marketing. Most recently tasks have included writing a press release for Creating Conversations and writing/editing biographies for an Evening with Artlink Central.

…. And more in the community….

This year I was lucky enough to work with the wonderful musician and community practitioner, Gareth Perrie. Gareth enthusiastically led a group of mental health service users to sing their hearts out once a week at the MacRobert Arts Centre at Stirling University. Every week we would choose songs to sing and then draw on paper about our feelings and emotions relating to the music. The thing that hit me so hard about this group was the fact that some of the particpants were clearly struggling with aspects of their lives, but they found the time and made the effort to come along.

This was truly amazing for me to experience and it made me feel stronger as an individual with real lived experience of mental health issues myself. By helping others, somehow it took me out of myself allowed me to focus. What was also clear to me about the group was that each participant had something truly unique to contribute. Each and every member of the group was on their own personal road to recovery. And we were doing this through music! How amazing! As I asked the group what they had for lunch that day, Gareth happily strummed the tune of ‘Food, Glorious, Food’, and to my surprise the group decided to pick one of my favourite songs by Karine Polwart for the final performance.

This group allowed me to have the time and space to find words through music.

‘Hospital Notes’

A new experience for me as a volunteer during 2016 was taking part in the ‘Hospital Notes’ project at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, supported by the Agnes Watt Trust and NHS Forth Valley. For eight weeks I met with two musicians, Ruth Mackay, a harpist and Oliver Costar, a cello player, along with other volunteers to practice and make music in the wards. This was a unique experience for me and is probably the most challenging thing I have done in my career to date.

Over the course of two months we practiced, and we played in a variety of wards including the stroke ward, mental health wards and dementia wards. Everywhere we went in the hospital, it was clear that we were making a positive impression on the mood and wellbeing of the patients and staff. When playing in a women’s ward, one of the patients commented that the experience for them was ‘the best prescription we’ve had all day’ and another patient raised her hands along with the melody, almost conducting the group.

In the stoke ward we sang a range of tunes including Christmas carols. The patients in this ward were bed bound and could not sit in the same room to listen. However, our music drifted through the rooms and was clearly appreciated by patients and staff alike.

In the dementia ward, patients and visitors listened to songs such as ‘Que Sera Sera’ (Doris Day) and ‘Ally Bally Bee’ (Coulter's Candy) and most of the patients joined in with the singing.

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To be involved in such an uplifting project was food for the soul, and I have no doubt that music has a huge part to play in the recovery and acceptance process of being a patient in a hospital.

So… what next?

I am excited that as we move into another year I can celebrate my achievements at Artlink Central as a volunteer and look to exciting times ahead.

I wasn’t really lost for words after all!


Many thanks go especially to Sarah, Catherine, Fiona and Kevin and all the Artlink Central Team.