In the second of a series of articles looking at the work of Age UK Redbridge, Barking & Havering, local artist Brenda Coyle explains why picking up a brush could be just what the doctor ordered
Lots of people come in and ask about the old Cherry Tree Café. Do you remember the one on Woodbine Place, by the buses? Called the Cherry Tree, of course, as it once housed within its walled garden a (now deceased) large, beautiful cherry tree, which bloomed every spring with gorgeous pink blossoms.
Nowadays, the doors are open again, but this time it’s become a wonderful space for arts and craft classes, luckily part of Wanstead’s Allan Burgess Centre, supported by Age UK Redbridge, Barking & Havering. Various art-based activities are on offer, ranging from loom weaving and clay modelling to jewellery making and painting, to name but a few.
We are all aware that the arts are fast becoming an important element in building our wellbeing, not just for ourselves, but for our friends and families. Doctors and other primary care professionals are often social prescribing and referring people to join art-based classes, not just to learn and enjoy a new fun activity, but through many years of research, they now recognise that creating art is proven to relieve stress and relax our busy minds and bodies. This is done by supplementing medicine and our usual care, which is still very important, but the arts are now a documented factor in improving the mental and physical health of our community.
I run such classes right here in Wanstead at the Cherry Tree Café every Tuesday afternoon. The classes are small, which enables each student to choose their own level and capabilities. Recently, we focused on Van Gogh and produced some stunning pieces of work. As we have a visually impaired student in our class, I always ensure the whole class works together, so I brought in some visual aids from the charity Living Paintings. This meant the students could use all their senses to visualise some of the famous painter’s work. We then moved on to using real sunflowers and even took some apart. I always want my students to feel they are included in all the lessons, whatever their abilities. We make a point of all sitting together and sharing our art.
Teas and coffees are served and a group of fantastic volunteers help set up. Bob (Robert Butler) is fantastic and comes every week, rain or shine. He is our strong man and brilliantly sets up and takes down all the chairs and tables for us during the day. Peter Chamberlain (who runs the bridge class at the Allan Burgess Centre) comes in the afternoon when we are finishing. His job is to put all the furniture away, but he also has a secret mission: he is a potter and owns his own kiln, which comes in very handy when we need our clay creations fired! Kate or Kathleen take the register and greet all our students. Both are wonderful at making our students feel at ease.