Meet the makers behind the Summer Of Lush gift, who are using their newly-discovered artistic talents to navigate mental health problems, and become independent artists.
Just a stone's throw away from the Lush HQ in Dorset, an inclusive group of women and non-binary people meet at the community artisan studio to practice creative skills, and to socialise with other like-minded people.
The not-for-profit Artisan Community Art Studio is run by art teacher Pauline Stanley and a collective of local artists with backgrounds in mental health professions. With compassion at its core, the social enterprise offers daily art sessions for members of the local community with mental health problems and learning disabilities, and has one goal in mind: to provide a safe space where art is used as a form of therapy that benefits both physical and mental wellbeing.
The joint venture between the art studio and Lush has seen ‘The Floozies’ art group transform over 600 organic cotton Knot Wraps from the Re-wrap women's collective in India, into unique tie-dyed pieces of reusable packaging for the Summer Of Lush gift, where no two designs are the same.
During their weekly sessions, small collections of bound and undipped Knot Wraps can be seen patiently waiting on the side whilst a handful more sit in pools of sunny yellows, warm reds, and fruity orange dyes.
Inspired by the sights of the summer, including sunrises, wildflowers and warm evening skies, the group has worked over the past several months exploring different folding, binding and dipping techniques. As the cotton soaks up the colour combinations, unknown patterns start developing.
The studio walls are filled with artwork from previous projects, including photography, felting and lino cutting. In the centre of the room, the group works together around one large table. As both a creative collective and peer-to-peer support network, here they unravel hundreds of the dyed Knot Wraps, readying them to hang on washing lines and ornamenting the studios garden with an abundance of colour.
The conversations and creativity flow freely here, allowing the group to express themselves however they want, with the guidance of studio manager Pauline and social support worker Helen.
The people in these specialised sessions have been affected by domestic violence and ongoing mental health issues. This space offers an opportunity to co-learn, boost self-confidence, and share emotional support. It’s a chance to get out of an often difficult headspace, and focus on making.
Pauline says: “There is no censoring or pressure to talk about anyone's problems here. The focus is on the creativity and wellbeing, and there are no false pretences. Everyone can just be themselves.”
She continues: “We know that people with mental health problems don’t recover in six weeks. People recover when they recover, and there is no time frame on that, so these sessions are really flexible. People here go on to do good things; they sort out their homes and their kids, and they continue making and creating.”
Pauline, who has a degree in Fine Art and has worked previously as a mental health nurse, set up the studio, combining her passions and skills in order to have a positive impact on other people’s physical and mental welfare: “Art is often seen as a luxury, but actually it’s therapy. Art is really healing. It’s a chance to be mindful so it should be part of our everyday wellbeing, and that’s exactly what we do here.”
The art studio often refers to the sessions as therapeutic art, because it aims to support the livelihoods of those who are vulnerable by shifting their thoughts on to creative processes.
“We make people feel more confident because of the art they create, so they can progress and move on. My ultimate goal is to teach skills so our members can become independent artists, and move on with their lives,” Pauline says.
Both present and past members of ‘The Floozies’ now sell their handmade creations at local craft markets, make their own clothes and jewellery, and have gone on to continue studying art at college. Whatever direction they take, they are continuing to explore their newly discovered passions.
The pieces designed for the Summer Of Lush gift have provided the group with a special social fund. From days out at the beach, to barbecues and campouts, the fund has been set up to allow the group to spend time together, with their children, outside of the studio hours.
From creative beginnings and arty acts of mindfulness, to happy endings and gifting gratifications, the Summer Of Lush is the gift that keeps on giving. While the gift recipient is left smelling sweet, the buyer is supporting both local and global social enterprises.