When the global pandemic struck and isolation became the norm, a ‘wee blether’ with friends made all the difference to many island residents – and An Lanntair’s Creative Connections Over 60s workshops helped provide not only a creative outlet, but also a weekly opportunity to meet and chat with others online.
Now, funded and supported by Inspiring Scotland’s Creative Communities programme, Creative Connections Western Isles continues this Autumn with a new series off free workshops, now a mix of online and in-person, and including classes in North and South Uist, as well as Lewis and Harris.
Island residents over 60 who feel isolated because of their circumstances can meet online to participant in 3D Textiles Collage with Pieter van der Werf; Home is Where the Art Is with Kate Temple, and Memory on Fabricwith Annabel Pattulo.
There’s also the chance to meet up in real life for Story Boxes with Sandra Kennedy in Ravenspoint (Kershader) and Talla na Mara (Niseaboist); join Gill Thompson for Seasonal Printmaking in Comunn Eachdraidh Nis and Grinneabhat (Bragar), plus Drawing and Painting with Margaret Joan Macisaac takes place in Taigh Chearsabhagh (North Uist) and Talla an Iochdar (South Uist).
“There were many positive experiences for the participants; some made friendships with neighbours they had never met, others tried art having not done so since school,” Creative Connections Co-ordinator Mark Jones said of the project’s first outing.
“But one of the most frequent comments though was on the social element. Participants spoke of enjoying a ‘wee blether’ with their online friends each week.”
It was in gathering works for the recent Creative Connections exhibition in the Café/Bar gallery at An Lanntair that Mark came to really understand the importance of the project: “I knew when I started on Creative Connections that it was an important project. I didn’t anticipate the emotional connection I would make with the project and participants though.
“It was through meeting them face to face that I discovered the real impact when in July I spent a few days driving around the islands to collect artwork. Over coffee and cake, I chatted with participants about their experiences. For some, even pre-Covid, getting to Stornoway for workshops was near impossible. Transport, medical conditions, and carer responsibilities were all factors.
“Driving to these locations reinforced to me the difficulties of accessing resources for those living remotely. Creative Connections circumvented many of these obstacles.”
Indeed, comments from those who took part tell the benefits felt, as one person said: “There was always the two to three o’clock on a Friday to look forward to, gathering all the utensils and the materials we needed for that week’s theme, and the anticipation of seeing those friends again.”
Another commented: “The weekly sessions were something to look forward to amid the dreariness of lockdown. I don’t know how I would have coped passing the time without this weekly focus.”
A third added: “I’m not an artist, I don’t think, but I can play about with materials and make something and look back at it and go, wow, I did that!”
And commenting on the islands’ project, Erica Judge from Inspiring Scotland’s Creative Communities, said: “It has been wonderful to see the amazing range of creative work from An Lanntair’s Creative Connections project supporting older people in the Western Isles and to hear how this provided a creative focus and conversation for people struggling with isolation.”