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Mansfield Museum unveils ‘arts on prescription’ project to help victims of domestic abuse

At a time when domestic violence incidents have soared across the world with women becoming more vulnerable as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, Mansfield Museum in Nottinghamshire has unveiled an important scheme directed at women at risk and victims of abuse.

Creative Women Together will be a therapeutic project that will see women at risk of domestic violence develop an understanding of fine art through engaging with Mansfield Museum’s collection of ceramics, paintings and jewellery over the next two years, starting in early 2022.

Creative Women Together will provide a healing journey for some of our most vulnerable citizens

Jodie Henshaw, Museum Curator

The project will involve providing women with a safe space to appreciate and understand more about the items in the collection and participate in creative activities to develop their own artistic work.

Sessions will help 50 women

The sessions, which it is hoped will help about 50 women already identified by support services, will take place in libraries, community halls, family hubs and social spaces around the district as well as at the museum itself.

Creative Women Together is being funded by a grant of £89,680 from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, a charity that aims to strengthen bonds in communities in the UK. The award was granted in January 2021 but the project’s planning was delayed through a COVID-19 lockdown.

It is the first time the museum has been involved in a scheme of this kind and it is part of an ongoing Mansfield District Council Cultural Services programme of ‘Arts on Prescription’ to help address health and wellbeing challenges in the district.

Co-curated creative opportunities

Mansfield Museum has significant experience in delivering health and wellbeing projects

A full-time Community Participation Officer has now been employed and will plan and evaluate monthly hands-on arts sessions, co-curated creative opportunities and weekly social groups. These will include sessions with an art therapist and a freelance artist.

Staff working on the project will be offered free support and training by Mansfield District Council to ensure they can cope with the emotional burden of issues addressed in this work and that they can safeguard those taking part.

It is hoped that the scheme will lead to employment, apprenticeship and volunteering opportunities for a number of the participants as a legacy of the project.

Mansfield Museum has significant experience in delivering health and wellbeing projects, including its annual Health and Wellbeing Festival, which aims to kick start a healthier way of living, and its Reminiscence Tea Room, which connects people with memory loss to objects, photos and music.

Social prescribing

It also ran another social prescribing project this year called Making a Start which helped vulnerable people who had been shielding during the pandemic, re-emerge from the social isolation of their lockdown and make new friends.

Jodie Henshaw, the Museum Curator, who has worked at the museum for 20 years and who will be leading the scheme said she describes the museum as a community centre with a collection and that the project is more important now than ever before.

“Creative Women Together will provide a healing journey for some of our most vulnerable citizens, a journey that is caring, loving, and non-judgemental,” she said.

“We have always managed the museum as a progressive, interdisciplinary community space and community asset that has heritage and education driving its programmes.

“Participants will be able to overcome barriers and explore their emotions by building their confidence and self-esteem. We hope they also make new connections and friends along the way.”

Shadow pandemic

The news of the project comes during 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, co-ordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, an annual international campaign that runs from 25 November and ends today The UN has called the worldwide increase in domestic violence during COVID-19 as the shadow pandemic.

Refuge in the UK, for example, recorded more than 13,000 calls and messages to its National Domestic Abuse helpline each month between April 2020 and February 2021.

This increase has been felt in the Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield, which is in the lowest 20% of all local authorities in England for cultural engagement and highest 20% of most deprived districts in the country.

‘Too many women experiencing domestic violence’

Coun Marion Bradshaw, Portfolio Holder for Safer Communities, Housing and Wellbeing at Mansfield District Council, said: “Sadly in Mansfield too many women experience domestic violence, abuse and trauma.

“This can leave them facing long-term problems and feeling trapped in a vicious circle of very low self-esteem and poor mental and physical health. We hope this project will enable them to feel better about themselves and feel empowered to take positive control in their lives.”

The project will work various partners including local charity NIDAS (Nottinghamshire Independent Domestic Abuse Service) and Nottinghamshire Women’s Aid which will help the museum support and engage with vulnerable and at risk women.

Also supporting the scheme will be a Jigsaw, mental health and dementia charity, helping people with a range of hoarding addictions; Nottinghamshire Sexual Violence Support Services; and Changing Lives, which works with women with experience of the criminal justice system in Nottinghamshire.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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