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Space to breathe at friendly arts and crafts group

Beautiful artwork is not the only thing being created at a support group in Taff Ely! Firm friendships are also being made at the Breathing Space art project, where drop-in sessions are helping combat stress, anxiety and loneliness.

Launched in January 2018 as a joint initiative between Taff Ely Primary Care Cluster and Valley and Vale Community Arts, Breathing Space is going from strength to strength. Held every Thursday afternoon in St Catherine’s Church, Pontypridd, the group now receives Arts Council Wales funding and is seen as a long-term solution in improving wellbeing in Cwm Taf.

“It initially began as a 12-week programme, then we just couldn’t stop!” said Katja Stiller, who coordinates the sessions with Nick Clements. “It took off and was so important to the people who came. It was the one thing in the week that some participants had to look forward to. St Catherine’s has been so supportive – goodwill is keeping us going!

“The people who come here have had lots of trauma in their lives, as well as anxiety and depression. One man came straight from hospital, leaving his suitcase in the corner while he joined in. The church staff are really good too. One man was hovering around but wouldn’t come in, so they talked to him and brought him up the steps.”

Members come to Breathing Space in a number of ways, such as being referred by their GP or support group Drive or seeing details online. With Katja and Nick running the sessions together, one is always available if someone in crisis comes in and needs and cup of tea and a chat in a quiet area.

The weekly session is a mix of mindfulness, arts, crafts, creative writing and support and laughter. An increasing number of men are coming to the group and forming friendships, while the current focus is on creating a work of art within the church’s stairwell, to mark St Catherine’s 150th anniversary in September.

Member ‘J’, who was diagnosed with ME in 2010, said: “I’m a member of the congregation at St Catherine’s and the vicar suggested I come to Breathing Space. I found it very easy to settle into; the group is approachable and I can talk to people.

“My condition has worsened over the last year and I’m currently off sick from my job in learning support in a college. I’ve recently started painting, which helps me cope with symptoms and problems with cognitive function, and really gives me something to focus on. I enjoy drawing figures and the vicar has asked me to do some paintings for the church.”

‘A’ is another member who finds the weekly sessions to be an essential creative outlet. Since joining, A has started making a film about honour-based violence from a male perspective. He said: “I’ve found the group has been very supportive. I can show people I’m doing this, to help others and to use my creativity.”

‘P’, 74, started coming to Breathing Space last year after seeing details on Facebook. P, who has suffered from chronic insomnia all her life, said: “I’d been told by the doctor to join groups, but I felt too anxious and low. Then one day I saw the poster for Breathing Space.

“Because of my insomnia, mornings are very hard, but as this was in the afternoon I could come along. I love arts and crafts – I used to be a teacher so I was always doing art with the children. The first time I came, I think I cried the whole time, but I have found such support and friendship here.”

Breathing Space meets every Thursday between 1pm and 3pm in St Catherine’s Church, Gelliwastad Road. To find out more, just pop along or phone Katja on 01656 729246.