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Friendship Really Matters: Art By The Sea – How one adult education class brings people together through art

December 5 2016

Photo Credit: David Levenson

The sea has inspired artists for centuries and this is also true at Livability’s Ashley Place service on the seafront in Bognor Regis, where a community art class called ‘Art By The Sea’ brings together a diverse group who love learning together.

The weekly class was launched at Ashley Place through the staff and residents’ close connections with their community. “I’d heard that an art group that met in Chichester was looking for a venue to start a class in Bognor, and I thought here at Ashley Place would be ideal,” says manager Trudy Lockyer.

The class, run by the Workers’ Educational Association, involves local residents and Livability service users. The spacious and light-filled building has proved a great place to meet under the tutelage of professional artist Frank Ferrie. The group often work to a theme such as the seaside or the seasons and has tackled a number of techniques including printing and collage.

Frank describes the class, which includes those with very limited upper body movement and little verbal communication, as a hugely positive learning experience: “When you first come into a class like this, it’s impossible to know where the starting point is. This is especially so if some of the group members have a disability or need support getting on with their work. It’s really important to make a connection, to see what people are interested in and how they can try out new techniques. That’s very important to me, it’s the cornerstone of trying to encourage that person to progress, and to enjoy being part of the class.”

Frank is quick to say that he now has friends, not just students, at Ashley Place, through the community created by the art class. Volunteer Jay Styles agrees: “When I found out about Frank running a class at Ashley, I was really keen to volunteer.”

Jay already had a connection with one Ashley resident: “My daughter knows Vincent through a yoga class, so when I came to the art class and met him, we immediately struck up a rapport, and he is just the sunniest man I’ve ever met. Vincent has no speech, so I’m not always very good at understanding him, but we manage. He’s very quick to learn. When we first started, he found it very difficult to hold a paint brush and didn’t think much about the colours. As the lessons progressed, with Frank’s help, Vincent has learned how to use the brush and he’s very particular about which colour he wants to put on the paper.”

For Jay, the help she offers at the class is reciprocated by what she gets back from her friendship and involvement with the group. “I’ve always suffered from minor depression. I used to be a teacher and when I retired, I wanted to fill my life with something else. I’ve become quite involved with some Ashley people and take them out occasionally so we can spend the day together, and I love it. They make you feel so good and it lifts your spirits.”

The mix of age, ability and approach sparks something in the creative process, Frank finds: “The dynamic of the class works very well. People feed off each other and the ideas of those who live at Ashley, who know each other very well as well as the people who join us from the area. They have an impetus to learn from each other and think about things that might not have occurred to them. Ashley Place has a very welcoming, relaxed atmosphere, and that’s conducive to the whole group getting on well.”

As the class enters its second year, Frank is still energised by the venture: “It just keeps things alive, throws things into the mix. I enjoy it because it encourages me to be imaginative, to get the class thinking and exploring new ideas.”

Sharing the art work

Members of Art By The Sea group took part in Livability’s Annual General Meeting this year, sharing their work to trustees, governors and the charity community.

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