Photography classes bring wellbeing benefits

Heartlands photo exhibition

A community photography programme aimed at encouraging people to learn new skills has celebrated the success of its students with an exhibition at Heartlands.

The eight-week programme has been funded by the University of Exeter’s Smartline project, an EU-funded research and innovation project exploring the relationship between technology and the way people live in their homes and communities.

Ruth Purdy of Make It Better CIC led the course which is part of a wider project researching how creativity and arts activities can be used to help improve people’s health and wellbeing. Ruth has run two community photography courses with support from Smartline’s In Residence scheme which provides funding to help local entrepreneurs to take their initial ideas to the next stage.

Ruth believes passionately in the power of cultural participation to keep people well and for the past 10 years has provided arts and making activities for vulnerable people living in care and housing sectors.

“We know that loneliness and social isolation can lead to health problems, with people feeling stressed and depressed” she said. “Research shows that regular contact with creativity can improve people’s lives by developing positive behaviour and thoughts and we wanted to see whether this programme would produce similar results.”

One of those taking part in the programme is Margaret Tennent. Margaret lives on her own and works at night in a care home. While she saw people while she is at work, she was often alone during the day which had affected her mental wellbeing. “I have always been interested in photography and thought that this would be a good way of learning new skills and meeting people” she said.

Roger Pile had been experiencing health issues when he heard about the programme and decided to give it a try. A reluctant convert to using a smartphone to take photos, Roger is now taking some incredible images and says he will definitely be continuing to develop his skills. “Joining the course and going out and about to take photos helped take my mind off things” he said. “I feel much better and have made a lot of new friends.”

Michael Caple had also been living with health problems when he made the decision to join the programme. “I found out I was quite good at taking photos and I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time outdoors” he said. “Being outside with friends and learning new skills has really helped me feel better and enjoy my life more.”

Karen Spooner, from Volunteer Cornwall, a partner in Smartline, is delighted with the success of the programme. “Many of the group initially signed up to improve their photographic skills but have really benefited from the social aspects of the project” she said.

“The opportunity to make new friends and go to different places each week has had a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. Everyone has demonstrated a real sense of pride – both in their own achievements and in the shared achievements of the whole group – and it has been wonderful to see how they have changed over the eight weeks.”

“It has been a real privilege to work with the students” said Ruth. “The aim of the programme was to see if taking part in a creative activity like photography would have a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing. The feedback from members of the group suggests that they have very much benefited from the experience and I am looking forward to developing the programme to extend it to other communities.”