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Art From The Heart
Wednesday 10th April, 2013

Art From The Heart
Showing off Th'onion on th'alps are: artist Paul Hine, group members Vicky Hawkes, Sharon Delves, Wendy Martland and Leanne Williams, Children's Centre Co-ordinator Lisa Middlehurst, Vicky Fletcher from WLCT, Erin Martland (aged seven) and Isabelle and Emily Hawkes, (aged seven and four respectively).

IN Norley Hall they call it Th'onion on th'alps.

And just like an onion, the impressive structure - that combines art with an outdoor community facility - has many layers.

The creation which sits proudly on the open area behind Westfield Children's Centre (aka The Alps) is a statement about personal growth and development and community pride.

Members of the Faces parents' forum group which meets regularly at Westfield have created Th'onion as part of a series of art workshops designed to develop new skills and tackle some of the issues they and their community faces.

WLCT's (Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust's) Arts and Heritage Team has joined forces with the council's Public Health team and Manchester-based arts and health organisation LIME to bring the Westfield Art Project to life.

Vicky Fletcher, who is WLCT's Arts Development Officer explains: “Working together we wanted to develop a project that looked at some of the issues affecting people in this area of Wigan. These included such things as mental health, worklessness, isolation and low self-esteem. The workshops covered a range of different topics including painting, drawing, wire-bending and design. They were all aimed at helping those taking part to try new things and pick up new skills but also to help develop their life skills, raise self-esteem and build confidence.”

The ultimate aim of the project was to encourage those taking part to take a more active role in their community through volunteering or to enter the world of work.
Working with LIME artist Johnny Woodhams, the 13-strong group of local parents and community members also set themselves the task of creating their own piece of natural, visual, three dimensional art to be installed outside the centre. Which is where Th'onion came from.

Sharon Delves, who is one of the volunteers working on the project says: “We have all learned so much through this project it's amazing. Members of the group all had their own personal issues to deal with, such as mental health problems, but getting involved with this is really helping to transform lives.

“The idea for Th'onion was to create a place of peace an tranquility that people could go to and sit and relax, we also plan to use it as an outdoor classroom for both children and adults and it also acts as a statement about the positive way local people feel about their community.”

Sharon adds: “It is still very much a work in progress and the beauty of this is it will continue to evolve and grow as we do. We're looking forward to it being ready and open for the community to enjoy over the summer.”

The group and their health partners gave the community a sneak preview of the Th'onion at a special community arts day at Westfield over the Easter Holiday. Children and adults alike were given the chance to try their hand at creating their very own masterpieces. It was also a prime opportunity for the partners to ask members of the community what type of project they would want to get involved with in the future.

Westfield Children' Centre Co-ordinator Lisa Middlehurst, who helped to bring the project to Norley Hall is convinced of its benefits.

“The changes we have seen in the people involved in the project have been really impressive,” she says. “It's like they've been given a new lease of life. Some have gained the confidence to find full-time work, others have got promotions at work, whilst one member has been inspired enough to start their own business. Projects like this have a lasting effect on the community and are making people realise exactly what they are capable of with the right support.”

The group's next ambitious project is to create an online Heritage Trail for Norley Hall which explores the history of the area and local places of interest.

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