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Our first art exhibition of service users’ work

David Watson, Nacro’s Director of Justice and Health services, opened Recovery Near You’s first art exhibition this month, at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, featuring work from our art group. Here is his opening address.


Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen, for being here this evening and for supporting Recovery Near You and our service users in this, our first, full exhibition of their art.

I am delighted that the City of Wolverhampton Art Gallery has given so freely of their time, and space to make this dream a reality – I am particularly grateful to Julia from the Gallery for all her help. And I am delighted that so many of our friends and colleagues from across the City are here this evening.

I am David Watson, and I lead Nacro’s – a social justice charity – justice and health services divisions. I am proud to introduce this work on behalf of our service users and Recovery Near You. Our service, led by Nacro, and in partnership with Aquarius and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, currently deliver drug and alcohol services across the City.

There are, of course, a number of people I would like to thank for making this evening possible:

Firstly, to all our artists – many of whom are here this evening – and without whom we wouldn’t have quite so much to admire tonight! It’s lovely to see such great art, and I’m sure they’re all rightly proud of their achievements.

I’d also like to thank Emma, Julia and Abdul from the Mid-Counties Co-op. They have generously led fundraising efforts to support our service user’s activities. Their efforts, and the generosity of Co-op staff and customers, enables us to purchase the resources we need, the art materials for service users, and the equipment to  help launch the viewing at the gallery, Dan the photographer who is here – remember to smile! But please just say if you don’t wish to be photographed….

The art group has been running for about 5 years. It is facilitated by Jan. Jan is a local artist, and a former employee of Recovery Near You. Jan retired about 3 years ago and has been volunteering for us since then. Without Jan this group would not be as successful as it is. She is very compassionate and encourages our service users to find their hidden talents and empowers them to believe in themselves again. Most clients attend the art group for the first time never believing it is possible for them to paint, draw or achieve and over the weeks their skills and confidence are developed to very high standards. So, from all of the staff team, a big thanks to Jan for all the time she dedicates for Recovery Near You as a volunteer.

I’d also like to thank Neil. Neil was an invaluable volunteer for us at Recovery Near You, and we are now lucky to employ him full-time. Neil still facilitates the art group every week. He is dedicated to the group and his clients, and encourages great self-belief.

Neil will say a few words shortly.

I particularly want to thank Angie and all of the staff – and particularly Lin, under the leadership of Helen. Thank you all for working so tirelessly to bring this event together.

I think it might be helpful to say something about why art is important. We believe that in helping people tackle addiction, to develop the personal capacity and strength to move towards recovery and to prevent relapse, we can all help. Our service users often benefit from tremendous family and community support and encouragement, many benefit from securing stable and sustainable accommodation; and others find a sense of purpose and belonging through volunteering or through work, education or training. We know that purposeful and constructive activity, and the elimination of boredom, the building of a structured day and social support makes a real difference. We know that so many of our service users have talents and skills just waiting to be harnessed and enjoyed. Art is a great example of this.

We might not like all we hear about, or everything that is decided in Parliament, but I wanted to refer to a recent Westminster Hall debate which followed the publication of the findings of an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing.

The debate made clear that there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the arts are a cost-effective way to prevent and treat health and social issues, including those posed by an aging population, chronic conditions such as substance misuse and mental health issues.

We are confident that Arts engagement has a hugely beneficial effect upon health in people of all ages and so it must play a vital role in public health.

If we want a country fit and ready for the future, healthy in mind and body, we need to widen access to the arts, and in supporting art within Recovery Near You we believe that we are helping to make a difference.

To conclude: Please enjoy the art, mingle and talk to the artists and staff; and encourage your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to attend – thanks to the Art Gallery, the exhibition is open for 2 weeks. Feel free to purchase the art and know, please, that your time here this evening, and any purchases you make in raising funds for the benefit of service users and their families in other ‘recovery activities’ will be greatly appreciated. Thank you and enjoy.