Thursday, 22 October 2015

Harts and Craft - Diane's story

Diane Hart, volunteer and member at Ponthafren Association, a mental health charity in North Powys, writes our guest blog post this week. 

Hi! My name is Diane and I have been a member of Ponthafren for five years now.

When I first attended I was in a very bad place in my head, I couldn't see the point in anything. It has only been recently that I have been able to see a future. My Community Psychiatric Nurse thought it would give me something to do and a reason to carry on.

For a very, very long time I was very shy. At first I just hid behind the laptop, which as a member I had use of, and I only spoke to people when I was spoken to. I still hide behind it sometimes but it is more of a safety blanket rather than a protective shield.

Slowly over time I joined in some art and craft classes which gave me a reason to attend Ponthafren. Back then they were not accredited so the number of people who attended didn't matter, which was a good thing because there were not many who were interested in learning how to make felt, or silk painting. Gradually I joined in other classes like sugar craft where I learnt to make edible flowers. The classes eventually became accredited and I now have three certificates for sugar craft.

Around that time I also joined an adult literacy class. Not that I had a problem reading or writing, but the tutor said he would help with interview skills and confidence building. Well, it did some good because my tutor asked me to give a ten minute talk to the other members on how my art and craft classes were helping me, which I did, and this became the first of many.

Because of my talk a very special lady, who became my friend, saw me and asked me to join the committee of Powys Mental Health Alliance. I did this for a couple of years before other commitments and ill health stopped me from carrying on.

Then, because of changes going on at Welshpool Ponthafren, classes stopped for a while and I found things very hard to cope with. I was having a bad time when someone from Newtown Ponthafren called me and asked if would I like to join a class they had there. I thought they said Arts and Crafts, but what they actually said was Art and Design. I was told that if they couldn't get the numbers up the class would have to stop. I knew how important classes were to me and I felt for the people in the group so I immediately said yes. 

Needless to say I had a very big shock when I realised my mistake. I was not only nervous attending a new place and meeting new people but to find out the course I had agreed to was a Level Two BTEC in Art and Design and they were already six weeks into it. I thought it wouldn't be too much of a problem as there were only a few weeks left. The other courses I attended only lasted ten weeks. I was reassured that I would be OK - I had an advantage over the other girls as I had a painting portfolio under my belt so I could use this as part of my work. I told my teacher at the time that I knew nothing about art but again I was reassured and I decided to stay.

Perhaps if I had known then it was going to take 18 months I might have thought differently. I am glad I didn't know as it was a challenge but one I am pleased I met.

After a few weeks the teacher left and the new lady did things differently which at the time I found difficult but over time I warmed to her. Esther Thorpe opened my eyes to appreciate art. Even if I didn't like the style, I learnt to understand and appreciate it. With Esther's encouragement I have experimented in different techniques of painting and drawing. Recently I have dabbled in sculpture which I not only found therapeutic but I found I wasn't bad at it. So, over the last couple of years, I have mounted up thirty four certificates so far.

Apart from the BTEC the others were ten week courses of card making, calligraphy, pottery, sculpture, painting, drawing, paper flower making, and jewellery making with recycled paper. I also attended computer classes to refresh my skill and learn new skills like digital photography and playing with my pictures on the computer.

A couple of years ago I also started my own class where I teach others arts and crafts in Welshpool Ponthafren, putting to good use what I have learnt. 

I have also had the pleasure of working with an artist painting a mural celebrating 60 years since the last commercial steam train went through Welshpool. This is up for posterity and although not many know I had a big hand in it my friends know and I now have the confidence to point it out to people at the side of Welshpool Library.

Last year I attended a 4 day course which, apart from my BTEC, was one of the hardest courses I attended. It was not that the work was hard but I wasn't sure of myself. However, now I am a volunteer support worker at Welshpool Ponthafren and I know it was the right thing to do, for not only is it giving me the confidence to socialise I am attending more courses to help me become a better support worker.

I am still attending classes teaching and volunteering and I am now the chair person of a small volunteer group called Meeting Point Montgomeryshire. Last month I also joined a creative writing and poetry group. I have already had some of my work published, so who knows what the future holds. I am also helping to make things for the Welshpool Carnival next year. This is not connected to Ponthafren but through Ponthafren I met people who asked me to get involved with outside interests. In a way though it has everything to do with them because it was through them and other agencies that I feel able to do what I do. Even though some days all I want to do is crawl up in my bed and stay there having responsibilities and reasons to get out of bed has been a literal life saver.

Throughout July this year I did probably the hardest thing I have ever done and that was to go to shops in Newtown and Welshpool canvassing for money for charity. I had pledged to shave my hair all off to raise money and in doing so I raised £700.00.

I still have bad days but, as my CPN says, we all have blips and if we can see them as that they don't seem so dreadful. All I know is, five years ago I wouldn't have dreamt of being able to write what I have written, never mind see myself doing what I have done, for I saw no future for myself.

So I would like to say a big thanks to Ponthafren for all the help they have given me over the years and a big thanks for not seeing my visual and physical disability as a problem to becoming a volunteer.

And to you reading this - I hope it helps you to see a more positive future, for if I can do it so can you. I think life can be like climbing a mountain. It looks impossible but if you only look at one step at a time before you know it you have reached the summit. Don't worry if you slip a few times. I did many times. It’s not the slipping that matters, it's the getting up that counts.

Blessed be - Diane.

Many thanks to Diane for sharing her story with us. If you would like to tell us your story, then please get in touch.

Photos of Diane's art and craftwork courtesy of Diane Hart.

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