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‘Art is my passion and it was my past before life hit the skids’

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A programme that welcomes people recovering from alcohol addiction into the National Galleries of Scotland for tours, talks and practical lessons has been shortlisted for a prestigious award.

Every month, members of the Rowan Alba art group get together in a bid to tackle poor health and social isolation experienced by those with long-term alcohol addiction.

It’s been running for more than a decade and has now been shortlisted for community engagement programme of the year by the Museum + Heritage Awards.

Shari Lister say the programme has been massive in her recovery from addiction.

Contributed via National Galleries of Scotland x Rowan Alba

She told STV News: “I was introduced to them through Edinburgh social work department when I came out of rehab. Everybody in this room is safe for me – it’s my safe place, my safe group – and, you know, we all have the same ambitions at the end of the day.

“I love it very much so because of the art side of things because art is my passion and was my past prior to my life hitting the skids.”

Beginning as a one-off photography project in 2013, the much-needed programme has since delivered 42 sessions in the last year in Edinburgh.

Developed in partnership with Rowan Alba as part of its befriending scheme, CARDS, it recognises the wellbeing benefits that art brings

Each month a different topic is discussed and participants are able to explore the collection and exhibitions of the galleries, as well as make their own art using photography, painting, collage, poetry and more.

The gatherings also support people with emotional wellbeing and building friendships.

Siobhan McConnachie, head of learning and engagement at the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “It just grew from there and it was such a positive experience for everybody involved that we just kept it going and ten years on we’re still doing it, still going strong, and no intention for it to stop.”

Tracey Stewart, Volunteer Coordinator at Rowan Alba, said: “It’s really about making sure people have access to all the art and all the different exhibitions, but more importantly from our charity’s perspective it’s helping people reconnect with the city that they live in.”

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Rutherford says participants have the chance to make art but also to connect with each other.

She said: “Anything from drawing, using clay, sometimes painting, we know these kinds of activities are really good for us – they’re good for our wellbeing, they’re good for our brains, they help us to switch off and often when you are doing a simple creative activity like that it’s much easier to have conversations – you’re not coming into direct eye contact with people, you’re just relaxing into it.”

Some 83% of participants reported feeling less socially isolated – an impact organisers hope to continue for a long time to come.

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