“Lifeline” to vulnerable women in Norfolk suspends services due to lack of funding

Users of the Sweet Arts project reacting to the news of the funding crisis the organisation. Photo :

Users of the Sweet Arts project reacting to the news of the funding crisis the organisation. Photo : Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

An organisation which has helped hundreds of vulnerable women and been described as 'a lifeline' by many has suspended its services due to lack of funding.

Users of the Sweet Arts project reacting to the news of the funding crisis the organisation. One of

Users of the Sweet Arts project reacting to the news of the funding crisis the organisation. One of the users putting her thoughts on paper.Photo: Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

For nearly a decade Sweet Arts, based at the 4women Centre in Norwich, has used art to help transform the lives of women who have found themselves in need for a variety of different reasons, including mental health issues, isolation, substance misuse and other difficulties. The organisation set up by Toni Lawton has done this by offering a drop-in creative arts group, special projects and courses, and creating a safe place where there is always a listening ear.

But now all but one of its services have closed, and the organisation is appealing for people to help bring back the Sweet Arts support

network.

Sally Franks, Sweet Arts marketing coordinator, said it was a unique organisation that empowered women going through difficult periods in their lives. She said, depending on the level of services it offered, it would need to raise between £50,000 to £110,000 annually to continue.

Users of the Sweet Arts project reacting to the news of the funding crisis the organisation. Photo:

Users of the Sweet Arts project reacting to the news of the funding crisis the organisation. Photo: Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

She said: 'Sweet Arts has worked hard in recent years to diversify income streams and create sustainable sources of revenue.

'Women taking part in our sewing project, Recreate, produce high quality textile products that are retailed at craft markets and retail outlets across Norfolk. Our most recent fundraising event was an art auction which raised £5,000 and promoted the work of many talented local

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artists.

'However, due to the scale and nature of our services, we are still very reliant on grants and charitable donations. Over the past few months we haven't been able to secure enough money to cover our core services continuing, so regrettably we will be informing all the local services that refer their clients to Sweet Arts that we will no longer be able to offer support to these women.

Service user Lesley Porter sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo : Steve

Service user Lesley Porter sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo : Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

'We are of course hoping that Sweet Arts will be able to reopen in the future and openly invite anyone who wishes to help us at this difficult time to get in touch.'

She added: 'We would very much like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff, volunteers and supporters for all their hard work over the last 10 years, as well as all the women who have attended a project at Sweet Arts. Thank you for the fun, the laughter and all the creative energy that has made every day inspiring.'

Anybody able to offer support should email team@sweetartsnorwich.co.uk

Visit www.sweetartsnorwich.co.uk

Service user Stacey Bindley sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve

Service user Stacey Bindley sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

Voyage With Me, a project run by Sweet Arts in collaboration with the Sainsbury Centre For Visual Arts and Restoration Trust, is still continuing. For more, visit www.voyagewithme.org

VIEWS OF SOME OF THE WOMEN WHO GO TO SWEET ARTS DROP-IN ART GROUP

• Lesley Porter

Service user Carole Lamb sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve Ad

Service user Carole Lamb sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

Lesley Porter got involved with Sweet Arts about four years ago.

After a lifetime of always being busy and working, the 60-year-old from Norwich was devastated when she lost her job and self-esteem, and became affected by depression. She joined an Art on Prescription course run by Sweet Arts and through this got involved with Sweet Arts' drop-in creative art group and other activities.

'It is a lifeline for those who have become marginalised through mental or physical illness and life events. It's non-judgemental, supportive, caring and encouraging,' she said.

'It's the fact I can come here and engage with people and actually do things again. I actually feel like I am taking part in life again.'

Service user Kate Spiller sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve A

Service user Kate Spiller sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

• Stacey Bindley

Stacey Bindley only joined Sweet Arts drop-in group less than two weeks ago, but she said it had already been a big help to her and that she was really going to miss the group.

The 25-year-old from Norwich, who has a 17-month-old son, said: 'I've been coming here for about one-and-a-half weeks. I came to the 4women Centre downstairs to speak to people because I felt isolated and they suggested I come here. It's helped me in the last two weeks. I don't feel so emotional anymore. I am not 'down there' anymore, I am sort of on a level. I do not really know what I am going to do [now that the group is closing].'

She added: 'Everyone here is welcoming, everybody is friendly, everybody always says hello.'

Service user Karen McHenry sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve

Service user Karen McHenry sharing her thoughts about the funding crisis at Sweet Arts.Photo: Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

• Carole Lamb

Carole Lamb, 52, from Norwich, started coming to the drop-in art sessions at Sweet Arts about two years ago.

'I had something happen to me, that's the reason I came here,' she said, adding that Sweet Arts had given her invaluable support and helped her regain her confidence.

'It's social activity, being with people, contact, listening to others, helping one another, creating things and also knowing it is a safe place where you can drop in and talk to somebody.

'I think it has helped me get my confidence back.

'This place makes a difference, you get up and you come here.

'I am very sad about the fact that it is not going to be here any more.'

• Kate Spiller

Kate Spiller, 52, who lives near Cromer, has been coming to Sweet Arts drop-in group for about two-and-a-half years.

Kate, who has suffered from depression over the years, said: 'I self-referred myself after I found out about it (Sweet Arts). Because I am an artist I end up working a lot on my own. For me to come here and be with another group of women who understand where I am coming from if I am not feeling great, it's very important. It is very important because the more cuts there are in mental health [services] the more necessary it is for things like this. This is a lifeline.'

She said it was a very valuable service and just as important as medicine and medical treatment or therapeutic care.

'Just because you haven't got your leg falling off doesn't mean to say that your mind isn't falling apart,' she said.

• Karen McHenry

Karen McHenry, 44, who lives in the city centre, was referred to Sweet Arts about three years ago to help with her feelings of isolation and depression.

'Coming here has literally been a lifeline. It has kept me alive. It gives me a reason to get up twice a week and meet other women in similar situations. It's just so reassuring, and I never thought I was creative but I have made some amazing things even if I do say so myself. Mel who takes the group is such a huge support, she really is, and I am just so sad that it could be at an end. So much stuff, services in mental health, are just going, what are we meant to do? I worry about my health and other women's health. We have just got to fight for it [Sweet Arts] in any way we can.'