Croydon art gallery aims to tackle mental illness

Opening the Studio Upstairs, L-R: Zlatinka Hristova, Director of Studio Upstairs, Luciana Berger MP, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, Tony Baks, Chair of Studio Upstairs. Pic: David Cartwright

Opening the Studio Upstairs, L-R: Zlatinka Hristova, Director of Studio Upstairs, Luciana Berger MP, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, Tony Baks, Chair of Studio Upstairs. Pic: David Cartwright

If, as Shadow Minister for Mental Health Luciana Berger suggests, community art projects are “the glue within our communities”, then east Croydon’s new Studio Upstairs will provide more than just a sticking plaster for locals with mental illness issues.

Studio Upstairs is a nationwide charity aiming to “provide holistic support to people who are experiencing enduring mental or emotional difficulties so that they can re-create their reasons and purpose for living”.

Opening this week (May 10), Studio Upstairs held a night full of art and music, showcasing the talents of people who have benefited from the services provided by the studio. With special guests Luciana Berger MP and Deputy Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, to cut the ribbon, artist Rich Simmons showcased his new piece whilst giving a talk on his struggle with depression as a young adult.

Trakas-Lawlor said: “There has been awful lot of stigma over the years and mental health has been taboo for far too long. With bringing this organisation here, hopefully we can lift that lid and we can encourage people to talk about mental health issues, to engage with the local community and to play more of a strong part in this organisation.”

Following on from the Deputy Mayor, Berger said: “I have had the privilege of travelling right across the country since September to meet with many different organisations that are doing really important things in the field of mental health.

“I am absolutely convinced from the conversations I’ve heard from listening to members, service users and professionals that services like this really do make a difference.”

Continuing: “We don’t solve the challenges of our nations mental health from the Department of Health. Actually thinking about mental health in terms of mental health services, we’re thinking about it too late. It is what we do within our own communities, it’s the glue within our communities, things like this that actually make the difference.”

Self-taught artist, Rich Simmons, who was also at the event showcasing his new work said: “Art can save lives, it really can, I am testament to that.

“People think art is just painting apples and oranges in art class in school. I am here to tell you that art is so much more, it’s a healing process, it’s a therapeutic process, it’s an understanding yourself process.

To see something like this come to Croydon is hugely exciting for me because I know how much it would have helped me and I am excited for the next generation of people that need art like I needed art, and hopefully art won’t just be a release it can be a passion, it can be a career.”

In Croydon, one in six adults suffers from a mental health issue at any one time, which is why charity organisations like Studio Upstairs are so important to the locals in filling the gap left by the closure of mental health hospitals throughout the area.

John James Richards, 65, who has been using the studio space to produce and exhibit his art said: “I have been making art since I was 18, it was something that helped me relax.

Artist John James Richards, 65. Pic: David Cartwright

Artist John James Richards, 65. Pic: David Cartwright

“I have lived here all my life and I noticed that they have closed all the mental hospitals in Croydon over the years and I don’t think that has necessarily been a good thing. When they close these places down it puts people who need these services out on the street, making it very difficult for people to find the help that they need.

“I have been through a lot, and this [his art] allows you to forget everything, you get absorbed into something so all your worries are forgotten for that short period of time and that’s what you need, that’s what people need a release. That’s what places like this can provide.”

More information on the work done by Studio Upstairs, the artists and their work can be found here.

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