Forty Years of Working in the Arts at Grass Roots: Helix Arts

Author: Tom Robinson
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A photo showing a boy in a community space, holding a piece of artwork up to the camera.

Last year, Helix Arts celebrated their fortieth year of collaborating and connecting with local communities in North Tyneside and the North East.  The Arts charity supports community members and artists to work together to bring about meaningful changes to their wellbeing; tackling complex health inequalities.  Their work takes place in community centres, care homes, hospitals, parks, prisons and streets, with a commitment to working with those who are often forgotten, vulnerable and facing adverse circumstances.

VONNE are proud to support Helix Arts through the Healthy Communities and Social Prescribing Infrastructure Investment Programme.  Funded by the North East and North Cumbria ICB, this programme supports thirteen organisations to improve the social prescribing offer in their localities. 

Helix Arts have used the funding to part-fund roles within the organisation, providing vital capacity building.  Director Cheryl Gavin emphasises the importance of capacity funding for building and strengthening connections within organisations, with partners and with the wider sector, enabling continuity of work in communities and supporting effective cross-referring and collaboration with other organisations:

“Being able to play the long game, that's really important for us and our charity partners, and it's the hardest to do.  When organisations have what they need they can collaborate, add value across the sector and are enabled to do the more stretching things.”

So what about Helix Arts’ projects?  Better Connect is their arts and health programme for North Tyneside residents, offering regular arts sessions and creative opportunities across multiple locations in the borough.  This includes ceramics sessions for adult carers, family animation workshops and school holiday opportunities for children and young people, in everything from shadow puppetry to clowning and slam poetry.  Throughout December, Helix Arts delivered their Winter Wellbeing programme with activities for both children and grown ups in Wallsend and North Shields.

“The sessions are extremely beneficial to my mental health and wellbeing. I often struggle to ‘stay in the moment’ as I’m either worrying about something coming up or processing past trauma.  It has done more for my mental health in just these few weeks than months of talking therapy and medication.” Participant, Better Connect Programme.

There are flagship projects too, such as Heart of Care which led conversations about care away from the hidden rooms of domestic settings and placed them at the heart of our public spaces.  Partnering with organisations in Bristol and Kingston, carers took part in journaling, dance and poetry sessions.  Artworks were projected onto the Linskill Centre in North Shields and in Kingston simultaneously, shining a light on the invisible role that carers play in families and communities.

Three photos showing people enjoying arts activities - children play drums, a man and a woman play a steel dish shaped instrument and a woman dances joyfully.

Helix Arts have also been able to partner with the volunteer association, VODA North Tyneside to add capacity to their priorities, including a role in the Mental Health Alliance, a group of voluntary, community and social enterprise sector organisations who have agreed to collaborate around capacity building, relationship building, co-production and strategic planning.  Helix Arts and VODA are also collaborating on a map of social prescribing provision for the area, with the aim of sharing opportunities across the sector and increasing referrals and take up of social prescribing activity.

You can find out more about Helix’s work on their website. If you would like to know more about VONNE’s Healthy Communities and Social Prescribing programme you can access the webpage here and join the Healthy Communities and Social Prescribing Network to receive regular news and information about this work.