ART is known for its therapeutic benefits but now creativity has become a lifeline for people who have experienced homelessness in Warrington.

Residents at James Lee House have benefited from art therapy sessions since April last year, making everything from mosaics and collages to oil paintings and even a totem pole.

Now many of them have become exhibitors thanks to 16 pieces being selected for a showcase at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery which is available to view now. Debbie Lyon, art therapy teacher, started leading the classes after the Salvation Army homeless hostel got involved with the national BBC Get Creative festival last year by making a large collaborative artwork.

The team immediately saw the benefits and weekly classes are now being funded by Lymm Round Table donation. A sponsored 14km swim in the River Thames by James Lee House manager Matthew Davenport raised a further £800 for the sessions.

Other works from residents are also on show at Lymm Hotel while a further exhibition at Golden Square is being planned.

Matthew said: “Having the art therapy workshops is fantastic because a lot of the people who come to us have had really quite traumatic experiences of becoming homeless and losing their sense of control in the world.

“They also have lots of emotions that are stirred up by those experiences. Having the art group is a way of being able to express those emotions and channel some of that energy into something positive and creative.

Warrington Guardian:

“Having Debbie and the art group here and all the people who support the artwork has made a massive difference.

“It puts a value on people. It changes a lot of the dynamics in how people perceive themselves.

“Instead of identifying themselves as homeless people it makes them think of themselves as artists.

“It takes them away from being a resident of James Lee House to an exhibitor at an art gallery.”

Some residents initially started by simply colouring in on collaborative pieces while their confidence grew.

Over the months this has led to pieces that are considered worthy of an exhibition and even some work being commissioned. There has also been a request for more pieces at Lymm Hotel.

Debbie added: “To make something tangible or visual can be really rewarding for any person. It builds a lot of confidence and self esteem which you need to have in other parts of your life.

“Some of them sometimes just want to come for a cup of tea and a chat and to watch what’s going on.

“That’s fabulous because they still give us input. They still look at the artwork and say what it means to them. They’ll get something from it just by being there.”

James Lee House resident Kevin goes to the classes every week and has three pieces at the Warrington Museum and Art Gallery exhibition.

He said: “All my kids do art as well. One of my kids does it at uni now so it must be in the blood somewhere.

“When you’re relaxed your mind just goes and whatever emotion you’re feeling goes on the paper.

“I find it relaxing and there’s a good sense of humour in the group.

“I never used to draw before Debbie came. I love the classes and it’s amazing to have my work exhibited.

“I love working as a group as well and achieving something together.”

Debbie added: “It’s the process behind what they’re achieving and how they’re feeling.

“If you are troubled or bothered and your hands are busy you can talk a bit more freely about problems. That can be important in helping people as some of them might not normally freely speak about things.”

Matthew, who has worked in Warrington for five and a half years, also reckons it can make former residents feel differently about their time at the Brick Street hostel.

He said: “For many people when they move on from James Lee House they want it behind them but some of them recognise the positive changes they made here and want to continue.

“So that’s why we have former residents coming back to the art classes. There’s a lot of pride in what they’ve achieved particularly being exhibited at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery.”

Warrington Guardian:

James Lee House, which marked its 50th anniversary in July, provides 54 beds for men and women over the age of 18 experiencing homelessness as well as 10 spaces for people to escape the cold. In July plans for six new emergency bedrooms were also approved to help address the increase in homelessness in Warrington and the challenges of rough sleeping.

Matthew told Weekend the exhibition has helped highlight the positive work the hostel does.

He said: “It has helped to promote the message of the Salvation Army and the work of James Lee House.

“The exhibitions we’ve had have really helped put James Lee House in a positive light in the Warrington community.

“Quite often we’ve been in the press for the wrong reasons so being in the press for the right reasons makes a big difference.

“The right reasons basically are the residents and everything they’ve achieved

Debbie added: “The real reasons you don’t hear about. More frequently you hear about the stigma and negativity which isn’t accurate often.”