Hammersmith Reflections – Why we need art

Guest blog entry by Nora Laraki

 

Most of you know me as the Event and Project Coordinator of Hammersmith United Charities, the first point of contact when walking through our doors in Sycamore Gardens. But since 2017 I have also dedicated my time to do a PhD and dive with this research project deeper into the art world. A big part of my research is looking at the reason on why so many institutes, companies, hospitals and charities engage with art even though they are not connected to art in their day to day business and how they use art for the benefit of their residents, their staff and employees, their visitors and patients.

In this blog I will explain three good reasons why we need art at Hammersmith United Charities, how it benefits us and how we have been successfully implementing art into our celebrations of the 400th anniversary.

 

  1. Art brings people together! – The Enigma Lunches

Art has always been a medium to express ideas, to share information and to communicate to one another. As art exists in many forms in every community, every culture and every country it often offers a way to connect beyond the differences of age, culture, ethnicity and language. When hosting our Enigma lunches, we are trying to use art exactly as that; a medium to bring different communities together and create a mutual understanding. We invited musicians to play traditional music to the lunches and asked our guests to tell us about their favourite poetry. People who would otherwise never meet or may be shy to communicate had a common experience and easily got into conversations talking about something they are passionate about.The Enigma lunches originally emerged from fellow PhD student, Carolyn Defrin’s research.  She has been working with us for the last three years to better understand the value and impact of artistic activity and strategy and the lunches developed from focus groups she led around food, designed specifically to address community issues across a range of communities. Our community programs director, Melanie Nock was inspired by Alan Turing’s methods for cracking the WWII ‘enigma code’- through casual conversation with secretaries. So it is from these two landscapes that we wanted to test what regular, casual gatherings between different communities might provoke.
For the cover of the publication “The Irish in Exile – Stories of Emigration” we chose together with the Irish Centre a work of art by Irish artist Bernard Canavan. Canavan, who himself came to England in 1959 deals in his paintings with Irish emigration capturing the pain of Irish women and men leaving home for an unknown destination for the first time.

 

  1. Art is healthy! – The Residents arts exhibition

In the last decades studies on the subject of art and health have been growing an understanding of the significant impact art can have on health and wellbeing as well as preventing illness. Art in healthcare is proven to reduce levels of sickness, anxiety and stress which is why it is often hung in hospitals and health institutions.[1] Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, discovered that simply the act of viewing art gives pleasure, much like falling in love. Being surrounded by art increases critical thinking, empathy and tolerance towards different people.[2] So not only being creative yourself but also surrounding yourself with art has a significant positive impact on wellbeing.

At John Betts House and Sycamore House we have a number of visual artists among our residents. This year, we decided to participate at the H&F Arts Fest with an exhibition of paintings entirely made by our residents. The works of art are as different as the artists and vary from detailed embroidery to big oil on canvas paintings. Bryan, one of our artists, explains to me: “I find painting very relaxing, it takes you away from everyday things. I have art class on Fridays and walking through the park on the way there you always see lovely things. Even a petal, a leaf or something like that, it can inspire you to create something – I quite enjoy that.”

Exhibiting the paintings and honouring the artists gave everyone a sense of pride and positivity towards the different abilities of our residents and also offered other residents and of course the public to visit the exhibition and surround themselves with art. Creating art engages both – the body and the mind and with that stimulates not only the artists but also the ones who get to see the art!

 

  1. Art tells our story! – John King’s Portrait and the Mosaics

Art is a reflection of our society, a history lesson and a preservation of culture all in one. The art that we create and that we display tells a story about who Hammersmith United Charities is now but also communicates the charities long history of 400 years. For the Christmas Card 2017 we wanted to honour one of our founders, Bishop John King, by commissioning a redrawing of his portrait. Together with the artist Matthew Cook we discussed that we wanted to step away from the very historical way of portraying John King and bring more live to him as a person and philanthropist in a contemporary picture. The finished illustration combines the charities long history with our world today and was after the initial Christmas card re-used to decorate our anniversary’s cake at the Grand Party.

Our residents, together with local primary school children and Design Education, engaged this year themselves in telling the stories of our two sheltered housing schemes in two beautifully crafted mosaics that show the gardens of Sycamore House and John Betts house. The mosaics were unveiled at the Grand Party and now found their permanent home in each of our housing schemes. The mosaics themselves express better than any mission statement, the shared story of our residents, our sheltered housing our gardens and our community.

 

For me, personally, it has been great to be involved in all these very creative and rewarding projects with so many artists involved. As the daughter of two artists I learned very early in life that art is a part of who we all are individually and at the same time the best medium to connect us to the people around us. I hope that with the anniversary year ending we have many more interesting art related projects to come!

 

 

 

 

[1] Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. American journal of public health, 100(2), 254-263.

[2] Zeki, S. (2001). Artistic creativity and the brain. Science, 293(5527), 51-52.

Hammersmith United Charities Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

In line with Government advice, Hammersmith United Charities has invoked our Business Continuity Plan and implemented a new operating model focussed on keeping the residents of our Almshouses, our team, contractors and partners safe and well during the Coronavirus pandemic. (more…)

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The almshouse movement

So much more than affordable housing

With the average house price in Hammersmith at more than 25 times the salary of a nurse, it is no surprise that many workers are reaching retirement without the safety net of their own property. That’s why almshouses like ours, providing older people an affordable home in the community where they belong, are as vital now as when the movement began hundreds of years ago.

By Victoria Hill, Chief Executive – Hammersmith United Charities

 

The coronavirus has seen an outpouring of appreciation for key workers who leave the safety of their home to work keeping their community safe, fed and well. In the frightening early days of the first lockdown, we stood in the street and clapped for healthcare workers, carers, shop assistants, cleaners and more – all the people who put themselves at risk for the sake of others.

The contribution of key workers is rarely highly valued in monetary terms and these are often the very people who struggle to find an affordable home near their families and vital services as they grow older and become more in need of care themselves.

The average house price in Hammersmith is more than 25 times the salary of a nurse, and so it is no surprise that increasing numbers of workers are reaching retirement without their own property to fall back on. And with the average rental cost of a one-bedroom flat at two and a half times the state pension, it is easy to see how so many older people are also priced out of the private rental market.

With one in four older people in our area now living in poverty, the mission of almshouses like ours is as relevant as it was 400 years ago when Hammersmith United Charities was founded.

The almshouse movement has been around for hundreds of years but the Almshouse Association and the Charity Commission have only recently created a formal definition of what it means to be an almshouse. It describes exactly what we do here at Hammersmith United Charities.

Our charity was founded in 1618 with a gift of £100 to provide housing for the relief of the ‘elderly poor’ of Hammersmith. This gift has been added to and grown by generations of trustees and we now have an endowment and 92 flats on two sites just off the Goldhawk Road. These properties are highly protected and cannot be sold or used for any other purpose. Our residents must be over 60, have lived in Hammersmith for at least five years, be of limited means and in need of sheltered accommodation.

In human terms, our status as an almshouse means that the Charity can provide housing to the people who have often contributed most to our community but feel valued least. We believe that no one should be denied the opportunity to live in a decent home simply because they were never given the opportunity to climb the property ladder. The cost of our flats is regulated by statute to ensure that anyone can live here without causing hardship.

For us, almshouse living is about much more than just affordable housing. We know from research by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing that where we live and our relationships also have a significant impact on our wellbeing. For Hammersmith United Charities, what defines us is our ability to provide a home where people feel safe, in the place where they belong, surrounded by a community who values them for life, not just for lockdown.

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More information:

Over 60 and looking for a new home in Hammersmith? We provide beautiful, welcoming sheltered housing with award-winning communal gardens. Flats available now from £870 per month.

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H&F WINTER COVID APPEAL

UNITED in Hammersmith & Fulham has launched the H&F Winter Covid Appeal in partnership with Hammersmith & Fulham Council

As the UK struggles with rising rates of the virus and a second lockdown commences, many still need our help – including those going through mental health crises, suffering from loneliness and isolation, and at-risk children in need of educational support.

UNITED in Hammersmith & Fulham has launched the H&F Winter Covid Appeal in partnership with Hammersmith & Fulham Council to enable local individuals, businesses and foundations across the borough to support those most in need of assistance.

100% of funds raised will be donated to groups working with people who face risk because of coronavirus in Hammersmith & Fulham this winter.

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Nomad Radio: a lifeline for the Somali community

How one of our grants is keeping the station on the airwaves through the coronavirus crisis.

The UK’s only radio station for the Somali community, Nomad Radio broadcasts here in Hammersmith and Fulham. Community-led and bilingual, it’s just received a grant by Hammersmith United Charities to keep it on the airwaves through the coronavirus crisis.

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