Leeds carers find creative escape thanks to Holbeck arts organisation Skippko

Firm Friendships have been forged by a group of Leeds carers brought together for what began as a one-off arts project but has grown into a dedicated photography club in its own right.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 6:00 am

When Ian McKay went to collect wife Heather from one of those early sessions hosted by Holbeck-based Skippko, he soon found himself getting involved as well.

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It has opened the door to learning new skills, exploring their creativity and even seeing their work displayed in public.

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Heather and Ian McKay are members of Cameraderie, a photography club that grew out of a project run by Skippko and Carers Leeds. Picture: Simon Hulme

“When you walk into the exhibition and see your photographs, at first you do a double take,” Ian said. “You don’t think it can be your photograph. You’ve seen it on the screen or a tiny print, and suddenly it’s up on the wall.

“I think we’re quite proud, not only of what we’ve achieved individually but as a group.”

Moments like that are what it’s all about for the Skippko team, who work alongside a cohort of 18 artists to run creative projects in Leeds communities – both geographical ones and those based on shared experience.

Thinking back to the exhibition for A Shared Place, director Arthur Stafford said: “Their eyes when they came in and saw all their work being presented professionally... The idea that people were buying their work. You just can’t put a value on it. It really does make it all worthwhile.”

The Yorkshire Evening Post has teamed up with Leeds 2023 for Hello Leeds, a campaign celebrating arts and culture in our communities.

Back in 2013, Skippko had teamed up with Carers Leeds – the charity that supports unpaid carers in the city – for The Angles of View. The idea was to create an outlet for carers who spend so much of their time looking after others and offer them a break from their daily responsibilities.

This was when Heather and Ian, who have both had caring responsibilities for various friends or family members for around a decade now, were invited to take part.

Ian said: “It was really looking at things from a different angle, an everyday scene viewed from a different perspective. Above, below, or round a corner. It was really interesting.”

It was from this that the Cameraderie group would eventually emerge, keeping those early participants connected in between Skippo photographic projects that are opened up more widely.

Carers taking part in one of Skippko's projects.

A Shared Place in 2018 saw members of the group contributing to an inter-generational photography project started autumn 2018 in partnership with Holbeck Together.

Working with Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, there were also opportunities to shoot images for a brochure to accompany the museum’s Leeds to Innovation exhibition.

And now they are contributing to Shutter Stories, another project with Carers Leeds that has been funded by the Leeds-based Wades Charity. It includes online group chats to share ideas and photographs as well as outdoor photoshoots when restrictions allow.

Heather said: “Before Christmas, we had a get together on Zoom. Not to talk about photography, just to chat.”

Light Owl, one of the photographs taken by Ian McKay.

The social element of Cameraderie and the projects they contribute towards has taken on a new significance over the past year.

Ian said: “It’s become a lot more important for some of the members who are very much still in a hands on caring role. One lady in particular, it’s one of the few breaks she gets and she can only come on the Zoom call if she can get someone in. It’s a bit of respite really.

“Certainly for the people that are carers, it’s become an escape, an opportunity to be with other people, share their experience and learn something new.”

As the name of the group suggests, there is not the competitive edge that might be found in other camera clubs.

Ian said: “We support each other, not only in the photography but also personally as well. They’ve become friends. A couple of people that have come in have never touched a camera before and they’re producing these amazing photographs.”

Heather credits much of this to Skippko artists Nicki Taylor and Sally Store who help to facilitate the group and are involved in Shutter Stories too.

A self-portrait taken by participant Wilf during a Skippko session.

“Nicki and Sally are very encouraging and very knowledgeable,” she said.

Skippko programme manager Cath Brooke agreed: “They’re amazing, how they work with people and get the best out of people.

“It’s helping to keep the members connected and to keep their creative juices going. They’re learning some technological stuff about the camera and how it all works, but also how they can think more creatively and share their stories and thoughts.”

Being able to continue to commission projects during the lockdown has been as important for the participants as it has for the artists that Skippko works alongside.

Arthur said: “A lot of the artists, their work had stopped. They don’t work for anybody, they’re self-employed.

“Lockdown for us has been a very difficult period. We’ve shut doors, we’ve lost participants which has been very difficult to take. On the other hand, it’s given us a way of working we would never have arrived at a year ago.”

Recognising the need to work with people where they are right now, the focus shifted from community centres to projects that could be run online and completed at home. They include Windows Across Leeds, another collaboration with Carers Leeds as well as Leeds Inspired.

It saw 50 packs containing acetate sheets and glass pens sent out to carers along with an invitation to draw the view from their window. So far, 80 drawings have been returned and they will used to form a glasshouse for display.

Cath, a fine artist and print maker in her own right, said: “It soon became apparent that people really valued the stuff we were sending out, the connections we were making with people.

"The feedback we’re getting is people are just really enjoying being part of something bigger.”

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An exhibition of photographs taken by the Cameraderie group.