Leeds Mind project Inkwell Arts hopes to reopen Chapel Allerton base as outreach work begins
What once was an empty pub has been transformed into a welcoming creative space over the past decade thanks to the staff and volunteers behind Inkwell Arts.
A typical day at their base in Chapel Allerton might have seen helpers serving lunches in its vegetarian cafe, musicians performing a set and people dropping in for a class or workshop.
And while the challenges of the past year mean the building in Potternewton Lane remains in a state of hibernation, the team at Inkwell are feeling optimistic about its future.
Community arts co-ordinator Anna Ridley said: "We started off mainly as an art space for people who were struggling with their mental health and then the cafe built up over time. Because of lockdown and how much we've had to do online, that's kind of taken a back seat.
"I think at the moment what we're most excited about is the outreach offer that we're taking on as we come out of lockdown. We're going to be facilitating workshops and courses across Leeds. Our main aim is to reach as many people as possible rather than them having to come to us."
As a Leeds Mind project, Inkwell's approach has always been focused on wellbeing and creativity whether it be art classes, sewing workshops or meditation.
"All of the stuff we do is trying to develop people's creative skills," Anna said. "It doesn't matter about your background or ability.
"We feel it's an integral part of the journey towards recovery in terms of mental health illness. We really feel like the creativity we offer is helping to play a significant role."
In a year that has left many people feeling overwhelmed, Inkwell has looked to find ways to keep making that opportunity available.
Anna said: "At the beginning of lockdown, we started to go straight into making some videos of recipes, different activities, stuff that people could do at home with their kids. Lots of trying to give people information, keep people busy.
"We did a lot of work with volunteers as well who still do some work with us online at the moment. The work that our volunteers do is generally facilitating workshops. They'll do art, sewing, felting. They take a lot of pride and responsibility in doing their own workshops. We wouldn't be able to run without them."
Among those taking part in the online sessions was Cathy Ibberson, who enrolled in an art class for over 55s.
She said: "There were about 15 of us. They would do a different activity each week. The art stuff was dropped off at your house and we would all share our work. You feel like you've achieved something but it's just a lovely mindful thing to do as well.
"It's always been important to me as a busy mum and working, but I think this past year it was just particularly nice to know there was something local on offer still that made you feel a bit less lonely, something a bit creative rather than just speaking."
The 58-year-old, who lives in Chapel Allerton, is involved with the Jazz Leeds charity which has hosted performances in Inkwell's cafe.
"It's just a lovely open space there," she said. "Me and few of my friends could play quite casually. It was lovely for us because people come in and out, listen to the music, get chatting, have some coffee and a bit of cake. It's just such a welcoming place.
"It's always just been like that at Inkwell, whether it's open or online, it's just very welcoming - quite casual, no pressure, just to have something for yourself. Sometimes it's lovely to feel cared for when you're caring for others particularly."
Another participant in the online art classes was Bindi Cattell, who first came across Inkwell when she moved to the area in 2018. She had recently returned from Canada and had suffered a bereavement.
"It was a local place for me to go to for my own mental health, to get out and meet people," she said. "I asked if I could do volunteering in the cafe. I've had mental health issues myself and I think it helps because you've had lived experience of it.
"All the staff there are really supportive and encouraging. Even when I had to step back for a while, they didn't make me feel I was letting anyone down."
Bindi stepped back from volunteering in early 2019 after getting a new job but a fall in September that year left her needing surgery on her wrist.
"My health has gone downhill quite a lot in the last 18 months," said the 55-year-old. "Mental health is still important for me and now I live on my own, I wanted to start doing some things that are good for me."
It was with this in mind that she signed up for the art class, a cookery course focused on healthy eating for the brain and a weekly support group.
Bindi said: "I do enjoy learning but because I'm not in work at the moment, I'm also missing that kind of connection with people. My mobility is a bit limited now. I've got nerve damage from the surgery. It doesn't mean I don't want to be creative but equally I have to pace myself."
Now living in Otley, she is taking part in an eight-week art course that began last week at New Wortley Community Centre as part of the outreach work by Inkwell.
Next month will see the start of a new gardening course at Inkwell itself, with places still available for those interested in learning new skills and helping to make the garden there into an inviting space once more.
And in June, the hope is that the cafe may be able to reopen providing there is sufficient staffing and the rules allow.
Reflecting on the decade since Inkwell took over the old Shoulder of Mutton pub, Anna said: "It's been a long journey to get to this point. There's been ups and downs with the garden where we lost a bit of the space.
"We lost some funding for the building, for our workshops, so the last few years have been us trying to get back to the point where we're stable and to provide as much for people as we can. Despite lockdown, we do feel that we're back at the point where we can hopefully open the doors and start to open up to people again."
The Yorkshire Evening Post has teamed up with Leeds 2023 for Hello Leeds, a campaign celebrating the stories behind the cultural and community organisations that help to make life in the city so special. Please contact [email protected] to tell us about the projects and organisations that are making a difference in the communities where you live.
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