Health: Developing artistic skills gave new purpose to life

Amanda Burton. PIC:  Steve Riding
Amanda Burton. PIC: Steve Riding
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Five years ago Amanda Burton was struggling, but now she has turned her life around. Carmel Harrison reports.

Five years ago Amanda Burton was battling mental health issues, but now she has a bright future.

And she says her turnaround is largely due to Inkwell, an art space and café set up in a former pub.

When Inkwell opened its doors in 2009, Amanda was one of their first volunteers.

Now she has a new job as Development Worker for people accessing mental health services as well as for the wider community.

Her battle with mental illness began around the age of 18. Always a creative pupil, she was passionate about art and music, but had to put it on the back burner at school due to other commitments.

The death of her beloved father when she was 21 couldn’t have come at a worse time for the promising student who had started a course in Biochemistry at Leeds University. She had to abandon her plans to pursue a career in forensics while she resolved her mental health issues. Later on she returned to study to follow her original passion for the creative arts with a course at Bradford College.

A referral to Workplace Leeds, a Leeds Mind employment and training service for those in mental health recovery, inspired Amanda to volunteer at the then new arts project Inkwell.

Amanda was a volunteer from the scheme’s birth in 2009, when it ran just three art classes. Formerly the Shoulder of Mutton pub at Potternewton Lane, it has now grown to become a creative community hub.

Amanda set up the craft café there in 2010 which opened Inkwell up to the public and the community for the first time. From its humble beginnings, Inkwell is now a buzzing community hub, complete with a thriving weekend vegetarian café, a large maintained garden and featuring an array of crafting events, classes and courses.

Over the next five years, Amanda became more involved in art, supported by her peers at Inkwell. She began to paint, something she had not done since she had been a teenager and felt a sense of control which she could harness and use to help her recovery. Amanda finally felt confident at something, and received positive feedback from those around her. She went on to showcase her work at Inkwell and local exhibitions and developed into a talented artist. No longer was Amanda just a mental health diagnosis, this new skill gave her a new purpose in the world.

Amanda also discovered a talent for jewellery making, particularly with wirework techniques which has won her international fans and even a feature in Vogue. Through a course organised by Inkwell, Amanda learnt how to create a website and design it to showcase her artisan jewellery. She also created and developed the Inkwell website. She used her jewellery skills to offer a weekly jewellery making session at the Craft Café. With Amanda facilitating her own group as well as project managing the café as a whole, she became a role model for other volunteers who turned to her for guidance. Her hard work has meant that Inkwell is now able to open up to the wider community, with the craft café, and the Saturday Cafe providing a crucial service for users of mental health services across Leeds, as well as the community. This provides an arena of opportunity for breaking down the stigma of mental health and offering socially isolated people the opportunity to reintegrate into the community through creative avenues.

Inkwell has become an innovator in supporting mental health in its own right, and hosts annual events like the May Day Event and fireworks on Bonfire Night as well as a weekly café, and monthly instrumental nights to name a few. Inkwell is now a seven day a week service, one that was never imagined possible at the start.

Amanda said: “Inkwell offers support in such a positive way, be that through the uplifting atmosphere the building possesses or through the can-do attitude held by all staff and volunteers. Inkwell believed in me, so I believed in myself”. It is this support which has helped Amanda get to where she is today.

Thanks to fundraising by the RAG (Raise and Give) society at the University of Leeds this summer, money became available last autumn to create a new paid post for the role of development worker for Inkwell and Leeds Mind.

Amanda applied for the job and was successful, receiving support from those around here. Her new role as development worker will make her responsible for developing both new and existing activities and courses in Inkwell while continuing to expand the service with new and exciting enterprising ideas.

Returning to work can be a daunting and scary experience, but working at Inkwell will allow Amanda to develop and grow in a supportive and positive environment. She is delighted to be working again and says that being given this opportunity to go back into employment will help her to feel she’s reached a crucial stage in her mental health recovery. Talking to Amanda, she speaks about now “having a future”, something she never previously could imagine. She is eager to develop in areas inside, but also outside of employment with this new confidence, for example, this opportunity has opened new doors for her artwork and jewellery making too. As Amanda says herself, it is a “very scary but very exciting point in my life”.

To view Amanda’s jewellery and artwork you can visit her website at


Inkwell is part of Leeds Mind, an independent charity whose aim is to enable individuals with mental health problems to flourish.

On offer is a range of weekly art classes for service users and the whole community, as well as a drop-in Craft Café every Thursday and a Café with vegetarian food on Saturdays.

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