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Unlocking creativity and confidence | Arts on Prescription

John and Jo found themselves on either side of the tennis net one school break as teenagers in the 1950s.

They’d grown up next door to each other on adjoining farms in the West Australian wheat belt town of Toodyay, but had not managed to meet until that moment, largely due to Jo being away at boarding school most of the year.


John and Jo enjoying an Arts on Prescription clay class.

But that Summer, along with an interest in tennis, romance blossomed as across the net they found someone to confide in, to walk alongside, to love.

Life, as it does, has taken them on many adventures: marriage, then children, a move to Sydney in the 1960s for work, grandchildren and now even a great grandchild. Not long ago they moved to HammondGrove in Hammondville, seeking a comfortable lifestyle in a home set up for maximum mobility.

It’s been a blessing to live in a supportive community as they’ve faced health setbacks, from John’s bad back, to a couple of major surgeries for Jo. Now in their 80s, John and Jo find themselves not on opposite sides of a tennis court, but side by side in a pottery class.

The pair have signed up for Arts on Prescription, a project led by HammondCare in conjunction with the University of NSW, designed to improve quality of life for people aged over 65.

Walking into the Centre for Positive Ageing John says, “I’m here to make mud pies,” with a wry smile.

Before long, he and Jo are proudly showing me the colourful clay bowls, vases and sculptures they made in their first clay class last term.

Items made by John and Jo in their first clay class.

They enjoyed it so much they’ve come back for another 8-week workshop. “It’s nice meeting people and being creative and just doing something together with John,” says Jo. “It’s good.”

While admiring her recently finished fish mural, Jo tells me their enjoyment of the art might be something to do with their family history. “Both our mothers were potters,” she says. “We lived on adjoining farms and our Mums would go down to Perth to do a pottery class together every week. They produced some very nice things that we still have. So maybe there’s something in the blood,” she chuckles.

As I sit and watch them intently shaping formless lumps of clay into beautiful objects I’m struck by the sense of purpose and achievement art can bring.

Across the room sit Robyn and Joe. Joe has dementia and Robyn his wife cares for him at their home in Holsworthy. They read about Arts on Prescription on a brochure while waiting at their doctor’s surgery one day.

Robyn and Joe at their second ever Arts on Prescription class

“This is our second class,” she says, turning to her husband. “It’s fun, isn’t it Joe?” “I’m consumed,” he says laughing. “What appealed was the idea of getting out and doing something we’re not used to,” says Robyn.

“We had been to a pottery session a while ago for people with dementia and we were shown how to make a bowl in a particular way. Joe ignored all that and made a bowl his way and it was a beautiful bowl. So when I saw we had a chance to do clay work again, I thought, Joe has a natural ability, so let’s do it.”

Robyn knows exactly what she wants to make: a clay pumpkin that she can use each year for Halloween. But Joe is happy seeing where his hands take him, and it looks like he might end up with something resembling an ancient Greek temple. His imagination is running wild.

Only their second class, both Robyn and Joe are engrossed in the activity of sanding, smoothing and building. They sit side-by-side chatting away with John and Jo, being productive while enjoying the social side of the class.

It’s a winning formula.

Arts on Prescription Project Director, A/Prof Chris Poulos says creating art can help with a range of wellness needs from anxiety, depression and fragility, to people experiencing social isolation or going through periods of bereavement.

“Art can also unlock a person’s creative side, giving them new interests to help them remain mentally active as they age.”

Jo's confidence has grown as she's taken part in the Arts on Prescription program.

Artist My Le says she’s seen participants blossom when given the freedom to create. “Here they may start with a piece of clay and think ‘I’m old, I can’t do anything’, and then before you know it they’ve created something and it’s like ‘wow I did that’. It brings them happiness.

“Everyone starts with the same lump of clay but what they create is so different. It’s amazing to see people’s creativity emerge.”

The program is open to people over the age of 65 who live at home and have unmet health and wellness needs.

Programs are being run at HammondCare’s Centre for Positive Ageing and Care at Hammondville and at HammondCare North Turramurra. There is no cost to attend, but participants will require their own means of transport.

Interested in the program? Contact the HammondCare Centre for Positive Ageing on 02 8788 3900, or by email, at AoP@hammond.com.au.

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