DylanArtsA unique artwork created by a local community and artist working together, has brought a bright new look to Willow Burn Hospice.

The outdoor arbour is decorated with lanterns, lights and flowers and combines audio and visual effects to create a unique experience for visitors to the hospice in Lanchester, Co Durham.

It was formally opened by Durham County Councillor, Ossie Johnson at a celebration attended by staff, volunteers, day-users and members of the local community.

And for the first time since it started in 1989, the hospice has its very own willow branches growing on site as part of the artwork at the entrance to the hospice’s recently opened day centre.

“The seat will be used by patients, family, staff and volunteers and is there for anyone to access,” said Katherine Luke, Willow Burn’s Income Generation and Marketing Manager.

“It will be primarily used by hospice patients and visitors and we would like to thank the group that has worked so hard to create this – particularly as it gives us our own willow branches that can grow in the same way as the hospice has over the past 27 years.”

The artwork is lit up at night and includes an audio link with music and poetry readings chosen and written by the group of local people involved in the “Colour Your Life” social prescribing programme, which is funded by DCC Public Health and run in North Durham by Leisureworks. A new project management team called Dylan Arts worked with artist Kathryn Thompson on the project, which was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Kathryn Thompson said, “The seat, protected by willow and its association with healing, will provide a place of peace and sanctuary for all those visiting Willow Burn in years to come.”

The scheme also involved an eight-week training programme for Dylan Arts, who are made up of participants in the Colour Your Life programme. It was set up by Helix Arts and is one of a number of initiatives in the region to encourage local community groups to get involved in organising their own arts projects.

“The idea was devised three years ago with the reduction in arts funding and we wanted to let local community groups learn how to manage neighbourhood arts projects,” said Samantha Jones, Head of Programmes for Helix Arts. “So far, there have been training programmes in Sunderland, Gateshead and North Tyneside to engage the community in developing the arts, but this is the first one in Derwentside.”

For Dylan Arts members, Ann Welch and Linda Ives, both from Stanley, the experience has been a rollercoaster ride, but one that’s been worthwhile. Linda said, “It’s been a real mixture, first all the learning and then bringing it together at the end. I’ve never done anything like this before but I would do it all again.