19137A new free exhibition opening to the public on Wednesday April 13th at Newcastle’s The Holy Biscuit Art Gallery has been inspired by people’s experiences of the great outdoors.

“A Force of Nature” is a collection of artworks created by eight members of ‘Walker Challenge’ – an adult mental health recovery group who are taking part in the John Muir Award. An Award that can complement what people already do, or be used as a starting point for new activity.

The ‘Walker Challenge’ is supported by the City Council’s Recovery Support Team.

Walker Challenge began over twenty years ago set up by volunteers working in the field of mental health.  The idea being to address a gap in specialist daytime provision for people with mental health problems. What initially began as an outdoor activities programme has, with support from a number of charities, become a well-established community group offering a wide range of opportunities to individuals accessing mental health services in the east end of Newcastle.

To date, Walker Challenge has provided over 300 people with the chance to try out new activities such as climbing, canoeing, abseiling, mountain biking, horse riding, caving and gliding, as well as arts activities. Increasingly, Walker Challenge is focussed on tackling wider issues relating to wellbeing by looking at the relationship between mental health, diet, exercise and the outdoors.

Over the past 6-months, the people aged between 20 and 50 years of age have been working closely with Blaydon-based artist Danny Gilchrist.  He’s been using his duel experience as an artist and community worker to help the people successfully get their emotions down onto paper.

The members of ‘Walker Challenge’ went on various outdoor visits with Jon and Caroline Chamberlain of Adventure Training North East – who are no strangers to the elements, as they specialise in taking people on adventurous activities in the region (and beyond).

The group visited places throughout rural Northumberland and Newcastle. They went to Kielder, Low Newton, Rothbury, Steel Rigg, Ingram Valley, and The Rising Sun Country Park – exploring the surroundings including flora and fauna.

In Rothbury, they walked through the woods up to the Northumberland Rock Art Carvings at Lordenshaw. Ingram Valley was the location for an autumnal day visit to witness the countryside turning orange in the sunshine.

The countryside experiences also included time spent in Low Newton to walk along the beach and they drove up to Carter Bar to see the full reach of the Northumberland National Park.  When visiting Kielder they took a stroll around the manmade reservoir; walked pasted ‘Sycamore’s Gap’ at Hadrian’s Wall; and collected weeds, leaves and litter when out-and-about at The Rising Sun Country Park in Benton.

They used the time on each visit to collect drawings, colours, rubbings, memories and emotions. These components were later taken back to the studio for the people to work with Danny to produce their artworks.

The John Muir Award encourages people to discover, explore, conserve and share wild places.

The artworks include smaller individual pieces, poetry and a larger collective item measuring 15 foot in length by 5 foot in height.  The words that will be visible around the gallery during the exhibition will include tranquillity; conservation; peacefulness; geology; magnificent; calm; slippy; and glowing. These are all emotions felt by the creators of ‘A Force of Nature’.

Danny Gilchrist, is an artist and charity worker – who has sent the majority of his professional life helping young people and adults from around the North East.  Danny has always been a keen artist and gained a Fine Art degree from Sunderland University back in the late 70s; and he works out of a Newcastle city centre arts studio.

Danny worked with the people from Walker Challenge over a 6-month period helping them to collect items that mean something to them and reflect their experiences of the outdoor environment.  This included creative objects, symbols, drawings, paintings, branches, colours and rubbings.

Danny said: “It has been really rewarding to see the amount of enthusiasm the group gave towards the project and how they kept it going throughout the months they were taking part.

“They would come back to the studio after their outings full of chat and happy memories that would spark some creative ideas. It enabled them to translate their feelings and emotions through art by working in teams and as individuals.  The environment allowed the people to gather shapes, colours and feelings by tackling the elements; showing them they can get away from the chaos of the city to the peaceful, cathartic atmosphere of the countryside.”

Gary Taylor, Health and Social Care Co-Ordinator for the Recovery Support Team at Newcastle City Council, said: “Everyone experiences a different journey when dealing with personal issues of mental health.  For many years, we have seen how people have flourished after working alongside artists like Danny, as they are able to capture their feelings in new and expressive ways.

“The person’s wellbeing and care is always central to our work so we are pleased when they get as much as they can from each project.  The outdoors is an important part of the people’s treatment as the fresh air and the environment has a calming effect on each person.  The exhibition is an opportunity to show friends, family, visitors and the people themselves this personal chapter in a visual way.”

Caroline Chamberlain of Adventure Training North East, said: “It was great to hear the reactions from the group members as they told us how they felt peaceful, relaxed, calm and less anxious out in the countryside.

“All of the participants said they felt better after the visits and more positive about themselves; and they always looked forward to the next trip.”

The project has made such an impression on the people involved that one person has become a volunteer, another person has bought some walking boots to go out and about outside of the group, and somebody else has joined a photography course to explore the art of capturing the moment in further depth.

Also all of the participants achieved their John Muir Award.

On Wednesday April 13th the doors to The Holy Biscuit Art Gallery will be opening to the public for the start of “A Force of Nature”. People can view the free exhibition from 11:00 – 16:00 each day until Wednesday April 20th.