A Northumbria University Student motivated by family illness is striving to change the lives of those affected by debilitating conditions for the better, backed by a generous grant from locally based charity The Greggs Foundation and using the power of art.

Alex Brown, 20, from Morpeth, is an undergraduate on the Entrepreneurial Business Management (EBM) course. An aspiring business owner from an early age, the decision to go to University was something of a last-minute change in plans. He says:

“I’d always intended just to get out there and start my own business, but then I found out about the EBM course at a Northumbria University open evening. The whole concept appealed to me, it was relaxed, informal and geared towards truly independent learning. It’s not lectures and classroom tuition, it’s about students teaming up to start and run their own business projects, learning from their failures and successes in the real world.”

Every project must start with an idea. Once on the course Alex began to consider possible businesses and was soon seeking inspiration from his personal experiences.

“I was thinking about what was important and what most mattered to me in my life at the time. My gran had recently been diagnosed with dementia and I was becoming increasingly aware of the unique and difficult challenges that this was presenting, not just for my gran but for all of us close to her.”

Alex had become acutely aware of one particular issue. For sufferers of dementia, brain injury and other serious conditions which can impact mood and behaviour, social interaction can become problematic, both for the person affected and their families and those that care for them. As erratic and unpredictable behaviours can result, a fear of others not understanding or misjudging the situation can arise. Yet social activity is also a key factor in reducing feelings of stress and isolation in all those living with such serious health problems meaning that despite the perceived difficulties, social activities are desirable for all involved.

Alex’s idea was for art classes which specifically targeted dementia sufferers and those that love and care for them, ensuring that with this shared background uniting them, all would feel comfortable attending and getting involved. Once there, artistic activity would provide attendees with the tools and space to express themselves freely in ways they may have felt unable to before, providing some therapeutic relief.

A chance meeting at a Dementia Friends event meant Alex soon acquired a business partner who was keen to start the same idea, Doctor of Psychology and former Northumbria University Postgraduate Student, Jane Dawson, who also had a studio that they could use. ‘Art for the Brain’ was born.

As a team Jane and Alex started to plan the first classes and Alex began seeking funding to help make the idea a reality.

The Greggs Foundation, a grant making charity which improves the quality of life in local communities, were the first supporters of ‘Art for the Brain’ and were instrumental both in helping to get the initiative off the ground and in securing a starter series of classes, generously donating £1,000. The first classes are now ongoing every Monday for those affected by dementia and traumatic brain injury and are well attended. However, Alex sees some limitations in the current set-up and is looking to progress the idea further.

“You can see some similarities between the two conditions; dementia and brain injury, but they are fundamentally different at their core and they would be best served by separate classes.

Similarly, from seeing the results we are getting we believe that the classes can provide a valuable form of escape and therapy for many more patients, such as those affected by stroke and trauma. We are now fundraising with our long-term aim being to get tailored classes for different conditions going every day of the week and help even more people.”

The dedicated team of founders and volunteers of ‘Art for the Brain’ are now working hard to reach their next funding goal by tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.

Kellie Forbes-Simpson, Lecturer in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, has coached on the EBM course for two years. She is delighted with the progress of Alex’s initiative. She says:

“Everyone involved in the EBM course is phenomenally proud of Alex’s progress so far. We see Alex as an outstanding example, not only as one of our students and what they can achieve, but of how entrepreneurship is about more than just making lots of money; it can address serious societal issues and support those in greatest need.”

The Entrepreneurial Business Management (EBM) course at Northumbria University is ideal for students who are keen to start and run their own business or businesses.  The programme is based on a Finnish model of education, called Team Academy and Northumbria was one of three UK universities to pioneer this approach in the UK.  The course is part of the award-winning Newcastle Business School; recognised as Business School of the Year in 2015 and more recently, the first North East Business School to win the Small Business Charter for services to SMEs. Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University is globally recognised for delivering some of the best business management education in the UK. You can learn more about available courses, including the EBM course, at  www.northumbria.ac.uk/study-at-northumbria

If you’d like to support Alex and his colleagues in their fund raising to help more people you can visit their gofundme page at www.gofundme.com/trecking. Find out more about ‘Art for the Brain’ on Facebook at the Fine Studios at Fine House Farm page, under ‘events’ or call 07738 803418. Classes are held at Fine Studios, Kiln Pit Hill, Durham.