KAB Gravesend; Guest post from Sharon Manship

We’ve been very fortunate to meet so many new people over the course of ‘Totally Touchable’ and are happy to share a guest post from Sharon Manship.

I became involved in the ‘Totally Touchable’ project with Wendy and the KAB Gravesend Art Group as a result of my job as a Researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University where I work in the School of Public Health, Midwifery and Social Work.  My particular area of interest is ‘arts and health’ since I know from my own experiences that creative arts can have a very positive impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing, and I’m therefore keen on exploring the experiences of others.

I conducted a formal evaluation of the Totally Touchable project and accordingly visited the group on a few occasions to administer questionnaires to the participants as well as to interview them, the volunteers and Wendy about their experiences of the project.  The final report of the evaluation will be available in January 2016 – if anyone is interested in reading it when it is published do contact me at sharon.manship@canterbury.ac.uk.

During my visits to the group I got to observe some of the activities that the participants were doing including hand squeezes with Play Doh and clay, having lots of fun with sunflowers and making models with wire and modroc plaster of paris bandage.  I was really pleased to have the opportunity get involved in the sessions on a couple of occasions, partly as it’s an important part of the research to get first-hand experience of the activities that the participants are involved in (which in many projects is not feasible), but also because I am a keen ‘art and crafter’ and learnt some new skills myself.  I created my very own personal ‘hand squeeze’, which I was later excited to see covered in gold leaf at the exhibition (complete with a unique ‘bite mark effect’ courtesy of an excitable guide dog who shall remain nameless!).  I was also privileged to help Wendy with some tasks, including taking fingerprints of participants, some of which were blown up to make swell art for the exhibition (I think it’s safe to say I did not miss my vocation as a police officer) as well as making teas and coffees for the group (a very valuable research skill to hone in my opinion!).

It was obvious that the project provided numerous benefits for the participants, as well as for the volunteers and Wendy herself.  During the sessions there was lots of laughter, animated conversation and social interaction, as well as numerous opportunities for people to try something new, tailored by Wendy to suit their individual abilities and often resulting in them achieving something they hadn’t previously thought would be possible due to their sight impairment.  It was such a pleasure to see all the participants’ and Wendy’s hard work come together at the exhibition at the Blake Gallery at the end of the project…I have never seen such a packed opening night, and everyone I spoke to was equally impressed by the quality of artwork on display.

I hugely enjoyed my time spent working on the Totally Touchable project and met so many lovely and inspiring people, not forgetting of course the beautiful guide dogs, Quasar and Scramble, with their wise manner and gentle presence.  I very much look forward to seeing what Wendy and the group come up with next!


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