Shambellie House in New Abbey opened as a new centre for arts, heritage and wellbeing courses, workshops and events in April.
A 19th century Scottish Baronial style house, it is set in its own grounds and surrounded by ancient woodland. It was the home of the Stewart family, who have been associated with the area around Shambellie for centuries.
It was donated to the nation by Charles Stewart, along with his collection, to become a museum of costume which sadly closed in 2013. The Shambellie House Trust was created to save and find a new purpose for the building, and the house was handed over to the Trust to care for in July 2021.
In March of this year, the Trust was grateful to receive a grant of £29,960 from the Scottish Government’s Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund. This Fund supports adult community-based initiatives to help address the impact of distress and mental ill health caused by social isolation and loneliness and mental health inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The funding was secured to develop a ‘Wellness Through Creativity’ programme. The first strand to be delivered has been a series of taster sessions, with a simple format. The sessions last 3 hours, the first hour is led by a tutor, then there is a break with tea and cake and time to chat the fellow participants, then returning to the activity and with an option to stay on to socialise and relax in the house or walk in the grounds.
Groups are deliberately kept small to encourage interaction. There have been a range of topics so far, from harp playing to embroidery, drawing to jewellery making.
Feedback on the programme has been extremely positive. The time to sit and chat over tea and cake in a safe environment has been greatly appreciated, particularly when so many people have felt isolated and unable to socialise over the past few years.
Conversations have included reminiscence, for instance about childhood button boxes, about family and children, the tennis, and about more serious topics like the impact of Covid and health issues.
‘Lovely instructor, lovely venue, nice people to just be around.’
‘When you are concentrating on creating something, especially something complex and beautiful, you forget about your aches and pains.’
We have been fortunate that these taster sessions have been led by talented and empathetic creatives who have supported participants and helped to give them confidence. Many of the participants have gone on to book for further taster sessions and some have been inspired to book for full day courses.
‘I enjoyed the less formal workshop approach. It was refreshing to be allowed to contribute at one’s own pace whilst listening to the tutor and other course participants. I also enjoyed the ‘open’ approach to ‘expected outcomes’ and the positivity and encouragement throughout.’
‘It was relaxing and enjoyable. Boosted my confidence. Non-stressful learning experience.’
‘Everyone on the course was lovely, the tutor made you feel at ease with no pressure and I ended up with a piece of work that I could be proud of and has boosted my confidence.’
This programme has introduced people to Shambellie House, and participants who have experienced the calm and welcoming atmosphere are keen to return and become part of the Shambellie community.
‘The atmosphere was very relaxing and the tutor very knowledgeable and good at communicating that this was purely about our enjoyment, no pressure to produce an end result.’
‘Wonderful morning, a great way to relax and came away feeling more confident. Bought materials on my way home for me to carry on the artwork.’
The taster sessions are just part of the whole Wellbeing Through Creativity programme and we will be working with PAMIS (Promoting a More Inclusive Society) very soon to develop programmes with and for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. We will also be working with Alzheimers Scotland on a memory quilt project.
In the meantime, we look forward to continuing the programme of Wellbeing Through Creativity taster sessions, more art, jewellery and embroidery to come, with many new ideas in the pipeline. If you are interested in taking part you can find out more and book on the website, shambelliehouse.org.