A love of art and gardening is giving Adrian Atkinson a foothold on a normal life after mental illness combined with alcohol and drug misuse saw him plummeting into debt and homelessness.
Now he’s looking to help others struggling with their own life problems with a series of Art Support Group sessions being held, in conjunction with another artist with lived experience, Dawn Bland, at the Art House in Drury Lane, Wakefield.
Dawn is a campaigning poet and artist pushing for changes for survivors of childhood trauma an survivors of domestic violence relationships an raising awareness of mental health issues an reaching out to others.
Adrian’s own artistic talents only came to the fore fairly recently after he had suffered for years with depression.
High pressure selling jobs took their toll on his mental health and after several close bereavements, he had his first breakdown in 2010/11. Homeless, he sofa surfed around friends and acquaintances for several years, falling prey to the lure of alcohol and drugs as a means of escape.
After getting back on his feet and landing a role as a community support worker in Kirklees, he had a second breakdown in 2017 triggered by family issues and threat of redundancy.
Spiralling into debt, Adrian found himself at risk of eviction.
Support from Wakefield District Housing and Christians Against Poverty resulted in a Debt Relief Order and a referral to Sustain Wakefield which works with vulnerable adults, couples and families at risk of homelessness in Wakefield. “I was more or less out of debt when I was referred to Sustain but, with the help of my Support Worker Fran, I have been able to stay out of debt,” explains Adrian.
“They helped me put a budget plan together and put me in control of my money.
“They also taught me to open my mail, not just ignore it, and to deal with anything that needs doing straightaway. I am now totally debt free and not fearful of opening my post.”
Part of Yorkshire charity Turning Lives Around which works to prevent homelessness, Sustain worked with Adrian for 12 months, supporting his recovery and as this was nearing the end last September, looking at what he could do to continue boosting his wellbeing.
Keen to be outdoors but lacking a garden of his own, they put Adrian in contact with Spectrum People, a local charity which provides meaningful activities and support for vulnerable adults, who run Appletree Community Garden and Allotment in Agbrigg.
Appletree is open three days a week and here Adrian was able to learn skills while meeting and socialising with new people.
After developing a love for gardening, soon after going to Appletree Adrian discovered a new passion – for painting.
Although he’d done art in school and had always enjoyed ‘doodling’ doing pencil drawings, the urge to paint on canvas was totally new.
“I had a picture of a leopard on canvas and painted a landscape over it using green and white emulsion.
“I showed it to a natural art therapist connected to Appletree and she encouraged me. I’m now using acrylics and have done 35 pictures ranging from miniatures to 35 ft square, mural type, creations,” says Adrian.
“When I’m painting it’s just me and the canvas, I’m totally at one with it and feel as if I’ve found a new language, a way of expressing myself that goes beyond words.”
With a more positive outlook on life, Adrian has set up an Instagram page – adrianatkinson01 – and is doing a business course with a view to possibly making an income from his art.
Friendly and welcoming, Adrian enjoys engaging with people and would like to continue his involvement with Appletree and through Spectrum People get involved in mentoring a small group of people combining his interests of gardening with art.
The Art Support Group sessions at the Art House are a step in that direction.
“All my life I have worked in high pressure jobs. I am finding joy at Appletree and in my art,” adds Adrian.
“I have an informal support network in place and feel much stronger in my head and more confident to be myself,” he explained.
“I no longer take drugs and am on prescribed medication that takes the urge to drink away.
“I can have a drink now and enjoy it without the demons. I am doing all right.”
He added: “Dawn and I want to give others the same opportunity to either experience something new or build on an existing interest in the company of like-minded people.
“It’s all about coming along, meeting new people and feeling more connected.”
To find out more about the Art Support Groups telephone 07720 899781.
To see more of Adrian’s art on Instagram search adrianatkinson01.
For more information on Turning Lives Around and the organisations projects visit www.turninglivesaround.co.uk