A work of art at Artworks South Yorkshire

Faces set with concentration as concrete is carefully poured into moulds to make pots. Printing fabric with paint-dipped plants and petals to fashion cushions and textiles. Brightening the streets of South Yorkshire with larger-than-life abstract murals. 

Daring to paint over perceptions and sculpt bright futures saturated with creativity. 

This is the portrait of Artworks: a not-for-profit creative arts organisation that supports adults with disabilities to flourish in life. 

Since launching in 2015, Artworks has helped many people with autism, learning or physical disabilities to achieve their artistic potential and brush up on their life skills through creative workshops and placements. 

Not just pens and pencils, Artworks work alongside professionals in a range of mediums from artists and animators to photographers and dancers to provide conceptual projects filled with boundless creativity. 

The idea was launched by Kayleigh Cruickshank and Liz Carrington who met while working for a plastics recycling centre in Sheffield that offered therapeutic earnings work to people with disabilities. 

With a career in television production, Kayleigh volunteered at the centre in her spare time before being offered a job to regenerate the site following a fire there. 

She joined the team to work alongside Liz, who has been a special needs teacher and worked with adults with disabilities for 17 years. With friends in the art industry, Liz had previously organised gallery exhibitions for the centre’s staff with the help of Sheffield’s Bradbury and Blanchard.  

Together, Kayleigh and Liz shared a bigger vision to open up this creative movement to more people across South Yorkshire and so took a leap of faith to launch Artworks with the mentorship and guidance of fellow director, Deborah Bullivant, the woman behind Rotherham’s literary centre, Grimm & Co. 

Like an easel and canvas, Kayleigh and Liz work together in harmony to create a masterpiece partnership; Kayleigh the blank canvas with inspiring ideas, Liz the grounded easel who stabilises the logistics. 

They started off with an arts centre at St Polycarps Community Centre in Malin Bridge, Sheffield before opening a studio at Parson Cross. 

And this September, they are moving over the border into Rotherham by opening a third centre on Brook Hill, Thorpe Hesley thanks to £100,000 in development grants from Key Fund and Veolia Environmental Trust.  

“When I was on maternity leave with my twin daughters last year, I was approached by the team at Community Catalyst who had heard about the service we offered in Sheffield. As they too worked with people with disabilities, Community Catalyst knew how well received the service would be in Rotherham. 

“I’d be at business and finance meetings trying to organise everything while juggling two young babies but am so glad we took the plunge,” Kayleigh says. 

As an ex-location manager for the likes of BBC, ITV, Film4 and Sky, Kayleigh became engrossed in finding the right building they could call home while Liz continued to focus on the Sheffield sites. They soon found the perfect spot, the former Thorpe Hesley and Scholes OAP and Community Centre. 

Similar to the Malin Bridge site, the new Rotherham centre will be open during the week for Artworks while still being able to be used as a community centre for the neighbouring nursery, local groups or the elderly. 

Offering an eclectic mix of engaging workshops all based around the expressive arts, service users will be able to immerse themselves in a range of mediums, from screen painting to film, along with joining in the many community projects that Artworks undertake. 

In the past, the group has produced pure, thought-provoking pieces such as working on a Suffragettes banner to hang in Rotherham Town Hall and designing a mural outside the Theatre Deli in Sheffield. 

Josh at his exhibition

Since starting out with just five people, Artworks currently support over 35 service users ranging in age from 16 to 65. Some come to try their hand at a range of art forms; others who aren’t that creative just come for the company. But all have developed skills and experiences to take with them in the future. 

For talented illustrator, Josh, who has autism, he’d struggled to get his work noticed and didn’t know how to self-publicise. The team organised for Josh to have his own two-week gallery exhibition at Theatre Deli in July where he showcased his many cartoon and woodland-themed designs. 

Josh has also had the backing from Artworks to produce a book based on his imaginary character, Elijah, an autism fairy. 

“We never saw him smile for about three weeks when he first joined us but now he never stops,” Kayleigh says. 

Partially-sighted Emmie absorbs herself in the many tactile art workshops they do and even suggests unconventional ways to make art more physically engaging for those with sight loss. 

Tim too likes texture and creates stunning canvases from layers upon layers of acrylic, with each layer bringing a new dimension and colour tone to his pieces. 

Katie loves photography and often uses Kayleigh’s professional kit from her TV days to set up and document her surroundings; Heather expresses herself through dance and drama; while Gerald is a visionary in the textile world and creates abstract fabric to turn into items to sell. 

Inspiration comes from the many places they visit including museums across the region such as the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. 

With a huge and varying body of work created each week, the team at Artworks are also passionate about providing a platform for these emerging artists to be seen and so organise regular gallery shows and exhibitions. 

“We held a silent auction last year at the Millenium Galleries as part of the Special Olympics. But we felt awful and proud at the same time when parents were ringing up to offer £50 on their son or daughter’s work and we had to tell them it had already been bought for £500,” Kayleigh says. 

Along with creating authentic pieces of art, the service users at Artworks also gain valuable life lessons which play a big part in weekly happenings at their centres. 

From swimming lessons, fitness classes and a game of basketball or tennis, to healthy eating and a breakfast club, and even baking cakes and treats to serve afternoon tea at a local care home; all activities are designed around knowledge and well-being. 

They also work alongside South Yorkshire Police and Fire Service to deliver safety programmes targeted at those with disabilities. 

Being part of the Artworks scheme also means service users have the chance to undertake voluntary placements in the community to gain work experience. From undertaking interviews at Sheffield Doc/Fest and Tramlines, to walking retired greyhounds, they also tend to the gardens at Wentworth Woodhouse and create gifts to sell in the visitors’ shop, with the team hoping to open a gallery space at the stately home, too. 

“We’re all for empowering our service users to access a wider range of jobs out there. What if they don’t just want to limit themselves to working in a café or a charity shop? It’s about having equal rights and equal chances in life,” Kayleigh says. 

Of course, it’s not just all work and no play – the group get up to a range of fun activities each week away from their art and placements. 

Whether it’s going to the coast for fish and chips, battling it out on the bowling lanes, going indoor climbing, or having tea and cake in a local café, the service users are involved every step of the way.  

They also recently enjoyed a week’s break to Butlins in Skegness and last year went to an open-air showing of the Labyrinth at a cathedral in Leeds where they made their own costumes and learned the dance moves. 

“We always ask them, ‘What shall we do this week?’ And every week we get the same answer – they want to walk the twins! 

“The other Halloween we took them to a thriller ball and invited a special effects makeup artist to turn them into ghouls and goblins. It just so happened I didn’t go as I went into labour and they were sending me photos so my phone is littered with pictures of babies and zombies.” 

The Artworks service is available to adults over 16 with autism, learning or physical disabilities and operates Monday to Friday 9am-4pm. Service users can be referred by the local authority or can contact Liz and Kayleigh direct. 

They offer free taster days to get to know more about the service before joining. 

All staff are trained and they are always on the lookout for volunteers or local artists to come in and host workshops. 

For more information, see their website www.artworks-sy.co.uk or their Facebook page. 

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