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New Forest art and music charities join forces to develop community outreach programme

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TWO leading local cultural charities have joined forces to step up their mental health work in the community.

Founded seven years ago, hArt (Hampshire Arts for Recreational Therapy) has relocated to share premises in Walkford with the Coda Music Trust, which offers music therapy and group projects for people with disabilities.

Both charities have now returned to delivering face-to-face group therapy sessions, and say in a post-pandemic era doctors and health professionals have become increasingly supportive of the role of art and music in mental wellbeing.

hArt founder Annie Jeffery and Coda Music Trust chief executive Phil Hallett
hArt founder Annie Jeffery and Coda Music Trust chief executive Phil Hallett

Coda Music Trust chief executive Phil Hallett said: “hArt is quite a natural partner for us in many ways. We feel that by working together we can pool our resources and reach a bigger audience and support local people better.”

The two charities now hope to work together on a major project to convert former cattle barns at the Coda Music Trust site on Chewton Farm Road into artist studios and exhibition spaces.

hArt founder and former sculptor Annie Jeffery said: “I would love to see things grow so we could have a base where we can really deliver workshops and activities on site.

“It would be wonderful to have an exhibition space where we could show the work that has been developed in our therapeutic sessions.”

Phil added: “Eventually the idea is the artists that would be using our artists’ studios would also be able to deliver lessons to children and adults in the same way that we deliver music lessons.

“In the longer term we would love Coda to grow to become a centre for creativity of all kinds.”

Annie explained how hArt is currently delivering three Art on Prescription programmes in Pennington, Fordingbridge and the Waterside.

They enable doctors to refer patients with medium to high level mental health issues to a structured 12-week programme led by an art psychotherapist. Participants can also join drop-in creative wellbeing groups.

Annie said: “After seven years with hArt we are really starting to have conversations about art and wellbeing. GP and social prescribers are actively looking for other solutions and opportunities for their clients.”

Phil added: “More and more people are being referred by GPs as awareness continues to grow of how art, music and creativity can play a role in mental wellbeing.

“Funding is becoming more available and the process is becoming more joined up.

“The pandemic, for us, in many ways was an amazing experience. When it hit we all feared that was the end – that was the end of everything.

“But very quickly we found ways to adapt by running events on Facebook and social media. Our community that we built up were so keen to see us through those difficult times.”

During the last year Coda has continued its work with adults with learning difficulties via Zoom, made films for older residents in care homes, and worked in schools.

Phil said: “We found that the community we have built up over many years stayed with us virtually during the pandemic – but it is absolutely wonderful to be back doing face-to-face lessons.”

With classes and activities restarting on site, Coda is now delivering music lessons, group sessions, workshops, classes and therapy sessions to around 350 individuals each week.

The charity also works in the community running groups for adults with learning difficulties and disadvantaged children as well as delivering music lessons in mainstream and special education schools.

Phil said: “Some of our work is free to people because we are able to fund it through other ways such as music tuition. We are a charity and we fundraise for our work. A lot of our outreach work tends to focus on vulnerable adults and children and people who come from more deprived or difficult backgrounds.”

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