Beneath a grand white moulded ceiling, amid wood-panelled walls, a dozen people sit around a large table, working. The atmosphere is of calm industry. A few words are exchanged but mostly each person is concentrating on selecting images from a sprawling pile of newspapers and magazines, cutting them out and carefully forming them into a collage. Suddenly the quiet is broken as Eddie bursts into song: "I don't want to run away". Opposite him, Stuart smiles. Others glance up briefly. Eddie finishes the verse and returns to his work.
This is the
All the attendees of the art club are living on the streets, or are in hostels or recently rehoused. Most of them also have mental health problems or addictions. The club is held for half a day each month and as it celebrates its first birthday it has earned a special place in the hearts of
The club is run by two members of the RA's learning department, Becky Jelly and Anna Nunhofer, both artists themselves. Each session starts with a walk around an RA exhibition, on this occasion the late actor
Some of the people who come to the club have long had an interest in art and a few are even able to make art in the art room at Connection at
"Some of our people are quite insular," she continues, "Here they can be quiet in company . . . and it takes them outside their usual world."
"That is certainly part of its power," agrees
The effect on one of Brown's clients has been dramatic: "It gave him the confidence to go to college. [By coming here] he did something he was not comfortable with - and it was OK. And his bleak room of whitewash interrupted by patches of damp is now decorated with his lino prints - which is fantastic."
Beth has cut out the mirror from the image she liked in the exhibition and made it the centre of her collage. "I might make an eye round it," she muses. "I wasn't allowed to do art at school because I was too disruptive". Now it is central to her life. She has just been offered pounds 150 for her reflective eye sketch. "I said no. I don't think I'll sell that one."
Stuart says being at the RA is "very, very special". He recently sold a picture to a hostel. Now he sits deep in a world of his own building up a complex multi-layered creation of text and images. All agree that he is a remarkable artist - and that art calms him. Eddie, too, is happily working. He likes coming here, he says, "Nobody troubling me . . . It's very therapeutic . . . It's something to get up for and it's fun. Could you ever see me sitting at home cutting out a monkey?!"
The art club is not art therapy - quite deliberately not. It is about people being artists together. Some of the keyworkers are making their own collages, as is the visiting representative from the
As the club draws to a close, the participants take turns to show their work and take questions, observations and (positive) comments from Jelly and each other. This is entirely optional, but most take part. A quiet Filipino man, Tereso, has been "thinking about beauty" (and his collage shows it), John-Paul has used images from film and pop music with the text "We Give". Eddie - the singer - has made an interesting collage full of music and musicians ("music joins people from around the world," he says), the masthead of the Financial Times ("that runs everything doesn't it - the money", he adds) and of course, the monkey. The monkey has its head in its hands.
Eddie proposes a round of applause for Jelly and Nunhofer which is enthusiastically given. The next art club will be visiting the summer exhibition. Maybe next year, they will have some artworks in it.
Some art club participants did not want their surnames used
Collage-making at the
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