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The 240 Project in west London is more than an arts space – it’s a place where people come to be heard and seen, to create and be cared for, a peaceful base where surviving is recognised as an achievement and having returning as a measure of success.
Some of the project’s artists travel across the city to get to their class, and when you look at their published and exhibited work, it’s easy to see why. Monthly art trips also help to inspire people, and the charity’s welcoming approach means teachers of subjects from film to sculpture and leatherwork expose artists to new ideas and mediums.
Claudia, the manager, explains that people there usually have a history of homelessness, mental health problems, addiction or isolation. And while lots of people there are still in the early phase of their recovery, they are at a stage where they can come to the group without using.
Claudia firmly believes that art helps people. She said: “I think it’s a way of expressing yourself. It’s something people really enjoy, something they wouldn’t know they were any good at and suddenly they realise they’re not bad – or even excellent. It certainly takes your mind off things. The art table is nearly always the most relaxed table in the hall. People enjoy it and they can make money out of it as well, so there are all sorts of good things come from this.”
Richard, tutor and support worker, takes the all-day art sessions. He tells me the story of a shy young Polish guy who started occasionally drifting over to the art table and ended up producing so much amazing work that he financed his flight home from selling it.
The group meets Monday to Wednesday at 116 Bramley Road, art sessions run throughout the day and three meals are offered. A wellbeing group meets on Thursdays, and the centre’s health and activity focus is evident through its programme of services and groups. Other classes include ‘Sing to Live’, upcycling, songwriting, storytelling, leather work and music.
Rene’s been a regular at the 240 Project since it began 15 years ago. She travels all the way from Enfield Lock, where she now has a flat. She is quite a talent. She points to a portrait leaning against the wall: “See that painting there? It went in the Big Issue; from there it went into the King’s College exhibition and I met all these other artists." Now it’s back and about to go into yet another exhibition.
Talking about the 204 Project, Rene said: “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t come here. It helps me to get up and out, and that’s my day. I live for my art.”
John is a very serious and prolific writer of stories, poems and verse. He also paints and plays the harmonica, flute, tin whistle, banjo and saxophone, but never in public. John said: “I play in graveyards, woods and empty churches. When I’m playing in graveyards and woods, I make a connection with spirits. I know who they are and they know who I am, but we can’t place one another.”
For John, it’s not just a place that keeps him off the streets, and other “bad places” – it’s therapy. “Talking to the staff here helps,” he says. “We get acupuncture here and reflexology, it calms you down, and there’s an osteopath. I have arthritis in my neck and the acupuncture helps it.
“The art and the paint and the colours, it’s very satisfying, the time and the creation is very valuable. It gives me a breather from burdens and fears, it distracts me and puts me in a better place.”