As part of Project Adder, the Wirral Local Community Policing team is leading a groundbreaking art initiative as part of a national effort to steer individuals away from drug use and towards support services.
During their regular visits to the hostels, Constables Diane Park and Emily Scarratt have been interacting with service users. It became evident during these interactions that some of the service users possess a hidden talent for art that was going unrecognized.
The idea of using art to connect with difficult-to-reach individuals was originally proposed by Constable Diane Park and was later supported by Inspector Alan McKeon. This led to the development of the “We’ve Got HeART” project.
Alan and Diane met with Dan Davies, the owner of Oakland Contemporary Art Gallery, in New Brighton, and were able to secure his support for using the gallery as a venue for a three-week public exhibition of the artists’ work.
Dan Davies told birkenhead.news, “I got involved in this project when I was approached by Alan and Diane from Merseyside Police, who were engaging with some of the homeless community, and they identified that art was something that they could engage with them on.
“We got together and they asked if we could help support it.” Dan was sold on the idea and suggested that ultimately having as wide an audience as possible for the artwork was the way forward.
“Now that they have produced the art, it can actually be hung on a wall of an art gallery as opposed just to going back to the YMCA or hanging on a wall where no one’s really going to see it.”
Police and Crime Commissioner, Emily Spurrell, said, “Merseyside Police have been running Project Adder, and working in partnership with Wirral Council and Change Grow Live, we are looking at how we can support vulnerable people.
“It’s about having a two-pronged approach. We want police enforcement where gangs are exploiting people, but it’s also about focusing on prevention and reducing harm.”
PCC Emily Spurrell went on to say that the project has given the artists a new way of communicating that may not have been previously available to them. “It’s given them a chance to express what they’ve been going through, as some of them might have dealt with some significant trauma. And so, this is about giving them a new identity as well and giving them a space to communicate in a way that suits them.”
One of the artists, Summer Robert, spoke to PC Diane Park about the project when she visited her hostel. Summer said, “When you say you live in a hostel, people look down on you and think you’re less than them. My situation was I had my own flat for four years, but the landlord wanted to sell the building, so we all got an eviction notice and I had nowhere to live.
Summer told birkenhead.news that she was proud of having her artwork displayed in the gallery. “It’s a bit emotional! I’ve never done anything like this before. I think it’s quite a big thing. It’s quite a big deal!”
Some of the artists suffer from substance addiction and Inspector Alan McKeon told us, “My job was to work in Wirral on substance addiction, and also the offending which is associated with it.
“We had a particularly difficult group of individuals to engage with, who were maybe more towards the unmanageable stage in terms of their levels of addiction. One of my colleagues noticed that people would actually engage within the hostel facilities in art and pursuits of that nature.
“So the idea came about through a bit of a little bit of brainstorming with Dan Davies here at the gallery and we just floated the idea of holding an art exhibition, whereby some of the service users in the hostels would produce a piece of art and have it exhibited in what is an already established contemporary art gallery.
“The uptake on it was absolutely huge! And in doing that, we’re not only able to engage with the service users, but we’re also able to signpost people and said maybe children to assist them and ultimately address the cause of what their offending might be.” Prevent rather than treating the results, if that makes sense.”
The exhibition runs for three weeks at Oakland Contemporary Art Gallery, 96 Victoria Road, New Brighton.
Main image: Dan Davies of Oakland Contemporary Art Gallery, Constable Diane Park, Summer Robert, Inspector Alan McKeon, and Emily Jones
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