The Good Shepherd in Wolverhampton is well known as a charity which, thanks to the generosity of the public and fundraisers, provides a daily supply of food to individuals and families from the city who are suffering from poverty.
But, especially in recent years, the Good Shepherd, based opposite Molineux football stadium on Waterloo Road, has become so much more than that.
The food service remains the bedrock of the charity and the magnet which draws people in who may be suffering from poverty on either a short or long-term basis.
There are, however, other and often more complex factors behind individuals who need support, such as struggles with addiction, mental and physical health, relationship breakdowns, financial issues and problems with accommodation.
From that first visit for food, staff are then able to forge positive working relationships not only to work through some of those issues but also provide more positive experiences to help service users increase feelings of belonging and self-esteem.
Various meaningful activities are organised in pursuit of that aim, and one of the most successful has been the art and photography class which has been running at the Newhampton Arts Centre.
From that group, which gives participants the chance to be creative and express themselves when perhaps words are difficult, came a fantastic exhibition spanning two weeks at the Light House Independent Centre.
Art groups facilitated by the Good Shepherd, SUIT (Service User Involvement Team) and Recovery Near You exhibited alongside established artists from the city including current students and alumni from Wolverhampton University.
Many of those involved are on a journey through Recovery from different forms of addiction, and the exhibition, entitled ‘Recovery is for Everyone’ celebrated that journey.
It was a powerful and inspirational display which attracted a sizeable audience on launch night and gave a platform to people who have experienced a large amount of trauma in their lives but still have so much to offer.
Kate Penman, support worker at the Good Shepherd, organised the exhibition and is also a key player in the art and photography group along with established artist/photographer Chris Manley, former rough sleeper and now team leader Leanne Hayes, and Good Shepherd project worker Stephen Hughes.
“The art groups offer a safe space for people to come and talk and share any issues whilst also the opportunity to express themselves creatively,” says Kate.
“For many people who are in recovery or going through different problems in their lives, finding a new interest and an outlet to put their feelings into a picture or painting can be a hugely important part of their journey.
“While it is a chance for expression, it is also a chance for people to be valued as, quite rightly, all of us should be valued.
“When they can see their artwork exhibited up on the wall, it is something they themselves have created that didn’t exist before, and there is a worth to it and a sense of achievement.
“With the link-up with the Light House, we have an incredible opportunity to tell stories and share talents which were previously unknown.”
Visitors to the exhibition included Good Shepherd ambassadors Jaki and Natalie Graham – who hosted the launch night – Jack Kirwan and Niall Farrell, as well as the Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Greg Brackenridge and local MP Stuart Anderson.
For Leanne, who is now studying for a degree in fine art at the University of Wolverhampton, the exhibition has been very much a labour of love.
“We’ve all felt like we’re outsiders but we’re not and we just want to be treated the same as everyone else,” she said.
“I’ve had addictions to cocaine and alcohol and been homeless and the Good Shepherd helped me all the way.
“It’s amazing to be part of this event and the fact that I’m helping to run it has really helped me in my own development along the way.”
Darren, another who is receiving support from the Good Shepherd, is delighted to have had his work exhibited just as he did at the first Collectivism exhibition at the Light House two years ago.
“The art group is very important to me – it’s the one chance as an ex-user I get to express not only how I feel but also to convey important messages,” he says.
“It’s an outlet, people can vent not just negativity but personal dilemmas – they can offload them onto paper.
“Sometimes after an art session I feel like I’ve just taken a shower – I feel refreshed and unburdened.
“Working with a professional artist has opened my eyes to not only collaborating but what is possible with computer knowledge and know-how.
“With art, you are only limited by your imagination and pen ink.”