The Start of Something: Art + Loneliness

Art + Loneliness was proposed by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in partnership with Made in Corby. Initially it was the subject of an event held at Fermynwoods’ premises in Thrapston, Northamptonshire in June 2016 as part of its Free Exchange programme, a series of public discussions commissioned for the benefit of the public and experts from outside the arts as well as arts professionals. It featured David Cutler (Director of The Baring Foundation) and Sharon Paulger (Director of Arts For Health Milton Keynes) who exchanged ideas and discussed issues about art and loneliness in the context of age and its effect on health.

Watch the conversation.

Sam Read of Fermynwoods said of the event, “Art + Loneliness was very successful with unanimously positive feedback from attendants. We had visitors travel to Corby from as far afield as Huntingdon, Wellingborough, Northampton and even London. Artists weighed in with comments and questions using Twitter which were responded to in real time using the livestreaming and editing skills of a hired professional cameraman. The chosen site of a community centre within a residential area of the town felt far more suitable for the topic than a cultural venue would have done and attracted a range of audience members from both the arts and visitors from other fields (including healthcare, the public sector and volunteering). Using inspiration from the ideas discussed by our guest speakers, David Cutler (Baring Foundation) and Sharon Paulger (Arts For Health MK), Fermynwoods is now now working in partnership with the Cube and other organisations in Corby to apply for funding from ACE’s Celebrating Age scheme in order to develop positive and welcoming places for older people in the area using high quality art.”

The event found that:

  • There is an increased need for artistic provision in rural areas where elderly people more likely to be cut off and unable to attend cultural events;
  • Men are slightly more likely to suffer from social isolation as they get older and less likely to engage with the arts;
  • Even those who suffer from cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer’s are proven to benefit long-term from engaging creative activity even if their recollection is limited.

The conversation helped to:

  • bring together artists and organisations to explore new ways of working. The choice of location and speakers brought together a range of artistic professionals and members of the public sector and caring services with a common interest and led to a dialogue with many different voices. The examples given by the experienced guest speakers provided guidance and critical information for those interested producing or commissioning arts activity for the elderly;
  • support collaborative working and encourage people to take action. This talk and the work it has inspired Fermynwoods to develop will increase awareness of the need for high quality visual arts for the elderly and socially-isolated.
  • celebrate and promote contemporary arts in the region. Many visitors had not attended a talk or event delivered by Fermynwoods before and left inspired by the discussion and visual content shared by our guest speakers David and Sharon. There is a limited amount of artistic events in East Northamptonshire, as the first talk in Fermynwoods’ new, roving series of Free Exchange discussions it was the ideal opportunity to live test this updated model which Fermynwoods is using to deliver its ongoing programme of talks around the Rockingham Forest area.

As a legacy to from Art + Loneliness, Fermynwoods has worked in partnership with the Royal Voluntary Service (a third sector community group) and an art collective from Bristol to deliver an immersive art project, Living Legacy, for isolated older people. Following a public launch the project artists have made their first research trip to Corby, during which they led a Free Exchange talk on “Art + Memory”, met local sheltered housing residents and delivered a presentation to some of Made In Corby’s partners. Over December they will be develop an interactive component for an artwork and in early-mid January a prototype will be field tested. An public unveiling is planned before the end of March 2018.

Meanwhile, Made in Corby has developing an artistic programme to address isolation experienced by older residents in Corby, and is supporting local residents to commission artistic activity in the homes of older and isolated people.


The Start of Something is a project which, through conversation, seeks to bring people in the East Midlands together to explore a common goal, share experience and work collaboratively, ultimately to make things happen. Proposals for new conversations are invited at any time and CVAN EM will consider how it might support a conversation to take place to benefit the widest community and make the greatest difference within the region. Let us know if you would like to propose a topic.

Find out more about The Start of Something and the conversations that we have supported to date.