LONELINESS, anxiety and depression afflict many people at different times of their lives. Helping to counteract mental health problems and promote creativity for mental health is a voluntary organisation called The Next Step.
Based in the Unitarian Church on Prince’s Street, the group is a collective of individuals who come together and find a friendly welcome and a space to express their creativity.
The chairperson of The Next Step is Vincent Murphy, a former consultant engineer who took early retirement in 2008.
“Early in 2010, I was walking down the street and came across a friend who has issues,” says Vincent. “ He was interested in doing something for people with mental health problems. We talked about it.”
A couple of other men, Tony Francis and Jens Reinhart, used to meet up with the men. They had “all kinds of weird and wonderful ideas which were really impractical. Eventually, we decided to concentrate on art.”
They were put in touch with professional artist, Charlotte Donovan, who works with various groups in Cork. She came on board to give art classes.
In 2011, The Next Step opened at Camden Palace Hotel before moving to the Unitarian Church. With some funding from Cork City Community Forum, Vincent was able to pay Charlotte for her work with the group as well as pay Camden Palace for space in the centre.
The Next Step increased Charlotte’s teaching work. It was a success so letters looking for further funding were written. The Next Step, which now has at least 70 people crossing its door every week, is funded by, among others, City Hall, the HSE, the Ireland Funds, the ESB’s corporate social responsibility fund, Shine Arts and an anonymous donor. The service users make a nominal donation to the charity and facilitators are paid for their work.
As well as art, facilitators come into the centre to teach singing, crafts, creative writing, yoga, dance, knitting and wood craft.
“In the event of a crisis, and we have had an occasional one with people expressing suicidal ideation, we have a protocol in place. When someone joins The Next Step, they give us the name of the medical person or family member to contact in the case of an emergency.
“We don’t enquire into people’s background and we don’t have anyone with a mental health qualification working with us. We don’t pretend to counsel. Our belief is that by coming here and engaging in creative activities, people will benefit and make friends in a warm environment.”
Vincent doesn’t have mental health issues himself.
“This just seemed like a positive thing to do. Initially, I was just going to be involved in setting up The Next Step. I’m still here seven years later.”
One of the regular attendees at The Next Step is Dubliner, Gwen Kennedy. Aged 39, she has been living in Cork for 17 years.
“I came to The Next Step because I had been off work for about two and a half years suffering from chronic pain,” says Gwen. “It was beginning to affect my mental health. I have fibromyalgia and other things going on. Because I’m not working, I was getting in on myself and spending too much time in bed. “
Gwen went back to work but now that her chronic pain has become more widespread, she has had to take more leave from her job as a care worker.
“I physically can’t do my job at this moment in time but I’ve always had an interest in arts and crafts. I’m quite lucky to be still technically employed but right now, I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to turn up for work.”
Gwen is a keen photographer.
“I’m lucky to live by the river. Most mornings, I go down to the river and take photos of the birds. I was taught photography by my dad as a kid. I had a camera in my hand before a pencil.”
Expressing herself through art is what motivates Gwen to attend The Next Step. She has created a portrait of a person in chronic pain.