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Culture and creativity

Art and recovery


Social enterprise transforming people and place.

By Adam Dixon, communications assistant at UnLtd

‘Art saved my life,’ says Sam Delaney, founder of Creative Start. His venture helps recovering drug and alcohol users in Grimsby and Cleethorpes through art therapy. He draws out their artistic talents, teaching them skills to create works of art. Many of the projects are team based – if you’re ever in Grimsby you might see one of their murals on the wall of a cafe, library or fire station. Since setting up they’ve grown to have 93 members attending their workshops.

Sam is just one of the hundreds of residents with great ideas who has been supported by a Star People award to try out, develop or grow an entrepreneurial solution to a social issue in their Big Local area.

‘My life has changed so much and for the better since I joined the Creative Start project. Sam is a big inspiration,’ said one of the members, ‘I am 32 years old and had almost given up hope. Now I am motivated and passionate about something other than drugs. My daughter tells everybody that her Daddy is an Artist and all that has come from the inspiration I got from seeing Sam’s work. I am more confident about my future and providing for my daughter.’

Sam’s story

Sam is a former addict himself. After his recovery Sam decided he wanted to ‘repay his debt’, deciding he wanted to work with others going through recovery. When he moved to Grimsby and Cleethorpes in 2012 he decided he wanted to focus on art therapy. He set up Creative Start as a CIC with a Star People Do It Awards in 2013.

With support from a Star People Award Manager he was able to hit on a business model for Creative Start. It would offer free sessions to people going through recovery – everything from photography walks to creating murals as a group. This would be subsidized by selling artwork, creating commissioned pieces and securing grant funding.

Grimsby was once a prosperous fishing port; Cleethorpes a successful holiday town. The two towns – that over time have merged into one – are a place of divides. There are good schools and colleges, access to a resurgent seaside town and beautiful, Lincolnshire countryside, and for many jobs in the food and energy industries. The problem is that it’s easy to fall through the cracks.

‘This town has serious problems in terms of addictions and everything that goes with that,’ says Sam, ‘Depression and anxiety. It’s never just addiction, there are always other things going on. Unfortunately, there’s no real recovery focus. I want to change that.’

‘Art builds people’s self-esteem,’ he says, ‘You get to look at something and think I did that. Especially when you work as a group. There might be ten signatures on one of our murals – people can say I was part of that team.’

Creating a sustainable model

Sam is still in the early stages of starting his venture and turning it into a sustainable business. There have been many challenges and changes along the way. Early on, Sam found it difficult to limit who he offered support to.

‘The art workshops won’t work for everyone, for people at an earlier stage peer discussion groups are more effective’ he explains, ‘You can’t have people still dealing with drinking or taking drugs heavily – who are going in and out, trying to find their way through recovery – mixed with others who have been sober ten years. In a way everyone’s just as close as going back to it – if someone starts drinking, it’s chaos.’

Sam realised that he had to change his model. This initially meant limiting the people he worked with to those who’d gotten past those first stages of recovery. ‘You need to start thinking about how to survive while doing something like this,’ he continues, ‘We’ve had to start thinking more like a business. We have to look at it like if we earn more money we can help more people. We can’t just run on passion.’

He points to UnLtd as a crucial source of support. He successfully applied for a Build It Award in 2014 to grow his venture and become sustainable. Having an Award Manager to support his development as a social entrepreneur has helped him with an external perspective – vital when working within tight-knit communities.

‘When you’re in a town like this it’s like a pressure oven, squeezing and squeezing,’ he says, ‘People see you as competition, but I’m not, if you’re helping people that’s great. You need someone from the outside to help you see the big picture.’

This helped in his decision to make big changes in how his business was set up. With support from UnLtd and Deutsche Bank he restructured the management of the organisation, appointing two new directors and seven core members to help lead the project. Getting extra people on board has been a huge boon, adding skills and experience, and easing the burden on Sam.

A big change has seen Sam and the team have broaden their mission – seeing the venture as a way to support anyone who is isolated in the community.

‘Although the recovery part of what we do will always be important to me I feel that we have moved away from this recently,’ explains Sam, ‘We’ve become more inclusive over the last 6 months and I want Creative Start to be accessible to all the community with the focus on the socially isolated.’

Creative Start is work in progress. Sam and his team are still trying to work out how they can help people stay sober while making their business a sustainable service people can rely on.

It’s not a finished piece but while Sam has a brush in his hand and fresh paint on his palette you wouldn’t bet against a masterpiece.

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