Local cancer survivorship group SWELL have recently introduced an art programme to promote healing and support self expression among its members.

Since September, group members have enjoyed weekly felting sessions at Enniskillen Castle with facilitator Paula Britton, each creating an individual piece which will be exhibited at the upcoming Hope, Health and Growth event hosted by the Aisling Centre at South West College’s Crest centre on January 4.

Founded in 2018 by Genevieve Irvine, SWELL provides a space for recreational activities which aim to improve the emotional, physiological and physical wellbeing of those in Fermanagh who have had, are living with or have been newly diagnosed with cancer. The introduction of the SWELL art programme has addressed the physical, emotional as well as the spiritual needs that often accompany a cancer diagnosis.

“It’s just a way to get people together and to concentrate on something and get out of the environment of being ill,” shared Genevieve, adding: “It’s a time to forget about cancer for a while and be with other people. If you wanted to speak and get things off your mind it’s just a safe place to go.”

Genevieve explained that research has shown that creative arts such as viewing paintings at a museum or in a book, or in a creative way such as painting, drawing, sculpting and other types of activities can help reduce anxiety, depression and pain, thereby improving the quality of life for people living with and beyond cancer.

“It’s just lifted their whole spirits,” said Genevieve, noting that the art programme will continue into 2020 with applique classes beginning in mid-January.

“It’s three hours once a week on a Thursday morning to disappear into your own mind. There’s 15 in the group, it started off first with pencil drawing and people come and go as they please,” said Genevieve.

Currently SWELL has a total membership 83 and meets four times a week. “Some members are too ill to participate in all of the activities so we do dance, yoga, walking group, mindfulness and we are going to start a thing called tranquillity zone,” Genevieve shared.

“I’m trying to do activities for the group to get them out, to get them all meeting together rather than the sense of sitting in a circle telling them about their journey. It’s more relaxed. I’ve done research to show that meeting other people in a relaxed environment and maybe doing a little bit of exercise or art can reduce your chances of re-occurrence and ease depression and other side effects. I didn’t realise but doing art for those three hours takes your mind off your pain, physical pain and mental pain,” she added.

Talking about the upcoming exhibition at the Hope, Health and Growth event, Genevieve commented: “We are really looking forward to the Aisling Centre event on January 4. They are so proud of their pieces, especially when I was putting it up out at the Crest, somebody had said, ‘are you selling it’ so when I told the ladies that people actually want to buy this, they were quite shocked. It’s just really perked them up.”

SWELL are also planning to host an independent exhibition of members’ art at Enniskillen Castle at the end of March. Noting that the art programme has had a “positive effect on personal growth, coping and social interaction within the group”, Genevieve added: “It’s lovely for me to see that in them, to see that change in them. There’s a few members who are terminal but just because you are terminal doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy whatever few months that you have left.”

“Little things make a big difference,” she told this newspaper.