Over the last few months Community Rail Lancashire has been working with Arts2Heal, a small charity that was set up by Banu Adam to help and support people with issues of anxiety and depression through the medium of art. The primary aim is to use creativity to help people overcome mental health barriers to participating more fully in society, with the secondary objective to help build confidence and valuable employability skills. This will help people become more active in their local community and society at large as well as to look for employment in either a paid or voluntary capacity.
The idea of Bonded Together with A Prayer Bead came about during a series of meetings in Blackburn that were facilitated by Near Neighbours, which is an initiative that aims to bring people together in communities that are religiously and ethnically diverse, so that they can collaborate together on initiatives that improve the local community in which they live. Working with Near Neighbours, Arts2Heal developed an idea that would bring the diverse communities in Blackburn together. As many religious faiths use prayer beads Art2Heal’s idea was that people from the different faiths would each decorate a prayer bead. Each individual bead is 8 cm across – which on completion would go towards the aim of a 1000 bead long thread which would be nearly 100 metres in length.
Community Rail Lancashire worked with Arts2Heal to help bring people together who have mental health issues and to expand the project to other communities along the East Lancashire Line. As well as bringing people together to decorate their prayer bead, CRL introduced them to local rail travel. This helped them gain confidence in using the railway as a means to meet new people and take up employment opportunities away from their hometown.
An aim of this creative project was to help to break down barriers and encourage new friendships, empowering individuals with confidence to start conversations in their communities. Some of the participants of the project had been trained to run the art workshops as facilitators by Art2Heal and these facilitators travelled to different venues in order to encourage and facilitate people to participate in the project. A participant from Aawaz women’s group in Accrington commented: ‘’It’s nice to be part of something that’s brought people from different communities together in such a meaningful and creative way.’’
The project culminated in a trip to Cambridge to display the amazing thread of beads at the Cambridge Eco Mosque. The aim of this trip was to showcase the thread of beads that had been contributed to by 1000 people but also to retrieve a missing bead that was taken by a member of the Woolfe Institute in Cambridge as a way of encouraging the group to visit. The mosque was a revelation in sensitive and sustainable construction; symbols uniting the afterlife and the Earth are represented in floor tiles and Quran verses tiled into the walls. The mosque’s sustainable credentials are outstanding, with majority sustainable wood construction, water and energy conservation, rainwater use alongside solar panels and much more. The Imam explained the belief that the planet is entrusted to humans from God, with the 16 soaring ‘tree’ columns representing openness to all people.
This project has proven to be a great example of Community Rail in action, helping and supporting communities to cross faith and cultural boundaries to help them to gain confidence and independence and was made possible only with the help and support of Community Rail Lancashire, Northern, LNER, Cross Country and the Community Rail Network.