Mental health charity to revive the ‘philanthropic’ work of ‘wellbeing pioneer’ with Ancoats art project

A Victorian philanthropist’s dream of improving the lives of Manchester’s poor is the inspiration for a new creative project designed to help the city’s young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

In 1884, Thomas Horsfall opened the Ancoats Arts Museum to Manchester’s disenfranchised working class with the aim of bringing beauty into their lives.

Now, mental health charity 42nd Street’s Creative Producer Julie McCarthy is behind the idea to bring Horsfall’s little known holistic experiment into the 21st century.

WELLBEING PIONEER: The project is a homage to the work of Thomas Horsfall

“Horsfall wanted to, in his own words, ‘relieve the miserable dullness of the working poor in Ancoats’,” Julie told MM.

“He saw that museums and galleries weren’t accessible to normal working people, so he set about opening a gallery museum space in Ancoats that would open on weekends and evenings.

“It was a very philanthropic, of-its-time idea to improve people’s minds and their lot.

“He wanted to show them the aesthetics of beautiful lives. Obviously out of their reach but, bless him, it was a nice idea!”

The Ancoats Art Museum hosted classes, recitals, concerts and book groups alongside its art installations and oddities.

Julie spotted the link between the Ancoats Art Museum and the work 42nd Street do, and The Horsfall project was born.

“Essentially, he was a pioneer in art and wellbeing (though that term hadn’t been coined yet),” she said.

“There’s a huge resonance between our aims and what he was trying to do. But our approach is much more participant-centred. It’s about doing things with people.”

42nd Street have worked with Greater Manchester’s young people with mental health issues for 35 years, offering counselling and therapy, issue-based group work, social groups and a diverse creative programme.

WE NEED YOU!: 42nd Street are asking for donations to fund the scheme

The charity has now acquired a little, old Victorian shop on Great Ancoats Street for The Horsfall, a new home for their creative work with young people which they hope to convert with support from a Crowdfunder initiative.

Julie hopes that they can reinvent Thomas Horsfall’s ideas in the space with a team uniting artists, mental health experts and young people.

“It’s quite chocolate boxy, but currently not fit for purpose,” she said.

“It doesn’t even have a staircase at the moment, it’s just walls!

“We’ve been around for a long time, but to have a really small, creative space where we can take creative risks as well is really exciting for us.”

Once up and running, the team will offer mindfulness and art sessions, public art pieces, and an exciting digital theatre project involving young carers in November.

“The production will focus on what young carers from across Greater Manchester want to say,” Julie said.

“They will be involved in the whole process, including auditioning and choosing the actors for the roles.”

A project to invent a new ice cream flavour will also be on the cards as a nod to the building’s diverse history, which includes a stint as office base a company that held the patent to the ice cream cone.

Julie said: “We think this approach is quite unique, and we’re not aware of another space like this in the country.

IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE: Julie says that the charities work with young people is increasingly important

“It’s about young people having access to opportunities and choice. It’s about them being able to tell their stories and talk about their lives. Being able to experiment and find their place in the world.”

Pressures on services and resources available for young people suffering with mental health issues is a further driving force for the The Horsfall.

Julie said: “Waiting lists for services across Greater Manchester are growing on a daily basis.

“Mental health is a lot less of a taboo subject in some ways, but also there are a lot less resources for young people at the moment, much less help for them at an early stage.

“We get a lot of referrals at 42nd Street. Many young people refer themselves. We want to be able to offer them even more choice in services they can have access to.

“We want to tell people about the work we do at 42nd Street. We can’t show them intimate things like counselling, but with The Horsefall we will be able to show people the shop window with our creative projects.”

Donations to The Horsfall’s Crowdfunder can be made by visiting their page

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