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ellenor’s Art Therapy Group: Transforming Lives And Fostering Community In Hospice Care

In the nurturing environment of ellenor, Valerie Martin’s journey with the art and craft group has been nothing short of transformative. Stepping into the class for the first time, Valerie felt as though a ‘whole new world’ had opened up to her.

She said: “ellenor has had an incredible effect on me. For an hour and a half each week I now inhabit another world, just using my hands and not thinking much about anything else.”

Valerie suffers from severe neuropathy, which causes pain and limits movement in her hands. Yet, within the art therapy group she finds solace and relief.

She said: “At the group I am using my hands and manipulating my fingers – I’m just focussing on what I want to achieve.

“All sorts of people go along, all with different conditions. I’m really quite disabled and usually wear compression gloves 24/7 but when I am at the group, I can take them off because I am keeping my hands active.”

The art and craft group, held on Tuesday afternoons, is just one of the many activities offered by ellenor. From Bereavement Cuppa to Book Club, Green Shoots gardening and Seated Exercise, the hospice fosters an environment of holistic care. In addition to these activities, we provides various complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, reiki and reflexology, aimed at enhancing well-being. We also offer counselling, music and play therapy ensuring a comprehensive approach to supporting individuals under their care.

“ellenor helps people to live the best life they possibly can,” Valerie says.

Currently based at the Manor Hotel, Gravesend, the Wellbeing Team is eagerly awaiting the opening of a new Wellbeing Centre at the hospice in Northfleet. This development reinforces their commitment to delivering high quality care and support services.

Valerie was referred to ellenor by her oncology nurse. She is 85 and was first diagnosed with breast cancer 30 years ago. Since then, she has developed atrial defibrillation and suffered recurrent bouts of cancer, with the disease now spreading to her bones, but she said she doesn’t look or feel her age.

“Going to things like the craft group and communicating with other people brightens your life, and it certainly beats sitting at home,” she said.

Members of the group have made all sorts of treasures in recent month including wind chimes, dream catchers out of paper plates, paper chain decorations and memory bracelets.

Valerie said: “Sometimes I look at the task and think I won’t be able to manage, but there is always someone there to help with the bits I can’t do. There is so much camaraderie.

“I spent the entire time in one class just threading beads for a wind chime. I didn’t finish so I carried on the next week. I couldn’t tie the knot at the end, so I got someone to help me. All that threading and looking at the lovely colours felt wonderful.”

Valerie particularly enjoyed making her memory bracelet, with each bead depicting something important to her. This prompted her to share her memories with a fellow group member.

She said: “It’s lovely to share things with other people and to find out where they are at, and the volunteers are great too, bringing us tea and biscuits and helping us with tasks we find difficult.

“All my life I have been artistic and always used to draw and paint and do crafting, but the neuropathy stopped it. Then one day at ellenor they gave me paint and paper and a picture to copy. At first, I didn’t think I would be able to do it.”

However, Valerie discovered she was still able to use her artistic talents, by adopting a more abstract approach, using a series of small dots to form a picture.

She said: “Abstract art is very popular these days. You work by building up layers and it’s very complex and so satisfying.”

Valerie’s success with abstract art at ellenor also spurred her to do an online course in the subject.

Husband David, who is Valerie’s carer, usually brings her to the hospice. He likes to have a rest while his wife enjoys the sessions, and the volunteers always makes sure he has a cup of tea and a bit of friendly chat.

One of her best friends has also joined in the class on occasion, as well as Valerie’s daughter Lorraie, who was visiting from the United States.

The group recently displayed some of their work on the wall, with Valerie showcasing her picture entitled “My Peacock – poetic licence”.

She said: “It was not an authentic peacock; it was stylised, but it had a massive impact with really bold colours.”

Valerie, who has two children, two grandchildren and three great grandchildren, loves colour and light. She and her husband David used to have a shop called Feather in the Wind in Dartford. They sold products from native America, but also embraced the varied culture of the surrounding areas, selling effigies of gods from different cultures, and healing crystals.

Valerie is a crystal healer herself and describes herself as a “lightworker”, someone who feels an enormous pull to help others.

She said: “I like to shine the light for those who can’t see it, people who are in need or struggling. If you look forward, then there will be a way forward. If the mountain is too steep, just go round it.

“For myself, I have reached an acceptance of where I am and where I am going. I have been lucky to have had excellent treatment form the NHS over the years and I always like to show gratitude, appreciation and happiness.”

Valerie also takes part in the weekly online meditation sessions run by Senior Complementary Therapist Sally Baker, and both she and David have also enjoyed reflexology at ellenor.

She said: “ellenor helps people to live the best life they possibly can. I would encourage people like me to come along to one of the groups, especially if they are feeling isolated or lonely. At ellenor you will find safety, harmony and love.”