Now showing in the Art Fund Prize Gallery, we are proud to be supporting the Women's Support Centre and their New Beginnings Arts Awards for the sixth year running. To find out more about the organisation and their aims, we spoke to Helen Emmings, manager at the Women's Support Centre.
Can you tell us a bit about the Women’s Support Centre, and how the New Beginnings Arts Awards started?
The WSC has been in existence for over 6 years and came off the back of a short pilot project which aimed to support women leaving prison and returning to Surrey. During the pilot it became clear that the needs of women more broadly affected by the criminal justice system also needed addressing, and so the service was expanded to deliver support to women across the county who were also on probation or coming to the attention of the police. The Women’s Support Centre has grown and developed over the last 6 years, and now works to support women who might also be at risk of offending or exploitation.
The New Beginnings Arts Awards has been running for 6 years, and is an opportunity to showcase the talent of women across the county who may otherwise not have opportunities to participate in the arts and also to encourage excluded, exploited and disempowered women to explore their feelings and experiences through creative means.
What are the opportunities and benefits for the women who take part?
Many women who use the centre or are in prison have experienced violence, abuse, neglect and social exclusion. They often have incredibly low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in their own abilities. Indeed many will have had negative experiences of school and may never have been praised for anything they have done. The awards scheme makes participation in art accessible and is not intimidating for those women. It gives them a chance to explore talents they didn't know they had and an opportunity to be celebrated for following a project to its completion, which is vital for boosting confidence.
This year’s theme is ‘A Land Far, Far Away’. Why was this theme chosen, and what are some of the different ways that participants have interpreted it?
The theme was chosen partly in recognition of HG Wells' contribution to Woking, and partly because it was an imaginative theme that could be interpreted in so many ways.
The artists took the theme and explored a variety of interpretations - from literal images of beautiful far away places and imaginary worlds, to much darker reflections on their own world of experiences.
What can visitors to the exhibition look forward to seeing?
The exhibition is a fabulous collection of artwork from women across the county who have talent, passion and enthusiasm but who have also experienced some quite unimaginable things. This shines through in their artwork and the exhibition is both interesting artistically but also hugely moving and thought-provoking.
Women's Support Centre: New Beginnings Arts Awards 2016 is on display in the Art Fund Prize Gallery until 16 October.
Free entry | Donations welcome