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Wood floors, bright natural light, ordered clutter of brushes, tubes, glue, paper, clay, string; only the sound of music, the brushing of fibres and paint onto canvas and murmured conversations.  This is a real studio and the artists, working intently, are young, old, men, women, experienced painters and those who are newly discovering art as a form of expression.  What they do have in common is that they are all engaged with the West Kent Recovery Service for people with a history of problematic drug and alcohol use.

The six weeks of workshops commissioned by the RSA’s Whole Person Recovery project were facilitated by Stepping Stone Studios in Maidstone.  Founded about a year ago by Emma Whittall, Stepping Stone is Maidstone’s first community art space.  They host exhibitions of work by Kent based artists, run a café, music nights, dance classes and now, workshops for vulnerable adults.  It is propelled by  the energy and dedication of volunteers and there is an atmosphere of compassion, integrity and community.  It is an environment conducive to the quiet, supported self-exploration that 20 people undertook during the workshops.

The first introductory session to drawing and painting saw slack- jaws and wide eyes as a live model dropped her robe and struck a pose.  There was only one minute to sketch though so they quickly reeled in their faces and set to work scratching charcoal on paper.  The introduction to sculpture started with relaxation – kneading clay with closed eyes before sculpting skulls.  After two days, participants were already planning the projects they would work on over the next sessions leading up to the exhibition.  Working towards a high profile exhibition certainly gave some momentum to the project but that was hardly the greatest impetus or reward.  A group of people who had never engaged with art or had lost a connection to it in the throes of addiction opened up and grew into a new community.  Stepping Stone Studios became a new and safe place where their stories were acknowledged, respected and unrestricting.  One hopes this group will maintain a bond and grow something together out of shared experience and a sense of ownership.  This is what the Whole Person Recovery team and West Kent Recovery Service have envisioned and to see it grow from the seeds we’ve sown is our reward.

All the pieces created by the participants along with work by other artists from the West Kent Recovery Service will be displayed at The River Centre in Tonbridge from the 13th of June when the RSA and its partner organisations CRI and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust will welcome the RSA’s President, HRH The Princess Royal who will officially open the exhibition Recovery Stories: Celebrating Journeys of Courage, Compassion and Hope.

If you would like to know more about the Whole Person Recovery project or the exhibition please contact


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