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Circle of Life

Through collaborative visual arts workshops with five ethnically diverse groups, we set out to explore and understand the way different communities in Sheffield celebrate the end of life. 

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Across the project we delivered visual arts creative workshops across five different community organisations across the city. The five groups included Darnall Wellbeing – a not-for-profit community health organisation, Roshni – Sheffield’s Asian Women Resource Centre and Family Voice Sheffield, who work with women with limited English who struggle to access services and support. 58 people engaged as workshop participants from the community organisations, mostly women and with approximately 2/3 aged over 50 years old. Over 64% participants were from ethnic minority groups including Bhutanese, Pakistani, and Ukrainian.

The groups worked with Ignite Imaginations’  artists who offered new ways to learn creative skills and techniques across the span of the workshops, as well as collaborating with the artist to create a final piece or pieces for a public exhibition in a central market in Sheffield. During the workshops the creative activities included clay/pottery, creating mandalas, painting techniques using natural materials and printing.

 As anticipated, the freedom and focus of the unique creative activities, alongside the increased confidence, allowed for excellent rapport to build between the artists and participants, as well as connections to deepen between participants. Thus, creating a safe space to have difficult conversations together.


“I come to this group to see my friends and make new friends. This book shows my journey from Bhutan to the UK.  It was a difficult time and a difficult journey.  I am happy to share my story and it makes me feel nostalgic.  This is the first time I have done this kind of painting, white paint on brown paper.  There are hills in my picture which go up and down – just like life.

I have been in Sheffield now for 11 years and I grow my own vegetables, corn, potatoes, beans and squash.  All this is in my book.” (Participant A, Family Voice)

The artist working with Participant A commented on the pride in the group “When (Participant A) finished her book, she held it above her head and danced in a circle.”

Many participants remarked directly on how important the experience had been for them in terms of their wellbeing including opening up about things they had previously struggled to talk about.

“Participant B said he’d found it hard to get out since his accident. This project he said gave him an excuse to get out and create something. He bonded really well with the group and said he would continue going.” (Artist, Darnall Wellbeing Group)

In terms of the outcomes, ‘increased ease for participants in talking about death and dying’ and ‘By creating a safe and shared space for people to understand other’s approach to death we will celebrate and connect communities.’

In the Roshni group, there had been some very recent losses that women were grieving. 

Mona, Roshni Staff member and translator commented:

“This has been essential for some of [the women]; as many are totally alone and it gets them talking about the important things, sharing emotions, supporting one another and socialising. We shared a meal... Rezwanna (new artist) was amazing, speaking Urdu where she could and supporting the women in their creative endeavours. They were so engrossed in the creativity and wanted to keep going…This was a space where the women could open up, not feel judged. [It was so important to have a translator], the women feel stupid without one due to a lack of English and literacy and [having one allowed them to] speak in a way they hadn't before.  There are 12 women on a waiting list for Ignite Imaginations activities… and really keen to keep going when we next get some."

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“Participant C didn't have confidence she could learn the new creative skills and was cynical. Asking with others in the group I encouraged her to try and helped get her started. She created something lovely but said it was rubbish but she looked really proud she'd managed it. The next session she got really involved and explained how her design represented her husband and child who had passed away. The next session she opened up more and talked about them. She came to the final exhibition and said she'd really enjoyed learning something new and getting to know the group better.”

(Artist, Darnall Wellbeing)

Overall, the public exhibition was a resounding success in people sharing with one another in a creative and safe space about difficult topics. The exhibition ran between Wednesday 7th June to Tuesday 13th June 2023. Positioned in the thoroughfare of Moor Market; a popular shopping destination in Sheffield, across the 7 days displayed, it is estimated that over 700 people looked around the exhibition.

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120 people also participated in the free creative supporting activities. The supporting creative activities were ‘Create your own Mandela’, representing you and your place in the universe and ‘Memory Tree’, where participants could decorate paper leaves using various materials and share their thoughts around end of life or send a message to a lost loved one.

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“Loved this exhibition- wonderful artwork, had a lovely cuppa with the others and a chance to sit and draw. Perfect morning out. Thank you!” (Partner, Family Voice)

Across the duration of the exhibition, we held several meet and greets/ shared conversations for the five community groups and the artists involved. Artworks, an organisation who celebrates the creative skills of adults living with learning disabilities and autism were invited and brought along 10 participants to see the exhibition, discuss and share their experiences on the topic.


“The participants said that they enjoyed the sessions, had fun, they liked that they participated/ contributed to a wider project and were really happy with the opportunity to visit the exhibition at the end of the project. A couple of them said that they haven't visit the Moor Market since before the pandemic and that they were very impressed with how the place had changed. Also, they liked the fact that they visit as a group and spend time together and not on their own.”

(Partner, Darnall Wellbeing)

Public responded positively to the opportunity to sharing their stories too, with the staff at the exhibition and other members of public who were also participating in the free activities. It included a man for who it was very nearly the one-year anniversary for his life-saving brain surgery, a woman aged over 80 who as a young woman had lost her baby, had near-death experience with sepsis and four heart bypasses and dedicated her life to Jesus, discussions about Allah, cryonics and a number of conversations of loved ones and the mark they left behind on their family and friends.  


“Just beautiful! Art, Life, Death…something magical about showcasing these unifying things. Thank you!”
(Comment in the public comments book)

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