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Drawing Shed


Local visual artists Sally Barker and Sally Labern developed a portable drawing studio, the ‘drawing shed’ – a unique, custom-built pavilion that sets up stall in different venues and unravels to reveal materials for an exciting drawing experience. The drawing shed was wheeled around the community and workshops were held in various locations to get people talking and drawing together.



  • use drawing as a medium to increase community cohesion and inclusivity
  • create a safe space for residents to pursue creativity

The project used art to link into the following Well London aims:

  • change perspectives on mental health by tackling stigma within communities and positively promoting mental health
  • build greater access to healthy foods to encourage increased consumption and healthier choices for everyone
  • improve the abilities of communities to organise and run projects that provide opportunities for local people to become more active

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This project was part of a larger community-based arts initiative called ‘Draw-Out’, led by Sally Barker and Sally Labern, who run an independent arts organisation called the Therapeutic Arts Scheme (TAS) which works with referred children in and out of schools to deliver high-quality arts projects to raise self-esteem. They had developed a mobile drawing project, the ‘Draw-Out’ pavilion, used by communities in the area during festival-type events, and the drawing shed grew out of this.

Research carried out by the University of East London for Well London highlighted the need for changes in the area, which has poor statistics in terms of both physical and mental health of residents. Local groups involved in consultation also felt that some kind of creative activity, not really articulated as particular art forms, would be welcomed.

Drawing is a primal, universal form of expression that anyone can do; it crosses cultural boundaries and can improve mental health and well-being by providing safe spaces and social contexts for sharing personal and collective ideas without the need for words.

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The two artists worked with an architect to create a mobile drawing studio. The drawing shed was constructed in the café garden of the YMCA so that residents could see it being built.

Six drawing workshops were organised at venues within the SOA; these offered a highly physical approach to drawing by ‘papering out’ huge floor spaces, rooms, stairs – and the drawing shed itself. At each venue a particular group helped shape a drawing workshop, which embraced the overarching aim of being exploratory, physical and fun. The artists on the project deliberately chose to work with a diverse range of participants in terms of age, physical ability, cultural orientation and venue.

Three workshops involved yoga and stretching, which helped participants to adjust to the physicality of drawing involving the whole body and relaxation at the end, to put people in touch with how they were really feeling. All workshops offered participants tea and cake, and fruit.

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All the workshops were attended by a diverse cultural mix of people that very much represented the demographics of the SOA, as follows:

  • 23 YMCA residents attended a workshop where the entire dance studio was papered out;
  • 41 people attended a YMCA open day, about half of which were YMCA residents:
  • 31 residents of all ages joined the workshop on the estate
  • 5 young adults with disabilities and three workers collaborated with the artists at a workshop at the Limes;
  • 34 children aged 11, as well as three adults and a parent volunteer, attended a workshop at St Mary’s Primary School;
  • 61 people of all ages worked with the artists at the Green Fair, including five volunteers, who helped push the Drawing Shed from the YMCA to Lloyd Park.

Overall the audience for the project across all the workshops and the Green Fair was more than 400 people. Nearly 200 people actively participated in the workshops.

The aim was for participants to connect at a deeper level with the drawing process and with every group this happened in some way, and this was extremely moving; participants enjoyed the physical process of drawing and actually experienced a new way of expressing feelings, ideas and thoughts through a drawing process on a large scale.

The fact that the Drawing Shed was based at the YMCA was very positive, in that the previously homeless residents were able to see the artists consistently and work with them, which built up trust.

Every borough should have a drawing shed..... if I could come here and draw every week I'd sort stuff out that I can't do in other ways- it makes me feel calm.”

Sherrick, a YMCA resident at an Open Day workshop.

The drawing thing and the relaxing thing have made it a good day!

Calvin, YMCA resident on the day-long YMCA workshop.

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The Drawing Shed successfully created a high-quality creative tool that deliberately attracted an intergenerational audience. People were attracted to the quirky space which, whilst being open to the exterior, has a separate, contained, more intimate character that was perceived as safe.

I think the Drawing Shed project is brilliant….it’s got some of the young men in here out of their rooms – and more than once – drawing and actually talking about themselves and their problems…it’s shown us that they are also really talented.

Matt Spriggs, Sports Manager at the YMCA

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  • It was always the intention that the role of Sally Labern and Sally Barker as artists would be open and non-directive, and this approach worked very well
  • Participants should be able to choose a level of involvement (style, length of time spent, co/independent work, etc.), with support and encouragement from the artists
  • Developing a space perceived as safe is very important to enable people to relax and participate fully in creative activity
  • The central involvement of the drawing shed as a part of the Open Day at the YMCA was a key part of an active marketing strategy
  • Tailoring ‘teaching’/facilitation tools to specific groups is vital

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