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We asked PPI contributor Mary Zacaroli to let us know how the COVID-19 lockdown had affected her and the third sector and PPI work she does in her own words.

I run a social enterprise, Paint Buzz, using eco-friendly paints and finishes made by a UK-owned firm Frenchic; my aim being to help people find an upcycling project that has lasting positive effects for them and helps the planet. Upcycling can be wonderfully therapeutic and these particular paints, which are extremely safe and versatile, allows anyone of any age or ability (including those living with dementia) to take part.

Thanks to a two-year grant from Oxfordshire County Council I’ve been offering funded craft and upcycling activities to care homes and community organisations within Oxfordshire.

I was planning 2020’s programme when COVID-19 closed everything down.  Once it became obvious that lockdown was long-term, I contacted Children Heard and Seen (CHAS), a charity that supports the family where children have a parent in prison and suggested we run a pilot project together.

Mary blog (3).JPGCHAS runs a Zoom group on Wednesday evening for the adults to have fun and reduce isolation, so I joined in one evening and they came up with lots of projects to paint. Via Zoom meetings and their closed Facebook group, plans were refined, and colours chosen. I then dropped off materials and ran two Zoom tutorials demonstrating how to use the different paints. Those taking part loved sharing pictures of their newly painted doors, kitchen cupboards and furniture on their Facebook page.

I asked for feedback on whether this had improved their quality of life and if so, how? Responses included: “It helped with my anxiety and PTSD massively. It helped relax my mind” and “I feel that upcycling improves my mental health as when I’m extremely stressed, I paint to give my brain something different to focus on.” Some have continued painting, finding it a great way to deal with stress in lockdown.

Working with CHAS was an eyeopener, seeing how nimble they were at reacting to the new reality even though they are a small charity with limited funding. When lockdown started, they realised that families who already felt isolated and stigmatised would need their services even more, but many families were lacking the technology and internet access for staying in touch, so they ran an appeal, had 20 second-hand laptops donated and taught themselves how to use dongles and passed the knowledge and dongles on.

Table upcycled by a parent shielding in lockdown Table upcycled by a parent shielding in lockdown Initially they started with their regular Wednesday group, asking what people wanted and it grew from there. They have been running up to twenty groups a week. Activities include an author reading a story book, art group, fitness sessions, bingo, a youth advocate group, cooking sessions and a Teddy Bears picnic. Beforehand, staff send out ingredients or materials. Tuesday evenings two parents run a group for children who are concerned about their parent in prison. CHAS has been able to reach far more families in this way and maintain the strong rapport with the families they work with. I love their can-do attitude and fierce support for the families they work with and how they are guided by them in so much of what they do. They show what a community can do in lockdown when it pulls together.

I’ve started two more projects. One is with adults with learning disabilities who co-farm with the charity Farmability and their carers. The co-farmers painted a pot to fill with seeds while their carers are painting a small item of their choice to give them a bit of me time. The other project is with Aspire, an Oxfordshire charity that supports vulnerable people with housing and employment.

Longer term I’m looking to do a research project that underpins the evidence I see every day that this kind of activity can improve quality of life, both immediately and the longer term, and leave the participant with something beautiful and useful, such as a dirty white uPVC front door transformed by colour.

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