Social entrepreneur using art as a powerful tool to help local people through recovery
‘Art saved my life,’ says Sam Delaney, founder of Creative Start. His venture helps recovering drug and alcohol users in Grimsby and Cleethorpes through art therapy. He draws out their artistic talents, teaching them skills to create works of art. Many of the projects are team based – if you’re ever in Grimsby you might see one of their murals on the wall of a cafe, library or fire station. Since setting up they’ve grown to have 93 members attending their workshops.
‘My life has changed so much and for the better since I joined the CREATivE stART project. Sam is a big inspiration,’ said one of the members, ‘I am 32-years-old and had almost given up hope. Now I am motivated and passionate about something other than drugs. My daughter tells everybody that her Daddy is an Artist and all that has come from the inspiration I got from seeing Sam’s work. I am more confident about my future and providing for my daughter.’
Sam is a former addict himself. After working in high pressure jobs in London and Australia during the 90s, he embraced a ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle that wasn’t sustainable.
‘That sort of lifestyle catches up with you; you get to the point where you just can’t manage it. One thing goes and then another – bang, bang, bang. You reach 29-years-old and suddenly you can’t go to the pub anymore. You have to replace that. For me art filled that void.’
From Australia to Grimsby
After his recovery Sam decided he wanted to ‘repay his debt’, deciding he wanted to work with others going through recovery. After initially chairing peer support groups in Wigan he set up Creative Start in 2009 to work alongside those groups. When he moved to Grimsby and Cleethorpes in 2012 he decided he wanted to focus on art therapy, setting up Creative Start as a CiC.
‘One of the reasons I moved about and ended up here was because of addiction and recovery. When you are in addiction you often move about thinking that will solve the problem,’ explains Sam, ‘I always thought it was an advantage to do my recovery away from the my home town. The company was the most important thing for me and being away from home helped me keep sober company.’
Grimsby was once a prosperous fishing port; Cleethorpes a successful holiday town. The two towns – that over time have merged into one – are a place of divides. There are good schools and colleges, access to a resurgent seaside town and beautiful, Lincolnshire countryside, and for many jobs in the food and energy industries. The problem is that it’s easy to fall through the cracks.
‘This town has serious problems in terms of addictions and everything that goes with that,’ says Sam, ‘Depression and anxiety. It’s never just addiction, there are always other things going on. Unfortunately, there’s no real recovery focus. I want to change that.’
The power of art
Art was a vital tool in Sam’s recovery and he believed that it could do the same for others. He set up his social venture to provide free sessions to people going through recovery. People can take part in everything from photography walks to creating murals as a group.
‘Art builds people’s self-esteem,’ he says, ‘You get to look at something and think I did that. Especially when you work as a group. There might be ten signatures on one of our murals – people can say I was part of that team.’
Creative Start was originally set up with a Star People Do It Award in 2013. Star People helps people in Local Trust’s Big Local areas, including North Cleethorpes, create social ventures. With support from an Award Manager he was able to hit on a business model – subsidising the free sessions by selling artwork, creating commissioned pieces and securing grant funding.
Creating a sustainable model
Sam is still in the early stages of starting his venture and turning it into a sustainable business. There have been many challenges and changes along the way. Early on, Sam found it difficult to limit who he offered support to.
‘The art workshops won’t work for everyone, for people at an earlier stage peer discussion groups are more effective’ he explains, ‘You can’t have people still dealing with drinking or taking drugs heavily – who are going in and out, trying to find their way through recovery – mixed with others who have been sober ten years. In a way everyone’s just as close as going back to it – if someone starts drinking, it’s chaos.’
Sam realised that he had to change his model. This initially meant limiting the people he worked with to those who’d gotten past those first stages of recovery. ‘You need to start thinking about how to survive while doing something like this,’ he continues, ‘We’ve had to start thinking more like a business. We have to look at it like if we earn more money we can help more people. We can’t just run on passion.’
He points to UnLtd as a crucial source of support. He successfully applied for a Build It Award in 2014 to grow his venture and become sustainable. Having an Award Manager to support his development as a social entrepreneur has helped him with an external perspective – vital when working within tight-knit communities.
‘When you’re in a town like this it’s like a pressure oven, squeezing and squeezing,’ he says, ‘People see you as competition, but I’m not, if you’re helping people that’s great. You need someone from the outside to help you see the big picture.’
This helped in his decision to make big changes in how how his business was set up. With support from UnLtd and Deutsche Bank he restructured the management of the organisation, appointing two new directors and seven core members to help lead the project. Getting extra people on board has been a huge boon, adding skills and experience, and easing the burden on Sam.
A big change has seen Sam and the team have broaden their mission – seeing the venture as a way to support anyone who is isolated in the community.
‘Although the recovery part of what we do will always be important to me I feel that we have moved away from this recently,’ explains Sam, ‘We’ve become more inclusive over the last 6 months and I want CREATivE stART to be accessible to all the community with the focus on the socially isolated.’
At the end of the day Sam is driven by one thing – helping people like him. Whether it’s someone recovering from addiction, or isolated through mental health issues. He wants people to have access to the tool that best helps them. For Sam that tool is art.
‘When I started it was like my head had a radio inside it, constantly on. You need to silence that chatter, the stuff from the past. Art helps to quieten it, made me almost meditate. I wasn’t ready to meditate but that’s what it was. Then it becomes more than that, you want to finish something, get a piece of work done.’
Creative Start is work in progress. Sam and his team are still trying to work out how they can help people stay sober while making their business a sustainable service people can rely on.
It’s not a finished piece but while Sam has a brush in his hand and fresh paint on his palette you wouldn’t bet against a masterpiece.