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“For me it’s therapy; this is my medication. Art is my medication.”

The tempo shifts every few moments. Delicate melodies scatter across the keyboard as acoustic guitars are strummed heavily and plucked gently. Tambourines elevate the steady beats of the drum kit. Hummed melodies and snippets of songs weave in and out of the circle of participants. 

A gentleman we’ve never seen before wanders into the activity room, smiling shyly. He takes a seat and tentatively plays some notes on the xylophone. 

Then, unexpectedly, his raw singing voice fills the room.

Scenes like this take place on Friday mornings, when Andy from the music therapy charity Nordoff & Robbins, brings along a range of instruments for clients to experiment with. 

The sessions are popular, often with enough people to form a jamming band of musicians and singers, coming up with their own tunes or playing their favourites. 

This afternoon’s drummer tells me about how he used to play with bands around Birmingham. His eyes light up as he says he enjoys coming to the music sessions at SIFA Fireside to practise. 

Across the centre, in another activities room, I find a small group of men at a table, drawing in their own scrapbooks and sketch pads. Lounging in their seats, personal philosophies, creative ideas and even childhood stories are exchanged. “Studying never ends”, a client muses, as he deftly uses a paintbrush and chalk to create an image of clouds in the sky on a black piece of paper. 

After a few moments, I realise that the instructor, from Art Therapies UK, is creating and sharing alongside them, demonstrating how to use pastels to sketch funky shapes with varied techniques.

He explains to me that these men are all meeting for the first time. 

In art and music therapy at SIFA Fireside, every individual is embraced for who they are. The courageous act of sharing one’s vulnerability through creative practice is a privilege to behold. Not only do clients create, but they also form a community where differences in verbal, visual and aural expression are accepted and encouraged. 

Homelessness finds its roots in a complex web of issues that is not limited to the growing cost of living crisis, limited mental healthcare and a lack of affordable housing. Through these activities, SIFA Fireside provides clients with a safe, non-judgmental space to retreat from this reality, connect with their profound inner worlds and share this with others through their art. In this environment, retaining their identity and individuality, regardless of circumstance is also highly significant.

Art is powerful, and the infectious enthusiasm of clients and instructors alike aids SIFA Fireside in fostering inclusivity, community, and a renewed sense of hope amidst the challenges of homelessness.

Oseta Agboaye