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The Cheltenham Open Art Therapy Group (OATG) has been running for over two years.

The group aims to promote motivation and creativity, routine and structure, social interaction, and expression of thoughts and feelings. Although the group is informal, it is an active therapeutic treatment, giving attention to underlying psychological issues that clients would like to explore.

Louise Cleveland, Cheltenham and North Cotswolds Recovery Team Manager said: “The group symbolises what recovery is trying to achieve: providing specialised support but in a community space, away from a medicalised environment. The group supports the establishment of a meaningful routine on which service users can build by engaging in other activities that give them a sense of purpose.”

Since the Cheltenham OATG began, thanks to support from 2gether, the group has been based at The Isbourne, a wellbeing hub based near the Town Hall, in Cheltenham. There are many benefits to the partnership with The Isbourne. Running the group in a community venue near the Town Hall makes it easily accessible by car and public transport.

The Isbourne is an organisation that champions health and wellbeing and offers a variety of services to individuals as well as businesses to enhance health and happiness. 

Reception staff are always welcoming, showing new clients to the room, and even on occasion going out to find new clients who have phoned from nearby.

“Mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of modern day dilemmas and we believe alternative therapies assist individuals to reconnect mind, body and spirit and so improve their physical and mental wellbeing. The Isbourne prides itself on its successful outreach projects and in-house classes, courses and workshops providing a safe, calm environment for learning.  It is hoped 2gether realises the value of open art therapy sessions and finds a way to continue supporting such a valuable commodity,” said Joanna Hill, Manager, The Isbourne.

The Isbourne’s outreach projects include HMP Eastwood Park Prison, CCP Community Wellbeing Social Prescribing Service and Gloucestershire’s Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise Sector, to deliver bespoke programmes ranging from Mindset & Positive Change to Movement for Mind and Body.

Clients have given positive feedback on the space. As one client said: ‘The Isbourne is a light and healing environment which is conducive to recovery and wellbeing. It’s accessible from town and has large windows so I don’t feel closed in or trapped. It’s important to be in the right environment to be able to concentrate, to have the support of others in pursuit of my goals.’

Take a look at some of the art pieces below. 

Client A

This drawing was the first step back to part of myself I thought I had lost. It gave me hope that I might be able to do something creative later in my recovery. In the group it’s ok just to put pen to paper and do something and not worry about it being perfect. This gives a level of freedom, being able to express how we feel at the time.’

Client B

I like going to the group because it helps me to socialise and get out of the house more. It makes me feel motivated to do more and be more creative. I like doing pencil drawings and sketches because it’s detailed and you have to concentrate.’

Client C


(L-R) ‘Letting go of my emotions’, ‘The ideal’ and ‘work in progress’.

Client D

When art therapy was offered to me, I accepted without question. Art has always been an extension of me in some way or other. When I first joined, I was doing pencil sketches only, and it was difficult. I had to re-learn traditional art. But I was also re-learning how to open up and talk, in therapy too. Digital is something I’m more comfortable with. I was lucky enough to get an iPad Pro for Christmas and now I take it with me every week to group. It’s given me the freedom that I can not only start new things, but flit between ongoing projects I’ve started in the past at therapy and home too. I’ve shown three stages of my process – base sketch, line art, and then colour. I do a lot of sketching at therapy – I find it freeing.’

‘The space we’re given in art therapy is an important, safe place that has helped me begin to accept that it’s okay to love what I love again. And that is shown in what I draw. I mostly draw characters from anime, TV shows, video games or books that I love – an expression of what was important to me (and still is) but what I wasn’t allowed to enjoy for so long. Therapy is a big part in helping me try and accept that it’s okay to be me again.’

To find out more about The Isbourne, click here.