Interior, Gwen John, 1924

A Safe Place that is part of a Healing Process

What do people get from volunteering here?

As a volunteer manager, I spend quite a bit of time having tea and coffee with volunteers. Sometimes in groups but often for a one to one chat. This is the part of the job that I love – spending time with people, getting to know who they are, their life experiences, what makes them tick, why they want to volunteer at the gallery and how they feel about the world. Late last year I sat down with a volunteer, Nick, who has been volunteering  at the gallery for about 4 years.  Nick had started coming to the gallery as a participant on our Health and Wellbeing programme working in partnership with the Creative Living Centre, Prestwich. He was leaving Manchester and so had come to say goodbye. Over coffee Nick shared with me how he felt about Manchester Art Gallery. It was a very moving conversation. At the end I asked if he would be up for sharing his thoughts more widely. Here is what he sent in an email this week:

Meg Parnell, Lifelong Learning and Volunteering Manager



I started attending the gallery around five years ago and took part in mental health and wellbeing classes and then progressed from there to volunteering at MOSI and then found myself back volunteering at the Art Gallery. The main reason I came back to the gallery was because I always felt that it was a safe place for me to be.

I suffer with something called “Complex post traumatic stress disorder” and one of the main symptoms is spending your entire life in a state of heightened and increased hyper vigilance, basically you live life in a constant state of “fight or flight”. It is something that is extremely stressful on the whole body and mind and leaves you exhausted, to say the least. The very basic of tasks, for example walking into a supermarket or travelling on public transport can drain your entire being and leave you in a bewildered state for days.

Time, determination and an awful lot of energy

For me, travelling to the gallery on public transport and interacting with groups of other people was something that was part of my continuing healing process. I was going through some extremely arduous times, having to face up to, confront and overcome the experiences of my childhood. During this time I was frequenting the gallery and I was able to see it as an escape. Yes it was a challenge to use public transport and talk to and with groups but it was also increasing my strength and being able to do that in a safe environment such as the gallery made all the difference to me, in fact it has played a key part in the healing process, which I have learned does not happen overnight, it takes time, determination and an awful lot of energy and is indeed ongoing but the gallery was a safe haven.

When you walk in from the street the ambience is so relaxing and the calm is almost overwhelming at first but something that you soon learn to get used to. All the staff are extremely welcoming and for me being able to interact and take part in the services that were made available through the health and wellbeing team are something that I will always carry with me. I even found myself calling into the gallery for a spot of lunch if was in the area and that is something that I ordinarily would not have done.

When suffering from mental health issues one of the most frightening things is that you don’t really know if you will ever get better. When you break a leg or have yourself stitched up the medical staff will always give you an expected recovery time and give or take it usually falls within those parameters. When your head goes pop you don’t have that. All of a sudden almost everything you have known is taken away, you cant eat, you cant sleep, you cant talk, the list goes on but you basically stop functioning and lose sight of all reality, if there is such a thing.

A calm, gentle and safe environment

Providing the services that the gallery offers is like a breath of fresh air, no medication, no pressure, a calm, gentle and safe environment in which to express yourself is vitally important to recovery. You can pop all the pills and read all the leaflets and self help paraphernalia on the planet but they wont make a shred of difference if you have nowhere to express yourself. It’s not about your artistic ability it is about the whole experience provided within such a unique environment.

I could not thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to be part of such environment.

Nick, Volunteer 2015-2019


You can find out more about the gallery’s health and wellbeing programme here.

We aren’t currently taking on any new volunteers, though you can sign up for information here.