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Image of volunteer, artists and children's hands all working on a giant piece of paper. Painting, making shapes, smudging, printing.

Helium Arts workshop with Ashleigh Ellis at the Togher Family Centre on Saturday 26 March.

phot. Marcin Lewandowski | soundofphotography.com ©

Volunteer Emma’s storyThe healing power of art

Emma’s first experience of volunteering at a Helium Arts community workshop made a bigger impact on her than she could have imagined. She shares her story with us. 

When I first heard about the opportunity to volunteer with Helium Arts, I just knew this was for me. I’m studying to be a nurse and have spent time on wards with children who have lifelong health conditions. But I only see them when they’re in hospital for treatment.

“Volunteering with Helium Arts would be a chance to see them outside of the hospital, when they’re being children, not just patients.” 

After the simple application process, Helium Arts provided online training, which really put any concerns I had about volunteering with children who have health conditions to rest. The other volunteer candidates on the video call had the same questions and uncertainties as I did, and most of us had never done anything like this before. The training was actually fun, and by the end of it, I felt at ease and prepared.

The art workshops took place every Saturday morning for six consecutive weeks, and the ones I would be taking part in were for eight children aged 6-8. I was ready and excited to begin! But first, there was a chance to meet Ashleigh Ellis – the artist who would be leading the workshops, and the other volunteer working with us. Ashleigh talked us through what she was going to be doing with the children, and she showed us around the room we would be using. It was great to get comfortable with the space before the children arrived. 

Ashleigh began each session by rolling out a massive sheet of paper on the floor. The children would be using different art materials to have fun and express themselves on it. She really wanted them to feel like this space was their own. 

Image of a child and volunteer making clay footprints on a large piece of white paper. Messy Fun.

“The children’s creativity was unleashed, and ours!”

We made pictures and patterns with a mind-boggling variety of materials. We painted with hibiscus tea, which is pink when it’s wet, but dries blue. We used petals and shells. We painted with clay, and we all ended up barefoot on the paper, making footprints and a big, happy mess. 

There was one child in the group who was super-experimental, and she loved making sculptures out of anything she could get her hands on. She put things together and wrapped it all in tape and made wonderful creations. It was all about giving the children the space, the guidance and the tools and letting them see how creative they could be. 

One of the most wonderful things I remember about the experience was seeing how the children were together, how they inspired each other. Individually in school, perhaps they felt like the different kid, but when they came together for the workshop, they were all the same and everyone fitted in.

Ashleigh gave the children the freedom to be themselves in a safe and nurturing space. Some of them were more solitary in their creativity, while others wanted to be involved with other people’s work.

There was one boy who just liked to observe. He was so happy watching people do things. He was nonverbal, and when he was excited, he liked to touch the things that looked cool to him. So the other children figured this out pretty quickly, and they’d say to him, “Here, look at this that I made! You can touch that now.

“It was a thrill to see how they embraced each other’s differences and just went with it.” 

The children were so proud of what they were doing. In one of the sessions, when we were playing with acrylic paint, I dipped a seashell in paint and used it like a stamp. When one of the girls saw me do that, she grabbed another shell and did it too. And she said to me, “Oh! I did it!” And she just kept doing it over and over and saying, “I did it! I can do it!” And she was so proud of herself, and so positive and happy.

“It brings tears to my eyes now remembering the smile on her face.”

I didn’t expect the workshops to have such a big impact on me. On my way home after every session, I’d feel so good. So positive.

I want to bring some of what I learned into the hospital where I work. I want to bring more art onto the ward for those children. The experience really helped me appreciate how healing art can be, and how being creative connects people.

“I wish every parent of a child with a lifelong physical health condition knew about these workshops.” 

I’d really recommend volunteering with Helium Arts to anyone who cares about children and wants to help them explore their creativity. While experience working with children is a must, there’s no need to have a background in art or in health. You’re supported by the artist for everything that’s art-related. And there’s a medic in the room for the health aspects. As a volunteer, you just need to be open to the children’s creativity, and to support a safe environment for them to express themselves. 

If you think you’d fit the bill, I really recommend you fill in the online application. You won’t regret it. I can’t wait to do my next workshop.

If reading Emma’s story has made you curious about volunteering at a Helium Arts workshop, click here to start your adventure.