Cookstown women explore their creativity through photography and storytelling

An exhibition showcasing photographs, stories and poems created by a group of Cookstown women during a 12-week course supported by Clanmil Housing opens on Wednesday (September 20).
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The exhibition at the Hub, 14 Burn Road, Cookstown is the culmination of work completed during a project that was led by photographer Kelly Morris.

Participants learned new skills in photography, storytelling and writing as well as improving their mental health and wellbeing through socializing together in the group.

Using disposable cameras with black and white film, the women captured images relating to a different theme each week, including family, life after COVID, and local characters. They also further explored their creativity through writing, storytelling and painting.

An exhibition showcasing photographs, stories and poems created by a group of Cookstown women during a 12-week course supported by Clanmil Housing opens on Wednesday September 20. Credit: ContributedAn exhibition showcasing photographs, stories and poems created by a group of Cookstown women during a 12-week course supported by Clanmil Housing opens on Wednesday September 20. Credit: Contributed
An exhibition showcasing photographs, stories and poems created by a group of Cookstown women during a 12-week course supported by Clanmil Housing opens on Wednesday September 20. Credit: Contributed

A book containing the photographs and stories has been published to accompany the exhibition.

Clanmil’s contribution to the project is part of a Good Relations Plan for its shared housing development at Molesworth Plaza, funded by the NI Housing Executive and the Department for Communities. The aims of the Good Relations programme include promotion of health and wellbeing activities and encouraging people from different backgrounds to work together.

Facilitator Kelly Morris said the course has encouraged women to learn new skills and has increased their self-confidence:

“While this course is about teaching photography, it’s so much more. It’s amazing to see women from different backgrounds discovering just how much they have in common. It is wonderful to be part of a group who have shown such loving respect for one another, with more trust and openness every week. In my 16 years facilitating photography groups like this one, I have never seen photographs of such high quality. The women’s journaling and storytelling throughout the process has also come on in leaps and bounds, as well as their group and individual confidence.”

Jennifer Cuthbert, Community Investment Cohesion Manager with Clanmil said: “We are delighted to have supported this project with funding from the Department for Communities as part of the Good Relations work we’re doing around our shared housing development in Cookstown. Supporting projects like this one helps us to strengthen connections between communities and build confidence in individuals.”

Margaret McCrory is one of those who has been taking part in the project. She said: “It’s been brilliant. I met a lot of new people and Kelly's enthusiasm has barreled us through. We learned how to take photographs and we’ve shared our stories, cried, laughed and just had a great time.”

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She added that losing three close family members during 2019 then dealing with the Covid pandemic was “a shock to the system” and she has found great solace in the group. “I realized other people were in the same position as me and I'm not on my own. I also enjoyed the tasks that Kelly set us each week, as you would start reminiscing and remembering things.”

Clanmil has supported a number of other initiatives in Cookstown, including a walking group that encourages people to spend time in nature and learn stress-relieving mindfulness techniques and exercise classes for older people.

The project was supported by the Department for Communities and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s ‘Housing for All’ Shared Housing Programme.

The Programme has its origins in the NI Executive Together: Building a United Community Strategy.