Thanks to a series of special workshops at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery, art is helping a young woman from Bognor Regis regain her confidence following a horrific attack in 2009 which left her wheelchair bound...
Carefully turning the pages of her treasured sketchbook, Lizzie Wingate is full of enthusiasm about textiles and her love for ‘bling’, both of which will feature in an artwork to mark the end of her college course.
Warm, chatty and blessed with a lovely smile, Lizzie is passionate about art and from the well-thumbed, bulging sketchbook it is evident she spends hours on her ideas and is constantly inspired.
But it is only in the last two years Lizzie has discovered her creative side. Three years ago she was the victim of a devastating assault in a Worthing nightclub which has changed her life irrevocably. At the time she worked with children with special needs at The Angmering School. Designated driver, she had driven herself and a group of friends into town for a night out. That evening she accidentally knocked into a woman who in response launched a horrific assault on her, hitting her head against a concrete pillar and then stamping on her back while wearing stiletto shoes.
The assault - for which no one has ever been brought to court- has had a serious impact on her life. She now suffers epileptic fits on a regular basis, and depends on a wheelchair to get around.
“Obviously I can’t drive now, so I have lost that bit of independence, I have to have carers 24/7, one of my best friends Georgina does a lot of my caring, and my benefits have just been reduced by £100 a month, so it’s quite stressful and it’s hard work,” she explains.
She admits she does get low at times, especially during periods of bad weather when she is unable to get out and about and for a long time after the attack Lizzie felt too scared to go out, and still suffers flashbacks of what happened that night.
She was encouraged to apply for an access course in art at Chichester College and from that she was introduced to Pallant House Gallery’s community programme which she says has helped turned her life around.
“I met people and gradually step by step I felt safe coming here,” she says. “If there is any problem I’ve only got to talk to people and they will help me. It’s great fun and I love it, I see it as a social thing too.”
Lizzie is part of the gallery’s Partners In Art programme, a fantastic project which brings together a volunteer and a person who needs extra support to help follow their mutual art interests.
She admires Henry Moore and Jann Hawarth’s Mae West work which hangs in the gallery, and enjoys meeting the other artists in her group. Being in the gallery there is always a lot of inspiration and the opportunity to share ideas, and she is a great fan of the gallery’s library.
Prolific and passionate in equal measure, Lizzie would like to go to university eventually but says after her college course she will be taking a break to get her health back on track.
Lizzie says she has benefited so much from the programme and is now one of the gallery’s most ardent volunteers, helping out at fundraising events and was even there last Saturday working with groups of children, and chatting to visitors.
Home from home
In recognition of her fundraising contribution and her personal circumstances, this month Lizzie was presented with a special coffee machine by gallery sponsors De’Longhi, which will now give her more independence at home.
“It means I can make hot drinks now, which is fantastic,” she says. “Before I couldn’t because if I had an epileptic fit and had a kettle in my hand it would be a lot of hot water going everywhere - unless you are in a situation like mine you don’t realise.
“Little things like that make a big difference to my life, I can be a bit more independent, and it’s much safer for me.”
At home much of her time is spent working on her ideas which helps her cope with her health problems.
“The whole living room is full of art equipment, the problem is because I have to have everything at a low level it looks more messy,” she laughs. “I do find it therapeutic to sit there and now I can have a drink inbetween, I love it.”
Her next fundraising drive will be a sponsored silence with her friend, which she says will be hard as she loves chatting, but she says it will be for agreat cause.
“I like to get involved with fundraising because of how much of a difference Pallant House has made to my life,” she says. “When I first started I was too scared to go out of the house, I came here and it was like coming to another home.”