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Art with heart helps patients

ARTISTS are no strangers to good causes, but one relatively new North-East charity appears to have touched their hearts in a special way.

Alexander Millar

Art will go under the hammer in a very good cause tonight, as David Whetstone reports.

ARTISTS are no strangers to good causes, but one relatively new North-East charity appears to have touched their hearts in a special way.

The Lifespan charity auction, which takes place tonight at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle, boasts work by some of Britain’s best-known artists along with some of the region’s leading lights.

There’s a swirling sketch by Antony Gormley, called Little Clearing; a beautiful lithograph of a cat, Cocoa Sleeping, by Dame Elizabeth Blackadder; and works by Royal Academicians, including Gormley.

Among other treasures on offer are a signed print by Beryl Cook, called In The Snug, and the screenprint Tea and Sympathy by Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid.

Among the North-East artists are Brian Addison, Walter Holmes, Hilary Feeney, Enrique Azocar and Sian Bowen, artist in residence in drawing at the V&A, London.

The highest estimated sale price (£2,000 to £3,000) is for lot 73, a framed and signed charcoal original by Alexander (Sandy) Millar, the affable former window cleaner whose talent with paints and charcoal has made him a star of the Washington Green Fine Art stable. The charcoal drawing, showing two old chaps supporting each other homewards, is called Helping Hand.

According to Lifespan director Avril Trapp, it “encompasses some of the feelings of warmth and hope between artists, the Lifespan team and the patients and families with whom we work”.

Lifespan, at Minsteracres, Consett, County Durham, offers services, complementary to orthodox medicine, to improve the life of those suffering from life-threatening or terminal illness. “We’re a group of people who have worked in the area with very ill people for a long time,” said Avril. “We came together to do this two years ago and set up the charity.”

The Lifespan team comprises five core members and four others, some volunteers and some paid. A lot of their work is done in people’s homes, where they administer counselling, gentle touch therapies, lifestyle advice and bereavement support – all tailored to the individual’s needs.

Avril said the Lifespan team get referrals from the medical establishment and work closely with the Macmillan and Marie Curie charities and with GPs. “At the moment, we have about 140 people who are very ill and their families, in Durham, Newcastle and Northumberland. We have people suffering from cancers, motor neurone disease and some who are in a vegetative state. It’s all about making people feel better about themselves in the time they have got. A lot of people enjoy gentle touch therapies. There is nothing nicer if you are feeling alone and sometimes, when people get very ill, they don’t have this human contact.”

Team member Dr Pippa Lovell said: “I’m interested in the nutritional aspect of people’s lives. When you have a life-threatening illness and you are not eating properly, your energy will be draining away. By improving your diet to ensure you are getting enough vitamins, you will have more energy to enjoy the time you have got left.”

Art lover Dr Lovell visited the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, as she does every year, and obtained artists’ contact details. Others were contacted in the North-East. Avril said she thought a lot had responded positively because of their own circumstances. Perhaps some had lost loved ones or known people who had fought serious illness.

Whatever the reason, a surprising number said yes and donated high quality work. As well as the paintings and sketches, there will be a small forest of “art trees” for sale at £20 each. Some are by well known artists, others by up-and-comers. Bought blind, you won’t know what your £20 has got until the money has changed hands.

Sandy Millar, who struggles to satisfy the demand for his work, said: “Whatever your profession, if you are doing well, it’s always nice to be able to do something for other people – to give something back.”

Lots are on view at the Biscuit Factory, Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, all day today. Entry to tonight’s auction (including wine, live music and catalogue) is £5 and bidding starts at 7.30pm. Tel: (01434) 673777 for details. Or visit www.lifespanteam.org.uk

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