Blog: Peter Broome

The artist and volunteer talks about how an arts-based mental health service helped him recover from a breakdown

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It was Christmas Day and I was spending the day with some friends. It was a beautiful house full of lovely furniture, my friends were having a wonderful time, but as I looked around the room it dawned on me that none of this was mine. I had nothing.

Over the last few years I’d slipped into a cycle of drink and drugs. Some days I wouldn’t eat. I didn’t care about anything except having enough money for a few pints and a bag of weed. I thought no one was interested in me and I wasn’t interested in them. Bollocks to everything. I might as well get out of my face. I was nine and a half stone that Christmas. I sat there with nothing, no life, no property and no future. I made my excuses and left the celebration. On my way home I smoked my last joint and when I got back I broke down. It was the start of my recovery.

My lifestyle had taken me to the brink and I didn’t want to live anymore, but somehow I found the strength to get clean from drink and drugs and after decades of ill health I started to get help from mental health services.

I first heard about Recovery Pathways when my psychologist, Karen, referred me. Start is part of Recovery Pathways, a service that helps people use creative activity to help improve their mental wellbeing. It helps people adjust after a stay in hospital or a period of enduring mental ill health.

But the idea of being sat with a load of strangers didn’t appeal to me. I thought it was just people colouring in and stuff like that. I didn’t realise what art could be. Each week I came back to see Karen with a different excuse about why I hadn’t been to see the tutors at Start, but Karen kept doing my head in about it. Eventually I ran out of excuses and decided to go to Start at Cornbrook Enterprise Centre.

When I got there I felt something about the building. It just relaxed me and I felt good. A few weeks later I started my first course to learn the basics of drawing. As the weeks went on every time I went to Start I didn’t want to leave. I had some materials at home and I’d put the radio on low and draw. It helped me relax and it whiled away the hours – the time just went.

One of Peter Broome’s ceramics, on show at the People’s History Museum in October

My creativity had started to come out and when my first course finished I was completely gutted, but then I signed up to do photography and ceramics. When you’re ill the world passes you by, but I was learning to notice things again and it was a massive lift after 20 years of mental ill health.

Soon I became a volunteer for Recovery Pathways, helping out at courses in the National Football Museum. I accessed courses at Greater Manchester Mental Health’s Recovery Academy and became a peer mentor. Now I can use my lived experience to help others.

It’s difficult to put into words the difference Recovery Pathways has made to my life. Having time to yourself to do something creative and connect with other people has transformed my life. I volunteer on an adult inpatient mental health unit and I can see myself getting a paid job in the NHS. I look in the mirror and see that I’ve put weight on. I think ‘You’re looking really well’ and people say the same. I feel great now.

Over the last few months I have been working on a piece of figurative ceramic artwork. It will be featured alongside other people’s paintings, sculptures, textiles and words at our annual exhibition. This year the theme is Let’s Figure it Out and it will run during Mental Health Awareness Week at the People’s History Museum from Tuesday 8 October. 

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