Paint the Town Grey

Cobalt Studios

The Benefits to the Community


Paint the Town Grey CIO/not for profit Limited Company that is trying to establish Cobalt Studios.

Paint the Town Grey would like to use one of the empty shops/offices/buildings on, or near to, Stockton High Street and turn it into Cobalt Studios, a hub/exhibition area/studio space/café for artists with mental health issues (AWMHI)

There are currently approximately forty (40) empty shops/offices/buildings on Stockton High Street, Church Road and The Wellington Square.

Facts and figures about mental health

Mental Health covers every mental illness ranging from;

Anger management

Anxiety and panic attacks

Bipolar disorder

Body dysmorphia disorder

Borderline personality disorder


Disassociative disorder

Drink and drug addiction

Eating disorder

Hearing voices

Hypomania and mania


Obsessive Compulsive disorder


Personality disorder


Post-natal depression

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Psychotic experiences

Schizoeffective disorder


Seasonal effective disorder




Suicidal feelings

Tardive dyskinesia


It is estimated that one in four adults in the UK will experience some form of mental illness each year (Mind 2016) . From the Stigma Shout Survey (Time-to-change) ninety percent of people who responded to their survey reported the negative effect of stigma and discrimination on their lives.

In 2015, the Samaritans published the findings of its survey from 2013 the results are quite astounding. In 2013 there were 6, 233 reported suicides in the UK. The male suicide rate was at its highest since 2001 with the rate in men aged 45-59 (25,1 per 100,000) being the its highest since 1981.

The World Health Organisation reports an estimated 1 million suicides per year with 20 times that number attempting suicide.

In 2012 suicide accounted for 1.5% of all deaths making it the third highest cause of death in the world. (Although some data collection is poor).

The use of anti-depressants has increased five-fold since 1991 (WHO)

The Samaritans report suggested the following

  • Men in lower socio-economic groups are ten times more likely to commit suicide than ‘successful’ men
  • The increasing ‘feminisation’ of employment is resulting in men having less access to jobs that allow for the expression of working class masculinity and the ability to provide for one’s family.
  • Increased divorce and the feeling of isolation
  • Unemployment and the inability to provide for your family
  • The need to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ or ‘take it like a man’ lead to more silence, shame and stigmatism around men’s mental health, so men who get depressed do not talk about it and therefore feel less like a man and an even bigger failure for getting depressed.
  • Men believe that they can get through problems on their own, less likely to ask for help for physical and mental illness.
  • For men it is seen as weakness to be depressed and less masculine.

How depression is stigmatised and misunderstood

Even today in 21st century Britain, it takes a very brave person who will approach there GP to discuss depression and the need for counselling or walk in the front door of a mental health organisation and ask for help. Terms like ‘Nut House’ and ‘Looney bin’ are still common and ‘you’re a looney’ is still a common insult.

Very few people will enquire about help and support for mental health issues because of the continued stigma around depression and mental health. Where Cobalt Studios is different is that it will be a much less ‘obvious’ than a building with a huge sign stating ‘Mental wellbeing’ in big letters outside the door. This should allow people to access mental health information on the pretext of looking at the art or getting a cup of coffee.

People who feel that they might be stigmatised can simply come in to talk about the art firstly and this is much easier than having to come in and talk about mental health. A visit to Cobalt Studios is not necessarily about mental health. This is much less daunting than having to phone a mental health organisation or visit the doctor; this is a much easier first step towards discussing the problem.

Mental health and depression is still seen as a weakness, especially amongst the male population. A great number of mental health organisations are trying to break the stigma around mental health problems but progress is slow. They are trying to encourage people to talk about depression, anxiety and the other disorders. The ‘time to talk’ campaign as well as many others.

Many people with mental health issues do not leave the house, or can’t face leaving the house. They stay inside and watch television; they may even reach the depths of watching ‘Kyle’, I know, how bad and low must you be? They can go for days without even getting dressed let alone seeing another person. This then becomes cyclical. The person with the mental illness stays in the house, their mood drops more so they feel worse and, as a consequence, the next day they feel less like going out, the depression intensifies, the social isolation increases and the spiral is downwards.

Along with this, many people do not like to take the tablets and pills prescribed for depression; society seems much less empathetic towards people on anti-depressants.

From my own personal experience is that my niece was diagnosed with diabetes at aged five, her use of insulin was seen as necessary. However, my use of anti-depressants was viewed as a weakness, although both tablets are basically treating a chemical imbalance, the whole contradiction of attitudes seems so wrong. A sort of; ‘she needs her medicine because she has a ‘real’ illness’ type attitude.

One of the great aspects of the Cobalt Studios is that it will allow people to get information about depression under the pretext of looking at the art, art foremost, depression and mental illness secondary. For many people an excuse of “I’m going to look at the pictures” is easier than “I’m going to talk about my depression”, especially if they have not yet mentioned a mental illness to family or friends.

Cobalt Studios will give artists with depression a reason to get up in the morning. A friend of mine recently told me that whilst at home she never does any art because it’s her home and not an art studio. Sometimes she does not leave the house for three or four days because she has ‘nowhere to go’ and ‘no-one to see’.

Cobalt Studios will give the studio holders the chance to socialise in a non-threatening manner. As with the people viewing the art the studio holders come to Cobalt Studios because it’s away from home, it’s where they work and this is easier than going to a coffee shop or mental health workshop.

Cobalt Studios will encourage people to discuss mental health.

Encouraging people to visit the High Street

Cobalt Studios will have an effect, although initially tiny, on the amount of people coming into the High Street in Stockton.

It will mean one less empty unit on Stockton High Street

Because of the stigma and ideas of weakness attached to taking pills for depression more and more people are looking for alternative therapies. There is currently a great amount of literature and courses around the use of art, and although Cobalt Studios will not be offering Art Therapy as such the benefits of being creative are well documented.

Counselling directory stated that many people can use art to express how they feel on paper and in pictures rather than words, it gives them a starting point to talk about their feelings and mood rather than rushing headlong into the awkward “How do you feel?”

It is hoped that with a big enough building being monitored and used by Paint the Town Grey other local groups may be able to access Cobalt Studios for space, school visits, drawing and art classes by qualified artists

It is hoped that when the artists are having a good day they may be able to give demonstrations and exhibitions; this will hopefully boost their self-esteem

The building will be staffed by volunteers with mental health issues; this will give these people more self-help skills, better feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. This will have a knock on effect onto the currently over-stretched NHS.

Money coming in will boost the local economy.

It is also hoped that Cobalt Studios will have a café inside, a great cup of coffee while looking at the art. The cafewill hopefully be staffed by volunteers with mental health issues. As above, this should give these people more self-help skills, better feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. This will have a knock on effect onto the currently over-stretched NHS.

For some of the volunteers, in the building and the café this may be the first job they have in a long time; it should provide them with a reference. The reference may actually help the volunteers to gain, or return to, full-time employment. Or it may at least ease them back into part-time work. This will boost the self-esteem and self-worth even further. The statistics show, Samaritans 2015, that people in low economic situation are more likely to commit, or try to commit suicide.

Even if a person does not actually successfully manage to kill themselves the stain on the local economy of police, ambulance, hospital resources. Even one less suicide attempt can have huge repercussions.

Greater Empathy

I started a writing group in Hartlepool at the Creative Café, although this is anecdotal evidence, Tony, a writer from Hartlepool joined the group one week. He said that this was the first writing group he had ever attended. He had joined others but because he was unsure of how the other group members would react if he had a ‘bad’ day, he never actually went into the group.

Because the whole ethos of Paint the Town Grey and Cobalt Studios is about empathy and understanding it should give people from Stockton, and maybe further afield the confidence to enter into Cobalt Studios, reducing their social isolation and reducing pressure on the NHS.

Many people with mental health issues, see Tony above, will not attend mainstream writing course, art courses etc, due to a possible lack of empathy.

We hope to build a supportive network of people with mental health issues so we can all support each other and hopefully reduce the risk of relapse.

Buildings that are empty are more prone to vandalism and anti-social behaviour, such as havens for drugs and alcohol

Very few people actually travel from Middlesbrough and surrounding areas to visit Stockton High Street for things other than work. People who are shopping either use Tees-side Park or stay in their own town. There is a net outgoing of money from Stockton High Street to Middlesbrough and Tees-side Park.

Finally, think of the positive publicity for Stockton-on-Tees and Stockton council and Stockton mental health services. This scheme should attract very positive reaction from local and national media, television, radio and papers.

From my own observations, Stockton-on-Tees is rarely, if ever, reported in a very good light. Ashley Banjo, because people from Stockton are fat, the Stockton Christmas tree in the Daily Hate (Mail), Benefit Street, although showed Stockton-on-Tees in a pretty poor light.

The possibility of positive publicity for Stockton-on-Tees could have huge benefits from the town, the High street, the town centre, in terms of attitude and the benefits to the local economy should not be under-estimated.

Summary and Conclusion of the benefits to the local community of Cobalt Studios

So in brief Cobalt Studios will;

  • Use up one empty unit from the near forty empty units in Stockton High Street or wherever the main unit is based
  • Possibility of money actually coming into Stockton High Street from Middlesbrough and Hartlepool and surrounding towns.
  • Challenge stigma around mental health
  • Allow people to access mental health by a gentle first step
  • More social inclusion for the people using the studio space
  • It is easier to start a conversation about art and move into the area of mental health than start with, and dive into, the awkward topic of mental health.
  • Work experience for people with mental health issues
  • Reducing the pressure on local NHS services by improving the lives of people with mental health issues
  • Reduction in suicide rates
  • The positive publicity for such an initiative on the town
  • Reducing the risk of vandalism and anti-social behaviour by having an empty building used.