Art scheme aims to draw older people out of isolation

Talented Iain Johnston (73) has spent a lifetime at the easel.  His work, which ranges from depictions of the American Civil war to comic book illustrations, has been published in a wide range of magazines – including many science fiction and UFO journals over the decades.

Outreach Artist Iain Johnston

Outreach Artist Iain Johnston is set to use the power of painting to help older people beat isolation.

But now the down-to-earth grandfather-of-six is joining the effort to help meet the challenges of an ageing population – at grass roots level. He’ll be the front man of a pilot outreach art scheme, which will initially run in Airdrie from the autumn.

Although it’s open to all over 65s in the area, a key aim is to involve older people who are at risk of becoming cut off from their community.

Iain is set to teach and encourage his trademark form of expressive painting. But he has the bigger picture in mind.

“I’ve been drawing since childhood after taking inspiration my Uncle William (Johnston), a newspaper cartoonist whose work appeared under the pen name Carmichael in the 1940 and 50s.

“Like him, I really encourage expression, but it’s not just about drawing and painting,” said Iain. “This is about bringing people together and art really is the glue that bonds them.”

Iain worked as a studio assistant at Bradford Art College in the 90s before returning home to Airdrie and plying his creative trade on a freelance basis.

VoEF discovered Iain’s talents after he’d participated in an innovative arts project “We’ve Come Along Way”  (which was part funded by Age Scotland and North Lanarkshire Council)  earlier this year. Developed by the  Voice of Experience Forum (VoEF), an independent organisation working throughout North Lanarkshire, the project aimed to involve older isolated people in art classes. These used a variety of painting and drawing styles, using a different materials and involving a number of different themes including “ aging in a positive context”, “challenging aging stereotypes”, “social inclusion of older people” and “contribution of older people to community and society”.

A key aim of  Reshaping Care for Older People (RCOP) is to provide more help and support to enable the growing numbers of older people to remain at home and feel involved in their community.

Older people themselves are also key to the collaborative approach and ever-dynamic Iain is only too happy lend his help. Iain, who is also a current member of Paisley-based writer’s group Men with Pens, added: “I can read a story and illustrate it so I’ll be encouraging that free association in the group.

“Projects like this act as an instant ice breaker between people who’ve never met before. They can also go a long way to beating the isolation trap many older people can find themselves in when loved ones pass away and circumstances change.”

Sandra Renicks of VoEF explained that Iain’s art classes will start with ten taster sessions at various community groups that already meet throughout the Airdrie area. Older people in the area, especially those living alone, are encouraged to visit.

The hope is to roll out the pilot scheme throughout North Lanarkshire – because Sandra has also witnessed the power of painting first hand.

“This project comes after a similar scheme earlier this year run by North Lanarkshire Council, in conjunction with ourselves, called Come a Long Way,” she explained.

“The project encouraged older people to paint significant events and people in their lives. It wasn’t just an emotional release but we found those involved would share their memories during the process – creating instant bonds with each other.

“Painting is a fantastic way of uniting people. That’s key to helping older people who may be living alone reconnect with those around them.”

Sandra Mackay, Programme Manager for RCOP in North Lanarkshire said: “A key aim of the RCOP programme is to strengthen local communities and this project is an excellent example of that process in action.”

For more information on the art programme contact VoEF on 01236 758855 or email

2 thoughts on “Art scheme aims to draw older people out of isolation

  1. Pingback: The Story | truemerven

  2. Feeling part of the community and social interaction is very important as you get older. It is nice to read about a scheme that is actively encouraging people to get involved in such a creative way.

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