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The ‘Distressed Artist’ who wants to enable people with mental health issues, criminal pasts and disabilities to come work for her

PUBLISHED: 12:44 07 December 2018

Bon Collins and Jemma Hardy Picture: JEMMA HARDY

Bon Collins and Jemma Hardy Picture: JEMMA HARDY

Archant

A Suffolk artist has launched a £150,000 fundraising drive to create jobs for those with disabilities, criminal pasts and mental health issues who are struggling to find employment.

Bon Colliins, the Distressed ArtistBon Colliins, the Distressed Artist

Bon Collins, also known as The Distressed Artist, has set up a Kickstarter page to establish a social enterprise from her studio in Bredfield where she would provide “meaningful work” for the downtrodden.

The 40-year-old said: “Having previously worked around advocacy and human rights, I have met a lot of people who should be employed and aren’t.

“If they have a physical disability, employers immediately see too many barriers. Or they may have committed a crime, done their time and now want a changed life. They may have struggled with the school system and therefore don’t have a conventional education behind them.

“Where employers only see the negatives in these individuals, I see people with a lot to give. I see people who have fought hard and would make fantastic employees because they face adversity every day. They problem solve better than anyone I know because that’s what life has always been like for them.”

Jemma Hardy. Picture: Jemma HardyJemma Hardy. Picture: Jemma Hardy

Ms Collins knows all too well what it is like to overcome mental and physical challenges, as she was had an accident in 2009 which triggered her immune system to attack her body, and she ended up in a wheelchair.

Ms Collins was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, sparked by memories of a childhood trauma, and took up art as a way to relax. “Through these experiences, I learnt what it’s like to be in a wheelchair and also how people view those with disabilities and mental health issues,” she explained.

“Having clear goals helped me to get through tough times - It takes the right support network. I wanted to be able to support people through the bad times as well as the good.”

Should Ms Collins reach her fundraising target by 4pm this afternoon, she will set up a small manufacturing business which will hopefully grow over time. The new employees would learn how to create items like homeware, gifts, stationery and clothing, based on The Distressed Artist designs.

Just some of Bon's pieces Picture: BON COLLINSJust some of Bon's pieces Picture: BON COLLINS

She explained: “I design clothing, and a few of my designs I have to send out to Latvia to get made at the moment. With funding, I could get the right equipment and we could make these items here in Suffolk. It would create further opportunities for growth as lots of roles would be needed.

“I want to reach out to people with fluctuating mental health and help them to find their passion, because often that gets missed and they’re caught in a vicious cycle.”

Ms Collins has contacted an emotional and performance coach, who would be on hand for those employees having a tough time or confidence issues.

“It’s not just tokenistic, it’s got to be meaningful and I want this to be part of Suffolk life 50 years from now,” she added.

The Distressed Artist cards Picture: leahantenphotography.co.ukThe Distressed Artist cards Picture: leahantenphotography.co.uk

One of the first people that Ms Collins would like to employ is Jemma Hardy, a 33 year old from Newmarket who lives with cerebral palsy and has been unable to find work recently, despite being “phenomenal with social media” according to Ms Collins.

Ms Hardy said: “Job hunting is so difficult when you have a physical disability, as most jobs require some physical work and most employers find it hard to look past a wheelchair.

“Also buildings and workplaces are not always accessible for wheelchairs.

“I have so much to offer with my life experiences and what I know! But I come up against Barriers that prevent me from doing this.”

Ms Hardy claims that although Job Centre Plus do have disability employment advisors, “their work load is always to capacity and they can’t take on any new clients, so even seeking advice is difficult”.

“But I am so passionate about disability not stopping me from doing anything I wish to achieve.”

If you would like to donate to the campaign, visit www.kickstarter.com and search for Bon Collins. There are various donation packages available. For example, if you contribute £1 you will receive a pencil sketch of one of Bon’s designs, or if you pledge £40 you will receive a The Distressed Artist t-shirt.

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