The Halpern Charitable Foundation was founded in 2002, achieving charitable status in March 2003. It was set up initially to meet three particular aims – to provide affordable space for artists to work and exhibit in Medway; to help people with mental and/or physical illness/disability; and as a backstop for the Chatham Memorial Synagogue, should it ever be in real financial difficulty with no other avenue left.
Since then the Foundation has refined and expanded its ideas. We realised that in addition to providing studio and exhibiting space at affordable prices to artists, we needed to help break down the barriers some of the public felt in accessing contemporary arts. We realised that there were a lot of people not being included within the local community and we have found that using the arts to enable these groups is tremendously effective.
In effect, we use the Arts to improve Health and Wellbeing, and to facilitate social and physical regeneration.
Through this we have helped many people including Kent association for the Blind, Pathways (who provide services to people with mental health issues), Kent Autistic Trust, the elderly, groups of people with head injuries who have found Nucleus Arts very stimulating, Art for Life (a Rochester-based group for people with mental disabilities); we have worked with the Youth Protection team and others to help kids at risk of offending; we are currently looking at working with various ethnic groups to see how we can help them in the same manner.
The Foundation has helped other groups too: we have acted as a catalyst elsewhere, giving advice from our experiences (good and bad) to other groups wanting to set up arts services in their areas. Several other art centres have been set up in other parts of the country based on our model.
We have worked with Local Authorities to initiate and improve their regeneration and cultural plans.
Whilst we could give a donation to a single person in need, it is within our sights to make that donation to a group that really needs our catalytic help, for example buying a property to convert into a safe haven for people with mental health problems. We have had experience of converting properties into medium term hostels for people with mental illness in Rochester and Chatham, and we have completed the property at 114, Maidstone Road, Chatham; this provides a real home (in some the cases the first one they have had) for 10 people.
We appreciate that it may seem that our three objects are disparate, and it is true that there is no immediate link between the Synagogue and our other objects. However there is a clear link between the provision of Arts and the relief of mental illness and mental and physical disability. Workshops are available to such people on request; indeed artists and exhibitors give one-to-one workshops for people with disabilities. We hope to continue working on these links, expanding so that we can help as many different groups as possible; aiming for a truly inclusive society.