Student Activities

Football star's mum shows a great touch

Sunderland and Wales midfielder David Vaughan may be an artist on the football field but when it comes to neat, colourful touches he still has a lot to learn from his mother.

For Alwena Vaughan is displaying a talent which she didn’t know she possessed, thanks to an ambitious project at Glan Clwyd Hospital, in Bodelwyddan.

Alwena, 52, from Abergele, is among patients attending the renal and diabetes unit who relax by painting, under the guidance of artist-in-residence Jan Gardner.

The pioneering project was launched by Coleg Harlech WEA to offer opportunities to people who would not otherwise find it easy to access courses, and the scheme was set up in conjunction with the active Friends of the Renal Unit.

The project has sparked a great deal of interest from health experts across the UK who would like to copy the idea.

Coleg Harlech WEA Principal Trefor Owen is a strong supporter of the project.

He said: "A project like this is enormously valuable and we are delighted that it is helping people to find the artistic talent within themselves.

"Our aim at Coleg Harlech WEA is to help people achieve their potential in a fulfilling way and the art project is perfect in that respect.

"It comes as no surprise to me that the idea has generated interest and that others are now hoping to replicate our success."

Alwena's son David, a former pupil of Ysgol y Creuddyn, moved to Sunderland this summer after being one of the stars of Blackpool’s single season in the Premiership last year. The midfielder, who began his career with Crewe, also shone in Wales’s recent World Cup qualifying game in Wembley which they won 1-0.

She was in her early 30s when she first developed kidney problems and she underwent transplants in 1986 and 1993, both of which proved unsuccessful.

She has been receiving dialysis at Glan Clwyd for 18 years, attending three mornings a week for three-and-a-half hours each time.

She used to spend most of her time while on dialysis reading or listening to the radio until Jan, who attends the unit every Wednesday, persuaded her to have a go at painting.

“I said I couldn’t draw but she talked me into it,” said Alwena, who works part-time at the Asda store in Kinmel Bay.

With Jan on hand to offer tips and suggestions, she has taken to the new pastime, and enjoys experimenting with various media such as watercolours, acrylics and crayons.

“I have surprised myself because I had never done anything like this before,” she said. “Jan never tells us what we have to do but is always on hand to help and advise.”

She particularly enjoys painting still life, and examples of her work can currently be seen in an exhibition of patients’ paintings at Colwyn Bay library ((until the end of October)). Other pieces have been featured in the annual calendar produced by the Friends of the Renal Unit.


Jan, an award-winning artist from Conwy who has worked with a variety of groups in the past, said she derived great pleasure and satisfaction from her work in the unit.

She was recruited by Betty Mason, Coleg Harlech’s WEA Learning Manager, based in Colwyn Bay, and enthusiasm soon convinced patients, some of whom have been attending the unit three times a week for many years, that they should have a go.


Jan said: “It’s great to see their interest in art being kindled and to try to inspire them.

“I welcome the opportunity to come here because it keeps me grounded, away from my main work as an artist,” she added.

“It has been my privilege to have been given the opportunity in the beginning and the ongoing support and enthusiasm from Coleg Harlech has ensured that the project has developed each year.

“I am passionate about my own artwork which celebrates life, and I hope this joy spills over into other lives

“The unique relationship between the medical renal unit and myself as an artist has been life-affirming,” she added.

In June Jan and the unit’s transplant nurse Dawn Oliver were invited to address the annual conference of the British Renal Society in Birmingham on the therapeutic project.

Talks are currently taking place over establishing links with former patients of the Glan Clwyd unit who could receive support to continue painting at home, and Jan is also involved in trying to replicate the scheme in a Hull hospital.

Vice-chairman of the Friends of the Renal Unit is Don Webster of Rhyl, who has been a dialysis patient for 34 years. He says the weekly art classes are appreciated by the patients who benefit from Jan’s enthusiasm and talent.

The 64-year-old occasionally joins in himself, choosing to sketch instead of paint.

“I find it very relaxing,” he said.

The Friends’ group is extremely active, constantly organizing fundraising events and outings. On October 16 a concert is being held at the Kinmel Manor Hotel, Abergele, featuring some of the hospital staff, and the backdrop to the stage will consist of paintings made by the patients.

Dr Aled Lewis, consultant nephrologist, commented: “Integrating art into medicine is very important as dialysis treatment means a lot of time in hospital and it’s very important to fill this time with positive things.

“The art and drawing lessons help our patients to fill this time, and not only improve their art skills but also their self-esteem.

"We are very proud of the patients’ skills and also if the help we have received from Jan Gardner and the Friends of the Renal Unit,” he added.