Richard Flatley

Richard Flatley 

I must admit before I moved to Sandwell, I thought it was a bit of a cultural desert. But once you scratch the surface, it's anything but. It’s a very rich environment, and in many ways, richer than Birmingham. There are three things that interested me the most: community, activism, and mental health. My cultural background is Irish so when I first arrived I went to volunteer at the Irish Community Association where I set up a Celtic art class and I ran that for a number of years.  I also volunteered for Rethink, the mental health charity, for 3 years.

I was determined to do something around community networking in Sandwell. Initially, I did this out of Creative Arts, which is a community arts centre for people with learning disabilities. They offered me space to be able to run it from their premises and thereafter it moved to West Bromwich town hall. We use the council chambers and pre-pandemic we were getting groups of up to 40 people coming along. Sandwell Networkers Group has now got over 500 members from the 3rd sector who joined through our Facebook page. It’s a good way of keeping what I call the finger on the pulse of what's going on in the community.

I love to see what people do in the community for the benefit of others. I get a great deal of satisfaction from that and it really helps me in terms of my health and well-being.

I'm now vice-chair of Sandwell Visually Impaired (SVI), a charity which does a great deal in Sandwell with a very meagre budget. They're very much on the front foot and do more art projects than nearly any other organisation that I know of.  I've done art projects with visually impaired people and they have often they've said to me that they always wanted to do art when they were at school, but they were told, “This is not you, you go to the music room” or something like that. And so we try to be inclusive, and I think that's very important. I try and give people a voice and I try and give them confidence in, you know, what they say and their achievements and for them to be able to recognise what they've done.

My mother was from Galway, my father was from Mayo, both from the West of Ireland, while my mother was a native speaker. Her first language was Gaelic whereas my father really had very few words of Irish. I went to Catholic school then on to Catholic Grammar School, St Philip’s, on the Hagley Road. I left Birmingham almost as soon as I could and moved to London in my late teens. After 14 years in London, I then moved to live on the south coast in Weymouth. I spent 30 years in the oil and gas business which was very lucrative, I worked offshore as well. I really enjoyed it.

I like getting things done. I gain satisfaction from it.  But it did come to an end. The industry was running down as well, and my father was ill and so I came back to Birmingham to be close to him and support him. And I was there until he died. I’m very happy to say that I was and grew to know him as well.

 I went to Bournville Art College. I’ve kept a love of art throughout my life. When I was in London, I went to Camden Art School. Visiting art galleries is one of my favourite pastimes.

I want to live in a fair and equitable society, I'm very sad that we left Europe. I see myself as a European. In three days I become 66, which is now the official retirement age for me. I'm looking for new challenges and so I’m going to French classes at the Brasshouse Institute with the intention of volunteering with a charity in France over the coming year. 

I am determined to make a difference, and fortunately, through my contacts in the community, I am in a position to affect change.  Now I am looking to help younger people. I see people with a lot of talent, but no confidence. I think, “you have so much to give, you're so bright and intelligent,  you just lack confidence.” It’s showing people what you see in them, getting to the place where people start seeing something in themselves that they never saw before. Then they start recognising themselves as this truly creative person who can make things happen and can do things. And when that happens, it’s remarkable. It's almost a miracle medicine, isn’t it?

It certainly gives me pleasure when I see the transformation in people in classes that I've run, or when I’ve managed to get exhibitions for people.

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