The Irish Hospice Foundation has collaborated with artists around the country to set up creative spaces for those struggling with loss during the pandemic.

Now a venue in Galway is running a weekly drop-in centre over the coming months to allow people explore their feelings in a safe environment.

Nestling on Druid Lane in Galway City, there is a new restaurant called Ean. Every Monday, the space is transformed into The Grief Cafe.

People come to chat, to draw, to listen to poetry, exploring overwhelm and sadness in a gentle, creative way.

Johanne Webb is one of seven artists across the country working with the Irish Hospice Foundation.

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"Loss is something very close to my mind and heart. I lost my mother when I was ten, I lost my best friend before she turned 20.

"The pandemic saw me lose all my work and become very ill. During this time my local community rallied around and I started to think about creating a healing space where people could come to share their deepest feelings of grief and loss. Sometimes we carry around this severe sense of grief and we've nowhere to put it.

"People can come in, sit quietly and read, have a chat and a cup of tea, write some poetry or draw. Some drop by for 20 minutes, some come and stay for a couple of hours. There's space here to sit and listen to podcasts, read and write and draw.

"It’s a unique position to be without an agenda except to provide a creative space for people to express themselves. We’ve seen how much people have turned to the arts over the last two years for understanding, for meaning, so I’m delighted to be able to offer this space as part of the overall project.

"We had one woman in her late 70s who came along on the first Monday we opened. She hadn’t spoken to someone without a mask in 18 months so that normal human contact has been a huge loss."

The Grief Cafe has helped people like Adedotun Adekeye, who is bringing up his two boys alone after his wife died a number of years ago.

"One of the things I found really interesting about this space is that for someone who is grieving, you don’t want to go out into the world but at the same time you need to escape your own bubble, your own house, your own loneliness. There’s a big shift in your feelings and mental outlook when you come into the Grief Cafe.

"I don’t think we ever overcome grief. We only learn how to live with it and in place like this you meet people who may have been on the journey longer than you or are just starting the whole grieving process. We can talk to one another and that support really helps.

"It doesn’t matter whether it’s the loss of a child, a parent, a spouse or a friend it really helps to come together and interact in a safe space like this. You give one another mutual support and understanding."

Glenna Gerstenkorn is one of the support workers at the Grief Cafe

"People often aren’t used to having places to grieve and the pandemic has highlighted the need for connection more than ever. This a really valuable space for those experiencing losses. It’s a beautiful, warm welcoming space and I would encourage anyone to drop by.

"We’ve all gone through grief in some way. I’ve lost a few friends over the last few years and what’s really helped is being able to have a cry, a chat, remember the people gone in a space like the Grief Cafe. It’s somewhere to sit and listen. That’s so important to cultivate, being there to listen to one another."

The Irish Hospice Foundation says that during the toughest of times the arts can comfort people and help them make sense of loss.

Dominic Campbell is Arts and Cultural Engagement Officer with the IHF. He has helped develop a Compassionate Culture Network with seven artist-facilitators and support workers across Ireland.

The aim is to invite local communities to explore loss as "un-lockdown" happens and to set up spaces where people can talk openly about loss.

The artists link in to local supports like bereavement networks, HSE, families and friends.

Projects are running until the end of January 2022.

"There are so many different stories and what’s unique about the pandemic is that everyone has been affected. It’s going to take time to heal as we learn to live with the virus.

"We’re also going to have to learn to live with the losses and these seven projects across the country are 'little tiny touch points' to comfort people and for those whose grief is more complicated we can help direct them to different sorts of support."

Details of all the projects taking place across the country can be found on the Irish Hospice Foundation website.