Bringing new senses to the world of art

Can you help JYL with her pioneering work at the famous centre for the blind in Norwich?

Even her name is unconventional.

'It's J-Y-L. Not Jill or Gill. I changed it when I was 13, just to be different, and it's sort of stuck,' says Jyl Bailey.

After years of introducing first the homeless and wayward teenagers and then Norwich prison inmates to the world of art, Jyl, 46, has taken on a new challenge.

She is now running arts and crafts classes for blind and partially sighted people at the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind's (NNAB) city headquarters.

And is a challenge which the former punk relishes. She's become a rebel with a very definite cause.

'Working with blind and visually impaired people means scrapping the accepted definitions of what art is all about, and looking at how our other senses can compensate and be stimulated,' she says

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'Feel. Smell. Sound. Even taste can provide new sensations that allow blind and sighted people alike to share an experience and give them a whole new way of appreciating art.'

Jyl, who graduated from the then Norwich School of Art with a degree in Visual Studies in 2000, has ambitious plans to expand the established arts and crafts programme at NNAB – but she needs help.

Her aim is to stage an exhibition by visually impaired artists, showcasing their talents and opening the eyes of sighted people to what people who can't see too well can achieve.

But she needs the basics to make the vision come true and is appealing for people to donate unwanted art materials to open up new horizons for the group's work.

She also wants to expand into a second class to run alongside the regular Thursday workshops at the NNAB's Bradbury Activity Centre in Magpie Road.

Paint, brushes, card, textured paper, clay, textiles and lots of other key art world ingredients are on her shopping list.

The group has majored on basketry and stool making for as long as anyone can remember, but Jyl's plan is to develop other tactile media to stretch and inspire her students.

'My long term goal is to include ceramics in our programme because clay is a fantastic medium for the visually impaired,' says Jyl. 'To create with it, it needs working and pummelling which is a great way to relieve stress. Then it needs careful attention to detail, which can be soothing and relaxing.'

Mother of one, Jyl, who lives in Norwich, believes everyone, including people with sight loss, can get a real buzz out of art and has long specialised in connecting with the hard to reach.

'I've always been interested in arts and crafts as therapy and began delivering it over 20 years ago in a hostel for the homeless.

'My degree and teaching qualification gave me the opportunity to teach at the prison and lead young offenders through art qualifications, learn new skills, discover old skills they didn't know they had, and get a kick from something positive,' says Jyl. And she explains: 'Working with visually impaired is giving me a whole new art vocabulary. For blind students wishing to use colour, for example, I describe it using weight, temperature and smell. Red would be hot, whereas green could be associated with the smell of cut grass or something cool to touch.;'

Jyl exudes enthusiasm as she talks about her new job.

'For many visually impaired people who are going through the gradual loss of vision, and experiencing the fear and depression that accompanies it, creativity is often about realising what they can do instead of what they can't.

'It can have enormous benefit to their confidence and feelings about their future – and no amount of money can buy that,' she added.

If you can donate any art materials please contact Jyl on 01603 629558 or email