Day in the Life: Ali Bird

Self portrait in gouache and fine liner- Ali Bird
Self Portrait, Ali Bird

What have you been doing today?

Today I have been working on a whimsical cubist self-portrait in preparation for my Thursday Art Class which I have been running on Zoom for a few weeks. It’s done with gouache and fine liner- I try to keep to simple materials which are easily available. They are a small group of 4-7 adults ranging from 20’s -50’s and I really enjoy the sessions. I’ve been involving them in choosing what we do although generally they seem happy to have a go at anything I suggest.

I have also made a couple of short instructional videos for the children’s Art group as I have found this the best way to communicate skills via Zoom. We are doing a 4 week series on landscapes and this coming session is the last one. They have been sharing their work with the community via a Facebook Group and are really enthusiastic.

I’ve made a vege lasagne as I’m having guests for lunch in the garden tomorrow. My guests are two Italians and we are all volunteers with DePaul UK which supports young people at risk of homelessness. When I’m able to I am planning to run art groups for them which I am very much looking forward to.


Is that a typical day for you?

When lockdown started, I was in a place of exploring new work/volunteering options, having chosen to relocate from Chester to Sheffield and leave my job of 12 years at Ancora House-the Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatient Service at The Countess of Chester Hospital. I had begun to explore a variety of roles including running drop-in Art Groups for the Refugee Council and leading singalongs with my ukulele at a couple of local Dementia Cafes. I was running Art classes from home coupled with workshops at a local Adventure Playground which serves a deprived area of Sheffield where I live. Much of this had to stop abruptly but I was able to run my Art classes on Zoom. I’ve got to grips with Garage Band and recorded 4-part harmony songs for online singalongs too. I’ve never been so technically competent as I am now.


When did you start working with culture, health and wellbeing, and how?

I started my working life as a mainstream Art Teacher, but 10 years in found myself with the opportunity of working in a psychiatric inpatient setting. I had no experience of working with mental health but had a fantastic team of colleagues and we all learnt on the job. I found the gentle and nurturing nature of the work suited me as I value relationship and am a natural connector. It was a new role which I was able to make my own. Working alongside NHS colleagues was enlightening, and it was a time of rich learning for which I am deeply grateful. The job taught me so much about myself and the possibilities for using Art therapeutically. It instilled in me a desire to take the skills and knowledge I had acquired and use them more widely. This is what I love to do-to encourage people to discover their creativity and the benefits to wellbeing that accompany it.


What was the last project you came across that inspired you?

I love the challenge of new ventures and have had a few in the past months since I relocated. DePaul UK have inspired me as an organisation that has a great willingness to embrace new ideas. Their cohort are young people facing immense challenges on many levels and their passion and commitment to support, empower and encourage resonates with mine.



Ali has lived in 18 homes (including 2 years in a caravan) and 8 counties. Based in Sheffield since Summer 2019 she has decided to stay put, drawn by the attractions of family, the breadth of opportunities in Arts and Health, the diversity and wealth of green spaces.

She studied Sculpture at Art College and describes herself as a Jack of all trades.

Ali was not a great success at Art at either school or Art College. Her failures have enabled her to be a better teacher.

She has taught Art to ages 8-80 in a variety of settings and especially loves working with young people who face challenges.

Ali taught herself ukulele 2 years ago and enjoys making up vocal harmonies. 

‘Getting teenagers to sing in the psychiatric unit was worth the feelings of fear and exposure. Abba’s ‘I have a Dream’ was surprisingly moving!

 I’m an optimist-I’d like to think my cup isn’t so much half full as overflowing…’

She is currently working freelance as an Art Teacher.