AN ASPIRING artist who fought back from chronic illness to achieve top exam grades and a place at university wants her use her art skills to boost the health and wellbeing of others.

Inspired by her work volunteering among North-East children with profound learning difficulties, and by her mother’s career as a mental health nurse, Ruby Leigh hopes to use her artistic talents in the field of art therapy.

It is a concept the teenager, from Newcastle, intends to explore as she embarks on a three-year Fine Arts degree at the University of the Arts London (UAL) Chelsea College.

Ruby said: “Art is so expressive and it gives a voice to those who struggle with words; it allows people to communicate and show emotion in such a positive and therapeutic way.”

Having suffered from chronic fatigue, also known as ME, and chronic regional pain syndrome in her early teens, Ruby knows first-hand the benefits of art to mental wellbeing and health.

In Year 9, following a bout of glandular fever, the Dame Allan’s School student was housebound and on crutches for significant periods of time and the illness forced her to limit the number of GCSEs she took to six.

Yet, when Ruby moved into the sixth form of the Newcastle independent school, she was encouraged to take three A-Levels and excelled in art. In August, she achieved an A* in the subject, as well as an A in Drama and B in English Literature.

During her studies, Ruby volunteered at Hadrian School, in Newcastle, supporting primary-age children with a range of complex and multiple learning disabilities. It was arranged through Dame Allan’s community service placement programme.

Ruby’s work there helped pique her interest in art therapy, which is an established form of psychotherapy that uses artwork as a powerful tool to understand emotions, develop social skills, improve confidence, manage addictions, reduce anxiety and improve mental health.

Ruby said: “It can be almost impossible to fully understand what someone else is going through, especially when they can’t verbalise their struggles, but I do know what it is like to be able to express yourself through art. I’ve always been interested in art therapy as a way of helping others.”

Her mum, Julie Leigh, is also a keen artist and a retired mental health nurse, while mum Ali Smith is a doctor. Their work in the field of medicine and a combined love of art has also inspired Ruby.

“I’m fortunate that art has been such a huge part of my life and my creativity has always been encouraged by my two mums and throughout my schooling,” Ruby added.

Dame Allan’s is investing in its arts department at its site in Fenham, with work underway to create new classrooms and a central exhibition space for showcase events. Students are given the opportunity to explore areas such as printmaking, sculpture and casting, as well as the more traditional disciplines of drawing and painting.

Principal Will Scott said: “Dame Allan’s has nurtured some incredible art talent over the years, and Ruby Leigh is no exception. Her recovery from illness, and hard work, reflect the strength she possesses to make a success of her future.”