Beneath a grand white moulded ceiling, amid wood-panelled walls, a dozen people sit around a large table, working. The atmosphere is of calm industry. A few words are exchanged but mostly each person is concentrating on selecting images from a sprawling pile of newspapers and magazines, cutting them out and carefully forming them into a collage. Suddenly the quiet is broken as Eddie bursts into song: "I don't want to run away". Opposite him, Stuart smiles. Others glance up briefly. Eddie finishes the verse and returns to his work.
This is the Royal Academy's community art club for homeless people in Piccadilly, central London. The RA has trained some of Britain's finest artists and since 1769 its galleries have hosted the summer exhibition, the largest open submission exhibition in the world.
All the attendees of the art club are living on the streets, or are in hostels or recently rehoused. Most of them also have mental health problems or addictions. The club is held for half a day each month and as it celebrates its first birthday it has earned a special place in the hearts of Royal Academy staff, key workers from the participating homeless charities and attendees, as well as bringing significant gains to some of its users.
The club is run by two members of the RA's learning department, Becky Jelly and Anna Nunhofer, both artists themselves. Each session starts with a walk around an RA exhibition, on this occasion the late actor Dennis Hopper's photography. Stuart, a large man in sleeveless T-shirt and baseball cap who sleeps rough, is interested in the photos of John Wayne and recognises the film set he is pictured on. Jelly picks out images of the 1960s civil rights movement – which leads to a brief discussion of its legacy – and an image of a car mirror reflecting the artist taking the photo. She later produces her own sketchbook which includes a striking drawing of an eye with a tiny image of herself and a window reflected in the pupil.
Some of the people who come to the club have long had an interest in art and a few are even able to make art in the art room at Connection at St Martin's, a centre for homeless people just off Trafalgar Square. Others however, have never done anything like this before. "I work a lot with clients from African war zones," says Pippa Brown, a keyworker from homeless charity, St Mungo's Broadway, "and for some of them this is the first time they had ever done anything [purely] recreational".
"Some of our people are quite insular," she continues, "Here they can be quiet in company ... and it takes them outside their usual world."
Eddie proposes a round of applause for Jelly and Nunhofer which is enthusiastically given. The next art club will be visiting the summer exhibition. Maybe next year, they will have some artworks in it.
• Some art club participants did not want their surnames used