Health & Wellbeing Forum Event Report

This November, the forum convened our working group on Arts Health and Wellbeing in Stoke-On-Trent at The New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme. We were delighted to hear from a range of voices who came together to share understanding of the collaborative role universities and cultural organisations in regard to the topic. The aim of the event was to look at how universities and arts organisations can work together improve the quality of research and evaluation of the impact of arts activity on health and wellbeing and the impact that arts activity can have on the health and wellbeing of university students.

Informed by the recent All-Party Parliamentary report on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (2015–17); an inquiry into practice and research in the arts in health and social care, with a view to making recommendations to improve policy and practice, Mark Done of Arts Council England, Midlands opened the event with positing the question "What do universities and cultural organisations think we should be doing to make Health & Wellbeing a priority?" Speaking firstly from a national perspective, Mark touched upon the APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry Report and highlighted recommendations including:

  • Integrating health and wellbeing into ACE 10-year strategy
  • Social prescribing
  • Education of health professionals
  • Inter-disciplinary research funding initiative
  • AHRC Centre for Cultural Value
  • Government’s Loneliness Strategy

From an Arts Council England Perspective, Mark told the assembled group about how funding via ACE provides support for Arts Health and Wellbeing initiatives:

  • In 2018-22, 118 National Portfolio Organisations with a focus on arts, health and wellbeing
  • Sector Support Organisation: Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance
  • In 2017/18, ACE invested £7.33m in 326 Grants for the Arts projects which addressed health and wellbeing
  • ACE 10-Year Strategy consultation
  • Role of museums and libraries
  • ACE Health/ Wellbeing/ Criminal Justice Champions network

Jill Rezzano of the New Vic opened her remarks with an account of the collaborative project the theatre has with Keele University. The 'Ages and Stages 'programme explored the impact of theatre on ideas about, and the experience of, ageing. Their 12 month ‘follow-on’ project - ‘translating research into practice’ - involves: establishing an intergenerational theatre company; devising and touring a new performance piece; developing and delivering an inter-professional training course; and scoping out the potential for a Creative Age Festival with partners. The project comprised over 100 interviews and associated ephemera to create ongoing work with peer groups and audiences, eventually going on to develop the Live Age Festival in Stoke on Trent.

"Sometimes you might need a 'thinking soulmate', a counterpart in universities or the cultural sector."

Jill Rezzano from New Vic Theatre, Stoke

Next, the group heard about the Singing Medicine project and its involvement with Birmingham City University and Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Reader in Interdisciplinary Practice and Research. Speaking (and singing!) alongside Rebecca Ledgard, Director of Education at Ex Cathedra we heard about how the project has been bringing the benefits of singing play to children in hospital since 2004.

"Singing play helps build identity and decision making where that is taken away in hospitals"

Rebecca Ledgard, Ex Cathedra

"There is a need for impactful and transformative research to attract further funding... Research should enrich society and be publishable."

Carolyn Blackburn, BCU

To conclude, we heard from Michaela Butter MBE, Director of Attenborough Arts in Leicester and member of the University Arts Centre Network, UCAN on Health & Wellbeing in Universities. Michaela talked about the critical role arts can play in supporting the mental health of students; 'Building Better Doctors' and working with Research Departments to develop innovative evaluation. She highlighted situations which impact upon student wellbeing:

  • Separation from family and existing friends
  • Moving to a new area or country
  • Experiencing different cultures for the first time
  • Communicating in a language in which the student is not fluent
  • Meeting unfamiliar modes of learning, teaching and assessments and unfamiliar professional requirements
  • Managing changed financial circumstances, including living on a greatly reduced income/ taking out loans for the first time
  • Balancing study with being a parent or carer, or part-time or full time employment
  • Managing the transition from home to university life
  • Making the transition from home to university local health providers and support services

Michaela also shared with us the key shared interests of members within the UCAN Network:

  • Placemaking and community engagement
  • Health & Wellbeing issues
  • Brokering inter-disciplinary collaborations
  • Student engagement
  • Reasearch Impact
  • Talent Development
  • Fostering risk taking