Arts, Health and Wellbeing

Arts, Health and Wellbeing Event [February 6th]
By Creative Producer Vivienne Reiss.
Photo credits: Lucy Springall.

Health Foundry hosted an event in conjunction with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity (GSTC) and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) Arts in order to address the following: 

How do we work together to improve health and wellbeing of local communities in Southwark and Lambeth through the arts?

There are many opportunities for arts and cultural interventions to form part of the offering to people to improve their health and wellbeing: from clinical based arts programmes and therapies; to arts initiatives engaging people physically and mentally, fostering relationships, improving social inclusion and promoting recovery; to transforming health settings and environments; to building stronger communities through cultural and heritage venues.

Over 50 cross-sector representatives from local cultural organisations, health and care practitioners and commissioners with a commitment to arts and health took part in the event that explored the opportunities and challenges facing local arts and health initiatives.

The event was introduced by David Renton, Head of Funding and Development at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity who talked about the work of the Charity to bring about improvement in health and wellbeing in Lambeth & Southwark. David commented on the potential for the arts and digital communities to learn from each other.

Jane Nash and Dan Milne from Narativ introduced a context of storytelling for the evening. Describing people as ‘being hard-wired for stories’, they used an activity to get participants involved in exchanging tales. A challenge was offered: keep noting how reciprocal the relationship is between listening and telling – and use this to make the most of all the exchanges during the evening (and beyond).

Alex Coulter, Director of Arts & Health South West set the scene and encouraged participants to view their work as part of a rich patchwork attracting increasing amounts of attention at a time when the need for a re-formulation of health and health services is becoming widely recognised. She talked about a number of initiatives including the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing where collective, often cross-cutting, work is delivering significant outcomes. She showed us an alternative view of the health care system that places people at the centre of their care.

Then we heard about some inspiring nationally renowned work taking place in Southwark and Lambeth. A series of short presentations addressed the following question:

How do we involve people and contribute to the development of healthy communities and places?

Suzy Wilson presented Clod Ensemble’s Performing Medicine programme using arts methodology in the training of health professionals. She introduced the ‘circle of care’ framework describing a multi-directional flow of care between healthcare professionals and their colleagues, patients and carers. Crucially, healthcare professionals must also care for themselves. Helen Shearn gave an overview of the work of SLaM The Recovery College where 'co-production' underpins all course development, delivery and team operations. Teachers and trainers with lived experience of mental ill health or distress work collaboratively with clinicians to plan and deliver workshops that combine clinical and personal perspectives and narratives.  Helen also talked about arts therapies - treatment with a sound evidence base powerful in the way it very consciously harnesses the arts. Arts therapies enable people to realise their creative potential as well as a sense of self and belonging. Health Foundry member, Hannah Chamberlain, described her video app Mental Snapp that enables mental health service users to tell their own stories through video diaries. It is people-driven, using the expertise of the mental health community. Another member Lucinda Jarrett talked about Stroke Odysseys an innovative music and movement project for stroke survivors and their carers where stroke ambassadors are developing leadership of a programme that gives voice to this community. She is interested in how small communities forged on hospital wards might become connected through digital means.

The next session addressed the core challenge of embedding arts-led provision into the health system, with presentations responding to the question:

How do we create Sustainability?

Yvonne Farquharson spoke about how the arts provide methodologies to address specific health needs – for example, Breathe Magic for young people with hemiplegia. All their work is backed up by science and they have received a raft of prestigious awards. However, it is a continual struggle to attract mainstream funding. Carly Annable-Coop talked about the Alchemy Project a pioneering and intensive model of dance intervention, working with young adults accessing Early Intervention in Psychosis Services. To date, three cohorts have demonstrated clinically significant improvements in wellbeing as a result of being engaged in the dance-led intervention. As with Breathe, a story that might be expected to have more success in becoming mainstream practice continues as ‘a rocky road’ with uncertainty about the future ahead. Commissioners see arts-based interventions as a complementary add-on. She asked - how can we shift the system, so that commissioners view the arts differently? David Savill echoed what the previous two presenters had said, he talked about RADIQL another project backed by sound evidence and demonstration of positive clinical outcomes – but coming up against barriers in mainstreaming this work. He also raised the challenge of sustaining learning as well as the intervention itself. All the projects are looking to mixed methods of funding as a way of creating sustainability.

James Plunket, from the Social Investment Group gave an overview of the key issues including budget cuts, increasing demands on services, fragmented infrastructure and the importance of evaluation. He reminded us that all the organisations represented at the event are building intellectual capital, and encouraged arts and health providers to work in collaboration and greater dialogue with funders, commissioners and beneficiaries.

The meeting was left with the following questions:


The event was a call for action to establish an arts-based cross-sector working group to effect culture change in health and care in Southwark and Lambeth.

A follow up workshop will take place on March 16th 3-6pm at the Health Foundry. Please email Viv Reiss if you would like to attend.

Comments from participants…

"Enjoyable and inspiring. Obviously I left with my head whirring with possibilities and solutions!!"
"I found it a really inspiring place to springboard from, and I’m sure others felt the same. I’ve already had one follow up email from someone I didn’t actually speak to at the event and a whole load of contacts that I can go on to make."
"A really positive gathering with intent to become a group and do more than just talk about shared problems and frustrations."
"Thank you so much for a fascinating evening of provocations and discussion. Such a joy to be in a room with so many passionate and interested people."
"I can’t wait to see what else comes from Health Foundry!"