Features / Bristol creatives

‘The pandemic has shown how central creativity is to wellbeing’

By ellie pipe, Friday May 22, 2020

The arts and creativity are vital tools in ensuring the wellbeing of Bristol’s citizens, say those coordinating efforts to embed them as part of mainstream health plans.

For the last five years, cultural organisations and artists in the city have been working collaboratively with the health and social care sector in recognition that together, they play an important role in tackling many issues, especially around isolation and inequality.

They have been working with an academic at UWE Bristol to provide the evidence that ‘social prescribing’ of arts activities can significantly improve wellbeing of people experiencing anxiety and depression.

Like most organisations, Bristol Arts on Referral Alliance has had to adapt its work in response to the coronavirus crisis, but Lerato Dunn, an arts development officer at Bristol City Council, says the pandemic has highlighted how central arts and creativity are to peoples’ wellbeing.

Lerato adds: “Bristol City Council is committed to supporting the health and will continue to work with the health sector particularly around challenges of isolation and inequality.”

During national Creativity and Wellbeing Week, Bristol24/7 has partnered with the council’s arts development team to shine a light on creative projects that are working to support people through the pandemic and beyond.

Creative Shift, a small team of dedicated Arts on Referral practitioners have applied their creative skills to continue to provide on-going support connecting with people remotely in a way that works for them. This could include art packs delivered by post, Zoom sessions, one to one phone calls.

They have also produced creative resources that anyone can try at home.

Julie Matthew, of Creative Shift, says: “We continue to adapt and respond to changing need while working with our social prescribing partners to ensure we reach the most vulnerable people.”

The Fresh Arts programme at Southmead Hospital offers creative arts workshops for patients who live with chronic pain or chronic breathlessness and patients who have experienced cancer.

“Our patients all have long-term chronic health conditions and they began isolating before many of the rest of the population,” says Donna Baber of Fresh Arts.

“We expect that they’ll continue to do so long after many of us see restrictions relaxed. For those who live alone, it is a particularly lonely and isolating time.”

Artist Rachel Delivering Art packs – photo courtesy of Fresh Arts

Fresh Arts also runs a weekly Dance for Parkinson’s class that is now available as remote sessions. Participants receive three videos each week from The Original Spinners, who normally run the dance classes and since they were sent out, the sessions have been viewed 281 times.

#medicineonthewalls is a partnership between the University of Bristol’s intercalated BA in medical humanities team, the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC) and a variety of street artists, illustrators, and musicians. At its heart, it’s a project that tries to make public health interventions a bit more effective by making them ‘happen’ on the street.

For the latest artwork, the group wanted to explore different experiences of lockdown. They worked with Camille Aubry, an illustrator and a mum-of-two, who came up with a comic strip-style design.

Camille Aubry and Object artwork for Medicineonthewalls – photo courtesy of Medicine on the Walls

Knowle West Media Centre staff have been working alongside Knowle West Alliance to ensure that residents’ voices are heard in discussions about the impact of coronavirus in the area. They have created a Knowle West podcast, where residents and organisations can share their perspectives.

Main photo: Dance for Parkinsons sessions have now moved online – photo courtesy of Fresh Arts

Read more: Tackling isolation and loneliness during lockdown

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