At Creative Arts East, we recently shared a reimagined programme of arts for health events in Norfolk, forming the Breckland Arts for Health Programme 2023-2026, supported by investment from Breckland Council and Arts Council England. It is an amalgamation of previous arts for health projects in the area, namely ‘The Silver Social’ and ‘Our Day Out’, and there are additional Creative Socials groups operating elsewhere across Norfolk, in Great Massingham, Great Yarmouth and Hunstanton.
Alongside this, we publically launched our arts for health impact report, researched and written by Dr Hannah Zeilig and Millie van der Byl Williams, specifically charting the health and social impacts of ‘Our Day Out’.
‘As Grants and Policy Manager at Spirit of 2012, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the impact of the projects we fund. Here, I’d like to reflect on our journey with Creative Arts East (CAE) on Our Day Out, an arts project working with older people and those that care for them in rural Norfolk. Funded by two grants from Spirit of 2012 spanning six years, Our Day Out has fostered wellbeing, connection, and creativity for individuals living with dementia and their carers.
When CAE first approached us in 2016, it was evident that Norfolk faced challenges in supporting its elderly population – particularly those living with dementias – many of whom faced isolation and limited access to cultural activities. CAE’s vision for Our Day Out, backed by their artistic excellence, resonated deeply with us. We recognised the need to combat isolation, promote wellbeing, and empower individuals through inclusive participatory arts experiences.
Seven years on, the evaluation report by Dr. Hannah Zeilig and Millie van der Byl Williams paints a vivid picture of the transformative outcomes achieved through Our Day Out. Let’s explore the key findings:
1. Unleashing creativity: A recent longitudinal study from the Social Biobehavioural Research Group at UCL demonstrated that participating in regular creative activity is good for wellbeing and other health outcomes. Our Day Out provided a platform for participants to unleash their creativity both during and beyond the sessions. It became a catalyst for inspiration, encouraging individuals to explore their creative potential and infuse their day-to-day lives with artistic expression.
2. Enhanced wellbeing: The project saw a statistically significant increase in individual wellbeing after 9-12 months of participation, measured on the Canterbury Wellbeing Scale (CWS). The participants’ qualitative feedback reinforced these findings. They reported increased happiness, a sense of agency, and the ability to momentarily shift their focus away from personal worries.
3. Social connection: Our Day Out became a catalyst for social connection, fostering a sense of belonging among participants. 97% of people felt that their involvement in the programme helped them forge meaningful social connections, reducing feelings of isolation often associated with dementia.
4. Inclusive and accessible: Our Day Out provided access to arts and culture for disabled people living with different conditions. It emphasised the organic process of creation, with participants benefitting from the sessions regardless of their artistic background or skills.
CAE’s commitment to critically evaluating and disseminating their findings, while actively involving those directly impacted, has generated learning on how arts projects can be successful in transforming people’s lives. Of particular interest were learnings around the importance of:
– Overcoming geographical challenges: Norfolk’s rural landscape presented particular obstacles in reaching older people. By developing relationships with referral organisations and conducting accessibility audits, Our Day Out was able to reach older residents in rural areas who are often overlooked by other cultural organisations. The project demonstrated the importance of inclusive initiatives that transcend geographical barriers.
– Investing in artists: CAE’s dedication to working with professional artists and investing in their practice has been pivotal to the project’s success. Through training days, focus groups, and commissioned reports, they created an environment that nurtured artistic excellence, enabling artists to deliver high-quality experiences to participants.
– Developing health and social care referral pathways: Though the local statutory landscape proved tricky to navigate at times, programme managers at Creative Arts East noted the importance of partnerships with health and social care bodies working with their target group. Learning on this led them to recruit an Arts and Health Officer to provide the capacity to further work and investment in developing these links.
To conclude, Our Day Out has fostered creativity, enhanced wellbeing, promoted social connection, and enriched the creative fabric of rural Norfolk. Its success should serve as encouragement to funders and practitioners in Norfolk and beyond to recognise the potential for inclusive and participatory arts programmes to improve people’s lives, particularly those facing additional challenges such as loneliness and isolation
It has been a privilege to work with the team at Creative Arts East, and as our funding of Our Day Out comes to an end, we’re pleased that together we have generated insights and evidence that can be used in the funding and design of future creative projects to improve the happiness and wellbeing of older people. We hope that arts organisations and funders of similar programmes take the opportunity to learn from the significant body of evidence CAE has produced.’
Spirit of 2012 is the London 2012 Games legacy fund. Spirit awards grants for inclusive arts, sports and volunteering activities in communities that bring people together to improve their wellbeing. The National Lottery Community Fund founded Spirit in 2013 with a £47million endowment to continue and recreate the spirit of pride, positivity and community that inspired people across the UK during the London 2012 Games.
Spirit of 2012’s grantholders range from national to small, hyper-local organisations. For more information visit www.spiritof2012.org.uk
Image credit – Anita Staff Photography