Blog post written by Geraldine Montgomerie, Partnerships Manager, The Swan Song Project.
Every month, the Arts Play Health Community host an inclusive online Social Cohesion in Social Isolation 'chat' to bring together all those interested in the interconnections between arts, play, and health across community, research, policy, and practice. This blog post captures discussion from a chat facilitated by The Swan Song Project on 28th September 2022 in partnership with Amy Hearn from 100% Digital Leeds. It follows a session led by Geraldine and Amy on safe online spaces which you can read here. Our chat, scheduled in the same week as Arts in Care Homes Day, explored how arts and culture can play a role in social care in the UK and beyond.
Geraldine and Amy described the launch of a digital programme of arts in care homes activities in September, bringing together a range of arts organisations and care providers to explore what activities may be of interest to care staff and people with care needs and what may be the barriers to digital engagement. This programme was inspired in part by the National Activity Provider Association’s 2021 consultation on how we ensure a daily offer of creativity and culture in every care home.
We began by reflecting on the unmet needs of people accessing social care services and support. As we talked about socialising, physical touch and physical connection, we considered the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and increased attention on infection control, where contact and visiting have been avoided to reduce risks. We also talked about difficulties in continuing personal passions when receiving care, as well as the challenges of 'having a voice' in care when conversations may be directed to a third party, such as a partner, family member or other caregiver.
We considered what role arts and play can have in 'making a life worth living'. We reflected on Caitlin Pilbeam's research with people with heart failure, who described creativity as a necessary part of remaking your perspective on life - “a positive, hopeful process deriving from (controllable) conscious imagination”. We looked at the opportunities presented through arts and play for ‘making meaning’, allowing a place to reflect and support dialogue, for example through intergenerational work. Attendees described the importance put on and funding invested in, creativity in later life in Finland and the benefits of having arts embedded in health, care and community provision.
We talked about Robyn Dowlen’s research on experiences of arts ‘in-the-moment’ with people living with dementia, which demonstrated how people living with dementia can flourish through music rather than music being used as a tool for meeting their care needs. Her research led her to question whether musical experience should be measured longitudinally rather than using before/after approaches.
As a group we reflected on how we can capture and measure everyday 'ripple effects' from engaging in arts and play, such as the use of Dementia Care Mapping by Yorkshire Dance when considering the impact of their In Mature Company project with people living with dementia in residential care. This project specifically looked at facilitating platonic and emotional touch through dance which we identified earlier in our discussion as an unmet need of people receiving care.
One of the considerations of offering arts in care settings is making assumptions about what people might enjoy - one of our discussion group described how her grandad asked her: “Why are they trying to get me into square dancing?” Another said “I didn't realise how many care homes are absolutely tiny,” recognising that the differences in size, facilities and level of care provided would limit the opportunities to work in partnership, develop training and deliver creative programmes. Ensuring that activities are both engaging and interactive was highlighted - for example bespoke live or recorded online performances may be experienced as no different from watching TV.
We also reflected on current challenges in care delivery such as a national shortage of staff, due to a multitude of factors from Brexit to working conditions and pay, alongside the statutory requirements of care delivery and challenges of using technology in care contexts… However we discussed opportunities for arts and culture provision to motivate care homes to imbed technology such as through 100% Digital Leeds’ work problem solving with care staff. In Leeds, commissioners have also been exploring if arts programmes, such as music provision, can reduce distress and improve quality of life in care settings, supporting care delivery using underspend on staffing costs.
We also recognised the capacity of care staff to be flexible and adaptable, solving problems creatively. An example from Rebecca Fleetwood Smith’s research on the significance of clothing for people living with dementia was shared in our discussion: after recognising that a care home resident became distressed when their clothing went to the laundry, care staff hung photographs of their clothes in their wardrobe when clothes were washed.
We concluded our conversation thinking about our optimism for the future of arts in care settings. We considered ongoing interest from policy makers and funders in the role of arts and play in communicating people's stories; ensuring each person is not treated as an object on which care is performed.
We reflected on the development of new resources by Scottish Ballet aimed at care settings including SB Duet, a digital dance resource for people with reduced mobility to share with their companions or carers. We also discussed new intergenerational opportunities through structural change such as co-locating nurseries and care homes from Belong in the North West to Apples and Honey Nightingale in London. We also described the potential for wider systemic change, taking inspiration from the work of US artist and academic, Ann Basting, whose improvisational storytelling approach was been used in the Penelope Project to create theatre in a care home environment involving all residents.
Our conversation concluded with recognition of how valuable it is to bring together a range of perspectives. This includes artists, caregivers and researchers in care contexts, meeting people 'where they are' and taking the time to listen and understand the perspectives of all those participating in creative and playful activities.
The Social Cohesion in Social Isolation chats are led by the Arts Play Health Community and take place monthly on the last Wednesday of the month 4-5pm (UK time). To find out more or to sign up to attend a future session, click here.
Thank you to Geraldine for writing this fantastic overview of the conversation. If you are interested in writing for the Arts Health ECRN please get in touch!