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Online LINK: Social cohesion in social isolation - Whose creative approaches should be prescribed?

Blog post written by Naomi Momoh, intern with Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network.

On September 2nd, interested people from research, arts and health backgrounds met to explore the different roles that we can play in social prescribing, led by myself and Geraldine Montgomerie from Leeds Arts, Health and Wellbeing Network.

I was asked by Geraldine to co-facilitate this discussion after interning with her for the past month. I have learnt a lot about the field of arts and health within this time and, coming from a health background myself, I was intrigued to learn more about the different approaches to social prescribing, how the arts can benefit wellbeing and the different perspectives we hold on how we develop skills in the field of arts and health. We have had a number of conversations locally such as with Adrian Sinclair, director of community arts company ‘Heads Together’ amongst other organizations, asking how we develop a creative workforce to meet emerging health needs. We also were inspired to explore this topic following a recent presentation by Dr Stephen Clift from the Sidney De Haan Research Centre on Art Lift's work in the field of arts and social prescribing.

The discussion began with reflections from the group back to a time in which doing a planned activity led by someone else helped to change their mood. Some of us reflected back to a time before lockdown when activities such as yoga, swimming and singing with other people were sources of solace in which they could feel a part of something bigger than themselves in a communal setting. Several members related to their experiences post-lockdown, agreeing that online activities during this time of social isolation enabled them to foster a sense of creativity and productivity that they had lost.

We described how attending live-streamed gigs under lockdown enabled us to interact with new people and to also re-connect with friends that we had not seen in a while. I related to this personally, having been thrust from being an active part of the electronic dance music scene in Leeds (where I had made most of my friends and spent lots of time DJ-ing) to complete isolation at home with my parents in London. One of the things that helped were the ‘zoom parties’ that were run by members of the community. It allowed us to reconnect through our shared passion of music and regain a sense of normality.

Having recognized in our own lives the benefit of engaging in physical, cultural and creative activity, we asked ourselves whether anyone can work to deliver planned activities with people with physical or mental health concerns. Many of us felt that skills and knowledge could be developed through experience of working with people with these health concerns, as well as the ability to listen and not impose. One group member said that they thought that background or experience in mental/physical health is needed, and that there are too many idiosyncrasies and aspects to understand to assist effectively otherwise.

A social prescribing link worker described how someone he had worked with had not only benefitted from engaging with music but had also found that there were further opportunities through the arts to have a role in delivering the service he had benefitted from. We recognised the benefits of lived experience in working in this field but also having a flexible and adaptive approach. We also discussed the wider field of social prescribing which goes beyond activities brokered by link workers for example to signposting by health professionals.

Taking the conversation further, we asked ourselves whether artists and creative practitioners needed specific skills when arts activities are prescribed. A researcher and creative practitioner spoke on how certain behavioral traits for artists and creative practitioners are more useful when arts activities are being prescribed, and how we need to take care to distinguish between the work done by clinicians and the work done by artists when individuals are referred. She spoke about how the focus in social prescribing is more about the ‘making’ rather than the diagnosis and consequent treatment that clinicians do.

Others commented that when it comes to arts on prescription, arts organizations needed to be open and honest, with intentions of arts activities to be made very clear. We discussed how there is a blurred distinction and role between creativity for creativity sake and psychotherapy using art can be detrimental to the participants experience, or worse. Emphasis is always on the creative process itself, adapted to the person we are working with which can change moment by moment - this takes experience.

The final part of the discussion focused on how artists could be supported in their development in the field of arts and health projects and whether they could have a voice in developing and managing these projects. Geraldine revisited findings shared by Dr Stephen Clift from the evaluation of ArtLift regarding concerns about working with people with significant health challenges, repeat referrals and concerns regarding follow on support when programmes end. A social prescribing link worker described the importance of developing local partnerships to ensure a good fit between the needs of participants and what activities have to offer. It was agreed that multidisciplinary teams were beneficial in terms of promoting cohesion and collaboration, and in cases where some artists may need extra support in an area beyond their expertise. Conversations can also be had between different disciplines about how appropriate projects are and how they may be evaluated and adjusted. A resource on multi-professional teamwork was shared in the group which you can find here.

We also welcomed the upcoming discussion “How I got to where I am” on paths into work within the arts and health field led by Arts and Health Hub on Monday 21st September 2020. Additional funding has been announced to support the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) in work responding to Covid-19 and we can learn a lot about what remote social prescribed activities look like, and whether they may require additional skills.

If there is one thing that I have learnt from the discussion, it’s that we all have a collective responsibility to work together to produce an environment in which we can thrive, supporting each other in our work and promoting collaborations that are meaningful. Social prescribing is such a broad and diverse field, and therefore by using each other’s talents and expertise, we can help to develop incredible partnerships that address health inequalities across the UK.

Leeds Arts Health Wellbeing Network are working with the Cultural Institute (University of Leeds) and the Centre for Cultural Value (University of Leeds) to bring together an online programme, Beyond Measure, this Autumn to explore research and evaluation in the context of culture, health and wellbeing programmes. You can find out more about our exciting programme here.

The Social Cohesion in Social Isolation online chats are currently taking place fortnightly on Wednesdays 4-5pm GMT to facilitate further connection and action during COVID-19. To find out more or to sign up to attend a future session, click here.

Thanks go to Naomi for writing this fantastic overview of the conversation. If you are interested in writing for the Arts Health ECRN please get in touch!

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