On Monday I was at Kings Place in London for a meeting of the steering group for the ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ project. We are now in month five of this twelve month project, funded by the Baring Foundation and being led by Live Music Now and Sound Sense. Since our last steering group meeting Care England has joined the extensive list of project partners.
At Monday’s meeting we heard from Stephen Clift of the Sydney de Haan Research Centre about recent research which has been looking at the emotional, psychological and physical benefits of singing. Studies have shown that singing can be of benefit to people with lung problems and there is some interesting evidence about the impact of singing on people with Parkinsons. Oxford University research, led by Robin Dunbar, has been looking at the evolutionary purpose of singing and a study with the Workers Educational Association in Oxford has compared singing with other forms of creative activity, showing that social bonding happened much more quickly in groups doing singing than other forms of creative activity. The Sidney de Haan Research Centre has been creating a comprehensive listing for the ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ project of all the research that has been done on singing and wellbeing.
Since our last meeting ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ has conducted four surveys, instigated a systematic review of the evidence base and undertaken lots of field visits. Kathryn Deane from Sound Sense presented the results of the surveys which have looked at the purposes of singing in care homes, what care homes need singing to achieve and what types of singing already exist in care homes. She outlined the benefits of singing in care homes – to the residents and to the care home staff. She also discussed the barriers to introducing or increasing singing in care homes.
Evan Dawson from Live Music Now explained that the project had been keen to look at whether it could emulate in the 20,000 care homes what the Sing Up project had achieved in 20,000 primary schools. Michelle James from Sing Up described the experience of developing singing in primary schools. She emphasised the need to view the project as a campaign – and the value that had been gained by bringing in professional campaigning expertise. She also outlined some of the solutions that Sing Up had developed to overcome key barriers to singing in primary schools.
Des Kelly from the National Care Forum gave us a fascinating presentation about the context in which care homes are operating. In 1989 most care homes were in the public sector. Now, in England, around 70% of all care homes are private for-profit organisations, approximately 20% are voluntary not-for-profit organisations and only a very small proportion remain in the public sector. There are 18,000 care homes in England, three quarters of which are residential care homes: the rest are nursing homes. The Care Quality Commission has rated a third of all care homes, of which 60% were ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. The average age of admission into care has gone up by ten years in the last ten years: the average age of admission is now 85. 80% of care home residents have dementia. The duration of stay in care is decreasing: the average stay in a nursing home is now one year. Staff turnover on average in the care sector is running at 20% and only 12% of workforce is under the age of 25. The top 6 corporate care providers account for 60% of the market.
This is clearly a challenging environment in which to try to achieve ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ but the project is progressing carefully and sensibly and there is a growing alliance of organisations working together on the project.
On Tuesday evening Daniel, Cassandra and I were at Toynbee Hall in London for the #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden event. This project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme, set out to show how craft activities can help improve wellbeing by involving participants in the fun, connected, sensory and mindful process of making things. People across the UK were invited to join in and hand-embroider, knit or crochet a flower for the #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden, while reflecting on the importance of wellbeing and what we need in order to flourish as individuals and as a society. The #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden UK project is a partnership between the Craftivist Collective, Falmouth University, Voluntary Arts and Arts for Health Cornwall & Isles of Scilly. See: www.craftivist-collective.com/wellMAKING
Fiona Hackney from Falmouth University said that 750 flowers had been made as part of the project and the activity seemed to have proved very meaningful for people from all parts of the UK. 40 volunteer facilitators had run #wellMAKING groups to “craft, connect, reflect, challenge and grow”, realising the value of making together. The project had encouraged “quiet activism”. Daniel described how our Hand on Crafts project had demonstrated profound wellbeing benefits for those taking part and encouraged everyone to get involved in Craftbomb and Woollen Woods as part of Voluntary Arts Week 2015 (see: http://www.voluntaryartsweek.org).
Jayne Howard, Director of Arts for Health Cornwall & Isles of Scilly said something different happens when people engage in crafts. This is an under-researched area. She spoke about a programme of work with GP surgeries which had showed that crafts practice seemed to help participants bond more quickly. It generated talk, the pace was quite gentle, there were periods of silence but they never felt uncomfortable. The activity provided an opportunity to demonstrate achievement and produced something tangible to take home or give as a gift. Sarah Desmarais, AHRC Research Fellow at Falmouth University, had acted as a participant observer in two groups. She reported that the activities had allowed participants to safely access social companionship. She spoke abut the power of playfulness to give a creative state of mind. Playfulness can be relearned and craft can be very useful in this. Participants become progressively more confident.
Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, spoke about “activism through needlework”, challenging and trying to change social structures that are preventing people achieving their potential. The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing as:
* Realising our potential
* Coping with daily stress
* Contributing productively to society
Sarah said crafting helps with all three aspects of wellbeing. She said “craft slows me down and makes me think”.
The #wellMAKING Craftivists Garden was a fascinating event. It was wonderful to hear about the experiences of participants, brilliant to see the flowers displayed and lovely to be at an event at which many of the audience were actually stitching and knitting throughout the speeches.
On Wednesday evening I was at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster to attend a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics. This session focussed on Culture and Wellbeing with guest speakers from the museums and theatre sectors, the London School of Economics, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, described the work ACE is doing to develop a holistic case for investment in culture. He said they are looking at the immediate effects of cultural activity on individual citizens, the economic effects and the social effects, including wellbeing. Alan said he thought culture does have a part to play in wellbeing and this could lever in funding from other sources but he was less convinced about using wellbeing measures to help to decide the destination of cultural funding which he stressed was a complex process.
The final speaker was Dr David O’Brien from City University London (who sits on the AHRC Cultural Value Project Steering Group with me). He noted the wide range of uses of the term ‘wellbeing’ by the previous speakers. He suggested that wellbeing has an ‘apple pie quality’ – no-one wants to decrease it. We need to be careful about the definition of wellbeing. David suggested that being healthy and being employed are the key drivers of wellbeing and everything else is peripheral. He wondered whether having wellbeing as a policy agenda would merely result in the improved wellbeing of people who already have high wellbeing.
The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, former Arts Minister David Lammy, then invited the Shadow Culture Minister, Helen Goodman, and another former Arts Minister, Lord Howarth, to comment on the speakers. Helen Goodman said she understood that health and employment are the really big factors, but those things are intractable and difficult so she asked whether there are any quick wins from culture on wellbeing. Alan Howarth said he was hugely enthusiastic about the elevation of the concept of national wellbeing as a policy goal. He thought it was a statement of resounding banality that the arts promote well-being – of course they do – but it is hard to ascribe monetary values to emotional states. Lord Howarth thought the new Health and Wellbeing Boards ought to present an opportunity for the cultural sector as they would have significant funding.
On Wednesday I was at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for a meeting organised by the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing. The Alliance is made up of 9 regional arts and health associations across England, including the London Arts and Health Forum which provides the secretariat. The main focus of the Alliance is advocacy, influencing policy makers in relation to arts, health and wellbeing. The Alliance was established to be: an observatory for the sector; a research hub; a coherent voice for the sector; and to raise standards in arts, health and wellbeing practice. Wednesday’s meeting was a small gathering of national organisations involved, in various ways, with arts, health and wellbeing. Because of the regional structure of the Alliance it has not always been easy for organisations working nationally to engage with it. We agreed to try to establish a regular, informal forum for national organisations to feed into the strategic development of the Alliance. The Alliance has been developing an All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing which will hold its first meeting in January 2014. The Alliance is also developing a relationship with the UK Arts and Health Research Network, funded by AHRC, which comprises about 35 researchers. The London Arts and Health Forum runs Creativity and Wellbeing Week in June each year: from June 2014 there will also be events in other parts of the country. The 2014 Creativity and Wellbeing Week is from 4-11 June.