Growing health, connection and meaning through creativity in Northern Devon

On the day that Arts Council England publishes ‘Creative Health & Wellbeing’, its plan for working with health and social care, I’m pleased to share ‘Growing Health, Connection and Meaning in Northern Devon’, an impact summary of a culture, health and wellbeing case study I’ve just finished leading in Northern Devon. Northern Devon is one of the UK government’s ‘levelling up’ areas.

Photo shows a large, textile wall hanging made up of blue, black and white pieces of textile stitched together and suspended from a long branch. The blue area in the centre looks a bit like a river.
‘Going with the Flow’ (2022) was co-created by lead artist Catherine West (Significant Seams) with seven people from the Bideford area of Devon and exhibited here at TTVS in the town centre. Photo: Jim Wileman

It’s satisfying to see some of the themes and thinking behind the Northern Devon Case Study chiming with Arts Council’s reasoning: recognition of the need to respond to health inequalities, to work in place-based partnership with health and social care, and to develop the skills and practice of creative professionals working in this field.

As the creative project manager behind the Northern Devon Case Study, I developed a three-cornered model – community, healthcare, artist – that embodied Arts Council’s national aspiration at local level. By working directly with individual communities and bringing together partners from the VCSE sector and the local NHS in each town, I was able to support and empower communities to commission artists whose specialisms responded to local need. The four projects – each one bespoke for its own community – between them supported young people living with anxiety or depression, older adults experiencing loneliness, isolation or poor mental health, and overstretched young families.

As well as enabling people to (re)connect, the commissions in Northern Devon helped people experiencing loss, personal adversity or systemic disenfranchisement to express their experience and rebuild some sense of meaning, purpose and belonging.

As the Arts Council plan says, creative artists aren’t a replacement for professional clinical or social provision. But they’re also far more than a sticking plaster for symptoms. Delivered by specialists, these creative interventions should be empowering rather than paternalistic, transformative rather than fleeting.

I look forward to digesting the Arts Council plan in the coming days and thinking some more about how this approach relates to other questions around inequality in society.

One Northern Devon Culture, Health & Wellbeing Case Study was delivered in partnership with Beaford Arts and Devon’s cultural sector. It was supported with public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, by Devon County Council through TTVS and Devon County Council Locality Grants.

Download Growing Health, Connection and Meaning in Northern Devon

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