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Getting creative to change people’s lives

As Southbank Centre busily prepares for its first ever Creative Health conference, to launch the inaugural national Creativity and Wellbeing Week, its Director of Arts Administration explains why the UK’s largest arts centre is bringing together people from the worlds of art and health:

Improving people’s health and wellbeing isn’t just the preserve of the health and social care sector. From education and housing, to leisure and business, a wide range of sectors have a part to play.

For some, the contribution of the arts sector is regarded in a different light – a ‘bit part’ rather than an instrumental partner in efforts to keep the nation healthy and happy. Yet the evidence of its impact tells us otherwise.

As detailed in the landmark report Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing, arts and culture are making great strides in helping to keep people well, aid recovery and support longer lives better lived.

Music therapy, for example, has been found to reduce agitation and the need for medication in 67% of people with dementia. An arts-on-prescription project has seen a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions. And, a study conducted within deprived communities in London found that, of those people who engaged with the arts, 79% ate more healthily and 77% engaged in more physical activity and 82% enjoyed greater wellbeing (cited from the Creative Health: The Arts for Health Wellbeing report).

In fact, the Government’s own analysis of its data on arts participation rates in England estimates that the total annual NHS cost savings due to reductions in GP visits is £168.8 million.

As local systems develop plans to take forward the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan, the arts sector is increasingly seen as an integral player in the health and care offer. With a proven ability to make a mark on issues including health inequalities, mental health, long-term conditions and ageing, the sector can make an invaluable contribution to a healthy and health-creating society.

Southbank Centre has long been an advocate of the role of the arts and culture in improving the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. From its conception with the 1951 Festival of Britain – often described as a tonic for the nation’s wellbeing following the Second World War – to the Changing Minds festival, a dedicated weekend-long festival, which explored mental health and the arts. In more recent years, this has been more formalised through a plethora of ongoing initiatives to tackle these issues.

(B)old Words, for example, is a poetry course for people with a dementia diagnosis, run in partnership with the National Poetry Library. We ran a pilot of this last year, commissioned by Arts 4 Dementia, and have developed the course to run again in this year.

Similarly, (B)old Moves is our dance course for people with a dementia diagnosis. The course gives participants the skills to take part in our monthly tea dances and creates a safe space for social interaction and friendship.

And Grounded EcoTherapy, a rehabilitation project run by Providence Row Housing Association for people who have experienced homelessness, addiction and mental health problems, has equipped participants with horticultural skills and built their confidence in communication, teamwork and public interaction. They built the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden and continue to maintain it.

There are many more examples from organisations up and down the country.

The Creative Health conference on 10 June is set to bring together leading artists, practitioners, funders and policy-makers in the arts and health sectors to take stock of the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years and the latest innovations in the field.

We are delighted to have such a distinguished set of speakers for the conference, including Simon Stevens and James Sanderson, under the expert lead of Choirmaster Mark De Lisser who recently appeared in BBC’s two-part documentary Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure.

As we explore how we can work together in the future to expand on the invaluable cross-sector work that is being done, we are thrilled to be partnering with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, London Arts in Health ForumArts Council England, and the Centre for Performance Science (Royal College of Music and Imperial College London) for this event.

  • Creativity and Wellbeing Week runs from June 10 to 16.
Sunita Pandya

Sunita Pandya is currently Director of Arts Administration at the Southbank Centre, a role she took up in 2018.

Having read history at the University of Bristol, Sunita set up her own production company which produced work regularly with Bristol Old Vic, in Edinburgh and across the Southwest for six years.

After university, Sunita worked at the Orange Tree Theatre ahead of attending Drama School London to study theatre and TV directing. Upon graduating, Sunita joined the National Theatre before moving to Battersea Arts Centre where she programmed and delivered festivals such as the ground-breaking One-on-One Festival, the annual Scratch Festival and a UK tour with Blind Summit Puppet company.

From there, Sunita worked at Sadler’s Wells as Project Manager before moving to WildWorks as Executive Director. Here Sunita produced WildWorks’ projects for two years.

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