Make It York

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Converge’s ‘Winter Warmers’ Project

As part of the launch of York’s Culture Strategy ‘York’s Creative Future’, through the Better Care Fund, Make It York and City of York Council awarded funding of more than £10,000 to seven social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation and mental ill-health during the winter months.

The grants were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation and social distancing.

One project the grant scheme supported was Converge’s Winter Warmers Programme, which was designed to promote connections between participants with mental health problems, providing them with fun opportunities to engage as creatives, performers and audience members. Converge is a collaboration between the NHS and York St John University which focuses on offering educational opportunities to people with mental health problems. Throughout the year they offer high quality free of charge courses on a range of topics, all taught by staff and students to help mental health service users across York. The Winter Warmers Programme was a new project specially curated to help lift spirits and reduce isolation which had been amplified by the Covid restrictions in place over the winter months.

The programme included an open mic night, featuring participants from Converge’s music, theatre and creative writing courses, choir sessions culminating in a Christmas Concert, and a Theatre and Storytelling Performance. They held ‘Connecting to Culture’ Sessions, which were delivered by their support team, facilitating conversations with participants on what opportunities were still accessible to keep them connected to their interests over the winter months. Postal packs were also sent out to participants homes including copies of ‘Creating Writing Heals’, an anthology of Converge Creative Writing.

Matt Harper-Hardcastle (Project Development Lead) said: “What has been really significant about this project is that we have been able to expand our provision to keep our students connected to their creativity and to our wider community of learners. Whether that is attending an online theatre performance, joining a Zoom to discuss what is still accessible in the city or being able to perform in or watch an online concert, we were able to provide an outlet and a perspective that isn’t tainted by COVID, and that is so important to us all right now, but particularly for those with mental health problems.”

Four ‘Connecting to Culture’ sessions were held virtually and in person over the winter months with a total of 43 participants attending. These sessions were designed to be fun and engaging, creating opportunities for conversations and signposting to workshops and activities that can be done from home. This included everything form book recommendations, accessible TV, film and media, as well as giving participants a facilitated space to think of what their ‘next steps’ might be.

Emma McKenzie (Converge/Discovery Hub Team Lead) who ran the sessions said: “The questions were designed to support gentle interaction and help people get to

know each other a little better. This worked really well and ended up acting as a promotion for Converge activities that people can get involved in during early 2021, with many using the sessions to then sign up to workshops and courses, based on what they’d discussed. The main benefits being that people can gain ideas and inspiration from others as a group and continue to stay focused on themes that link to classes and involvement with Converge which are outward looking rather than inward focused.”

One of the participants reflected on how attending the sessions has really sparked a new interest for him:

“It really has become a new found enjoyable interest [art]. It has opened up a whole new world and interest for me. Previously I either liked a painting or I didn’t, never considered what lay behind it. I actually started browsing online Gallery’s, looking for paintings that I liked and captured my interest, and then try researching the reasons that led to it, the whys, who’s, etc.”

An informal and friendly online winter open mic performance also took place, providing opportunities for Converge participants and staff to know each other by sharing music, dance, stories, poems, and much more. A Christmas Concert was streamed via YouTube and showcased performers and the full Communitas Choir which has been watched by 180 people.

During the run up to Christmas, Converge’s Creative Writing classes worked on collating their work into a published anthology. This book, along with paper-based activities was posted out to 175 Converge participants (past and current). Feedback was really positive from those who received this with comments including: ‘It reminded me I’m a part of a community’ and ‘This reminded me I’m not alone.’

A final part of the project took place in February 2021 when Converge hosted an online Playback Theatre performance for all participants, in partnership with Playback Theatre York. Playback Theatre is a form of improvised theatre where audience members can tell their real-life stories and have them spontaneously performed by a team of actors and musicians. Presented on the theme of ‘Moments of Change. Moments of Hope’ this performance gave Converge participants the opportunity to reflect on all that had happened since the start of the COVID pandemic; achievements they are proud of and new opportunities they are looking forward to.

Matt Harper-Hardcastle (Project Development Lead) said: “Throughout this project our goal has been to help reduce isolation and loneliness during the winter months and give participants something fun and creative to enjoy. We are really proud of the variety of the activities we were able to put on and hearing the positive feedback from those who took part on how it has impacted their mental health has been wonderful.”

For more details about the courses that Converge offer for adults who use mental health services visit:

Visit York website gets a ‘glow up’ with new design and greater functionality to boost visits

A new Visit York website – – has launched this week with improved design and functionality to showcase the city’s activities, events and wide range of tourism businesses to over 115,000 online visitors to the platform each month.  

A global hub for displaying York’s tourism offer, the new website was developed by the team at Make It York together with the web development supplier DestinationCore and supported by the Visit England grant funding.  

Pre-pandemic, 8.4 million annual visitors to York brought £765 million into the city’s economy, through spend on hotels, eating out and shopping and the city’s tourism website is a key driver for visits to the city. During 2020, through such initiatives as the ‘York at Home’ hub, the Virtual York Christmas Market and the special #LoveYork Awards, Visit York continued to ‘bring’ visitors to York and promote all the great businesses in the city.  

The new-look will help put York and the city’s businesses on travellers’ staycation bucket lists this year, by giving business and leisure visitors a visually impactful and intuitive experience from any device anywhere in the world. 

On top of the improved visual aspects, the new website will offer better functionality and a more personalised experience for users, along with a brand new and improved itinerary building capability that will allow visitors to share their created itineraries online. Visit York’s popular hub pages will get an uplift too, with more dynamic and interactive content to be displayed, starting with the launch of the #LoveYork summer staycations campaign hub.  

With over 60% of users accessing the website on mobile devices, the new design brings a dynamic and user-friendly interface of the site’s mobile version, contributing to higher engagement and improved user journey. 

Ashley Young, Senior Marketing and Communications Manager at Make It York, said: 

“Our new website is designed to enhance the experience for both visitors to the city and the local businesses that use our platform to showcase themselves. The itinerary planning tool and improved booking system have all been designed to create a ‘customer first’, fully responsive experience – from the discovery and planning stages, right through to pre-arrival and check-in.  

“We are continually looking for ways to keep the city ahead of its competitors and to provide a first-class digital experience, on top of a world-class real-life experience, for every visitor.” 

The new website has been developed by the digital destination marketing solutions company – DestinationCore, who have decades of experience in helping cities, towns and DMOs to successfully position and brand places. 

Will Wright, Managing Partner at DestinationCore, commented: 

“We are delighted to be working with the team at Make It York to help them develop a website solution which helps bridge the gap between ‘digital visitor’ and ‘physical visitor’. We believe that our User Experience and technical expertise in destination marketing and Make It York’s knowledge and expertise of their visitors and members is provides a winning combination to help create a website which will help grow tourism in York and demonstrate outstanding value for the city”. 


The new website will also offer a better integration with VisitBritain’s TXGB booking service, allowing businesses to link their products directly to this national booking platform. The accommodation booking services are also being integrated to the new website. 

Visit York has seen a steady rise in online and social media engagement over the last years, as visitors’ and residents’ interest in the city and its world-class offer has continued to grow. In the last two years alone, has seen 2.2 million people using the website to plan their trip to York, while the @visityork social media accounts have grown to a total number of 142,000 ‘York fans’ in 2021.  


For further information please contact:  

Ana Ignatova – Communications Executive – Make It York  

Amy Goodman – Consumer Communications Manager – Make It York 

Notes to Editors:  

Make It York  

Make It York’s purpose is to develop and promote the city and its surroundings – nationally and internationally – as a vibrant and attractive place to live, visit, study, work and do business.  The company’s remit covers leisure and business tourism, city centre management, festivals and events, business support and inward investment.  

Visit York is a part of Make It York and is the leisure tourism brand  

Under the brand Visit York, Make It York’s aim is to market York as a must-see world-class destination to the leisure visitor and ensure investment to develop the quality of tourism in York.  

DestinationCore is a product by The Jacob Bailey Group. Jacob Bailey have worked with a variety of place marketing and destination marketing clients since their formation in 1998. Current and previous clients include Visit Harrogate, The NewcastleGateshead Initiative, Bury St. Edmunds DMO, Metrocentre, Lakeside Shopping, It’s In Nottingham and in Colchester. 

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Pilot Theatre’s ‘Happiness Project – Creative Wellbeing Toolkit’

As part of the launch of York’s Culture Strategy ‘York’s Creative Future’, through the Better Care Fund, Make It York and City of York Council awarded funding of more than £10,000 to seven social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation and mental ill-health during the winter months. 

The grants were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation and social distancing. 

One initiative the grant scheme supported was the ‘Happiness Project – Creative Wellbeing Toolkit’, led by theatre company Pilot Theatre. Exploring the themes of joy and happiness, the project set out to create a wellbeing toolkit for LGBTQIA+ young people aged 18-26 which would help support and promote their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Over six sessions held weekly during February and March on Zoom, Pilot Theatre worked with Mindfulness and Movement practitioner Lizzie Wiggs and a group of young LGBTQIA+ people to develop the toolkit. In the sessions Lizzie worked with participants to discuss all things wellbeing and explored the best ways to effectively identify and support self-care needs. The sessions were practical and creative, offering a supportive, safe environment for the sharing of experiences. 

During these six weeks, the young people were encouraged to keep a journal, and through guided prompts were tasked to reflect on their current daily routine and habits.  Weekly creative tasks were also set to help increase connection and engagement away from the screen. These included fun tasks such as  designing their own positive affirmation to be put by their bed, recordings of mindfulness meditations, blackout poetry and free writing, growing sunflower crest seeds, and daily walks in nature. 

From the discussions, activities, and creative responses of those involved in the sessions, a Creative Wellbeing Toolkit is now being created which will be freely available for other young adults and LGBTQIA+ organisations to utilise.  The toolkit resource will be fun and engaging and designed to help improve the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of young people across the country.  

Amanda Smith, Executive Producer & Joint Chief Executive of Pilot Theatre said: “The Happiness Project focuses on exploring what it really means to be happy and this is hugely important in the lives of young people today. With this particular initiative we set out to create an interactive and engaging toolkit that could benefit LGBTQIA+ young people across the country to enhance and improve their wellbeing.  

The sessions we ran with Lizzie were a great opportunity for the young adults we worked with to take time out to reflect on their wellbeing and share experiences in a completely safe space. Over the six week we saw that participants became increasingly more able to notice their habits and behaviours, signs of being stressed or anxious, and could then effectively apply the tools we had been sharing to support them through this.  

We are really pleased with how successful the project was – with feedback from all the young people involved showing that their wellbeing was positively changed by their involvement in the sessions.  It was also fantastic to hear that those we worked with intended to continue exploring their wellbeing creatively in the future, showing the long-lasting impact this kind of work can have.  

We are really excited to launch the Creative Wellbeing toolkit over the coming months which will be shared widely with our cultural and community networks so that it can be utilised by young people across the country.”  

Feedback from participants has been very positive with comments including: 

“This has made such a massive difference in my life, how I start my day affects my mood so much and having a structured time for myself first time has made me feel much calmer and in control. It has also helped me so much with my own self-esteem and boundaries, taking the mornings entirely for myself and giving myself time before anyone else has been really empowering!”

 “The six weeks has absolutely flown by and it’s been an absolute treat to sit down and decompress from the week with such a great group of people! I’ve taken the most away from the meditation practice where I’ve become more aware of my thoughts and accepting them as they arise.” 

Pilot Theatre will be hosting a ‘Tenacious Women’ an online panel event for York Festival of Ideas on Wednesday 16th June. You can register to attend here: 

To follow any of Pilot’s other upcoming projects and participation opportunities please go to  

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports ‘The Groves Artwalk’

As part of the launch of York’s Culture Strategy ‘York’s Creative Future’, through the Better Care Fund, Make It York and City of York Council awarded funding of more than £10,000 to seven social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation and mental ill-health during the winter months.

The grants were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation and social distancing.

One project the grant scheme supported was the ‘The Groves Artwalk’, which aimed to reduce isolation, increase community spirit and enhance residents’ wellbeing within the Groves area of York through building a community of makers and developing a series of art trail events.

Focusing on reaching the most vulnerable and isolated members of the community, the initiative set out to engage with residents through creativity activity prompts and putting together a trail that the wider community could enjoy.

At the start of the project, participants received a pack with an assortment of art materials and weekly prompts to help inspire their artwork. From drawing and clay modelling to collages and painting, the weekly activities were designed to cover a broad spectrum of different art forms. At the end of each week, the makers displayed their works in the windows, with a map created to show the art trail promoted via social media.

Participants could also get involved in weekly video calls to share their work and discuss ideas, helping to boost social contact and interactions between the group.

Natalie McKeown who led the project said “The arts are proven to have a hugely positive effect on building a sense of community and enhancing wellbeing, and with this project we really wanted to harness that to help improve the lives of local residents.

Loneliness is a known problem in the area and reducing isolation was really at the heart of this initiative, as well as giving people a chance to try something new and be creative. The weekly prompts were designed to encourage people to work with different art forms and develop new hobbies that they can easily do at home.

Feedback from participants was really positive and it was great to see that by the end of the project, 75% of participants reported that felt they were part of a community. Before we started, almost half (43%) of participants reported that their average mood during the week leading up to the project had been somewhat low or depressed. However by the end of the project, zero participants reported feeling low or depressed during the previous week which was really great to hear that the activities had had such a positive impact.

Despite the necessary restrictions with Covid meaning we couldn’t deliver the sessions face to face, it was really lovely to see the participants coming together virtually and making

meaningful connections. Over the weeks the group really bonded, sharing their art pieces and ideas and keeping in touch via messaging between sessions.

Thank you to the Better Care Fund for enabling us to put on this project and to all the participants who took part so enthusiastically and created some amazing pieces.”

For updates on future Artwalk projects, join the mailing list by emailing Natalie at and keep an eye on

York is ‘Here For Tourism’ this English Tourism Week

This week marks ‘English Tourism Week’ (22 – 31st May) – a week-long celebration dedicated to showing support for tourism businesses and destinations across the sector as they reopen and start to rebuild. Coordinated by VisitEngland, English Tourism Week aims to highlight the economic importance of tourism to local economies and promote the innovation, quality and range of products and services on offer to encourage more domestic breaks. 

Kicking off on 22nd May with a call out from York’s Town Crier Ben Fry on Visit York’s social media, businesses across the city have been urged to share why tourism is so important to them using #EnglishTourismWeek21.  

Businesses across York have been celebrating why they are ‘Here for Tourism’ with photos, social media posts and videos throughout the week to highlight the importance of tourism in the city. A short video bringing together some of Visit York members showcases businesses including The Balloon Tree, Yorkshire Appetite Tours, Ambiente Tapas and Hotel Indigo York: English Tourism Week: Here For Tourism | Visit York 

One of the city’s first big Spring events will also take place during English Tourism Week – the York Spring Fair & Food Festival. This brand-new covid-safe event will run from 28th May to 6th June, bringing together one of the largest vintage funfairs seen in North Yorkshire for many years and a Food Festival showcasing the very best artisan products from Yorkshire and beyond. To show their support of English Tourism Week and the launch of the event, the new Lord Mayor of York Cllr Chris Cullwick and York Central MP Rachael Maskell will be joining York’s Town Crier Ben Fry to open the Spring Fair on 28th May.  

As part of the event the Visit York Information Centre team will have a stall each day  – sharing with visitors and residents their expert local knowledge of attractions, travel information, places to eat, shops and things to do in the city. Throughout the week the Visit York team will be joined by characters from some of the city’s popular attractions – including The York Dungeon – with chances for visitors to win special prizes and find out more about events happening in the city this summer.  

Ashley Young, Senior Marketing Manager at Make It York, said:

“We are delighted to support English Tourism Week and champion the local businesses who do such an amazing job of welcoming tourists to the city every year. Showcasing and celebrating the outstanding tourism offer in the city is hugely important, especially as the sector starts to reopen and rebuild post- Covid. 

“It is great to see bigger events like the Spring Fair and Food Festival returning to the city – offering a safe and family friendly environment for visitors and residents to enjoy this bank holiday and half term. We look forward to seeing more events coming back over the summer months and working with local businesses to highlight all that York has to offer as a staycation destination.” 

This English Tourism Week the brand new Sandburn Hall Hotel near York has also played its part by opening for the very first time, with a showround for local MP Kevin Hollinrake.  Kevin was shown round the hotel by James Hogg, Director of Sandburn Hall.  Sandburn Hall has had a successful first few days’ trading since opening on Monday 24th May, including sales of what is proving to be a popular “Great Yorkshire Staycation” holiday package.  

VisitEngland have produced toolkits and a series of posters for York’s tourism businesses and destinations to download and get involved in the week, promoting their products and services, attractions and experiences. 

Find out more about English Tourism Week here: 


Notes to Editor 

Images: © Gareth Buddo / Visit York

Make It York  
Make It York’s purpose is to develop and promote the city and its surroundings – nationally and internationally – as a vibrant and attractive place to live, visit, study, work and do business. The company’s remit covers leisure and business tourism, city centre management, festivals and events, business support and inward investment.  

Visit York is a part of Make It York and is the leisure tourism brand  
Under the brand Visit York, Make It York’s aim is to market York as a must-see world-class destination to the leisure visitor and ensure investment to develop the quality of tourism in York.  

For more information please contact:  

Ana Ignatova – Communications Executive 

An illustration of someone smiling while looking at a tablet which is propped up in front of them. Text by the illustration reads 'Tell me everything'

Guest Blog: Features of Your Business Are Already Accessible, Don’t Forget to Tell People

Guest Blog: Elki from York Disability Rights Forum

You may not realise but there are already a lot of things about your business that make it accessible in different ways. This post isn’t about the physical, structural changes you can make. It’s about the fantastic things you already have to offer, and how one of the easiest ways to let people know about those things is by making the most of your website.

Most people will check your website before they visit to find out about the things you sell, serve or the services you provide. They’ll have questions about price, range, flavour, availability and so on. Many of your disabled customers will also have a million other questions, and it can be hard to find the answers. Make it easy to find the answers and you’ll find that we’ll choose to spend our money with you.

Make your business the choicest choice

From my perspective as a disabled customer, there’s nothing I value more than someone giving me the power of information so that I can make my own choices. Often information can be left out because it isn’t obviously important to most people. This isn’t a surprise as there are so many things to consider when it comes to accessibility, and it’s not possible to know everybody’s needs. But, you can give as much information to people as possible so that they can figure things out. After all, we know our needs better than anyone and you know your business better than anyone.

Here are some of the accessibility features of your business you might not have thought to shout about:

Your café, restaurant, shop or salon’s premises

Two people sat at a bar, drinking. One person is sitting, raised up to bar level, in an electric wheelchair.
  • The different light and noise levels in your restaurant: Brighter areas might suit someone with visual impairment, dimmer areas might be better  for people who are caused discomfort by bright light. Let people know about the different areas in your premises so they can make an informed choice about where to sit.
  • The floors in your shop: If your shop has a step-free entrance and is level throughout, shout about it. Similarly, if there are areas which are up a step then get out your tape measure and let people know exactly how high that step is. It might affect their choice of mobility aid, footwear or whether they can shop with you on a day where they can get up the step.
  • The door into your salon: Doors which open without any physical force needed are an obvious benefit to a lot of people. So don’t forget to say if your premises has an automatic door. Even if the door isn’t automatic, let people know how it opens. Does it swing? Is it heavy? Does it have a handle or a push bar?

How are you inside?

Have a good look around your premises and describe everything you can about them. Do you have wooden floors or thick carpet; fresh flowers on every table; smooth jazz playing in the background? Think about how things change throughout the day; are you particularly busy mid-afternoon but quiet in the mornings? If there are areas in your premises that are quieter, brighter, darker, warmer, cooler etc. then let people know.

Add the information to your About page, including text and photos (as well as alt text, see my previous post for tips). Give measurements of things like step height, door width, table height etc.

Ideas for details you could include

  • Level/step-free access – Do you have a temporary ramp? Don’t forget to let people know this too and how to request it.
  • Busy and quiet times.
  • Toilet – How big is the room/stall? Do you have a table/shelf in there for belongings? Is there a step into the room/stall?
  • Music and noise levels.
  • The nearest parking.
  • Useful photos of: tables and chairs; inside the premises; the entrance (including door and door handle); the W/C.

Get the competitive edge

Keep learning

For a great list of the features that are important to many of your disabled customers, take a look at AccessAble’s list of accessibility symbols. Even if you don’t have all these features it gives useful insight into the kinds of things that might be important.

Make a video tour

Start outside and give a visual tour of the insides of your premises, describing as you go, making sure to add subtitles and captions to your final video. Try to get everything in shot and give people a good idea what to expect on their visit. This doesn’t have to be a boring informational video, it can be fun and on-brand. Unless your brand is ‘boring informational’. Then go to town!

Your team

Someone holds up a wooden sign in the shape of a speech bubble towards the camera. The text on it reads ‘open’. The person’s smiling face is visible behind the sign.

You and your team’s top-level customer service skills are one of your best accessibility features. So don’t forget to tell people everything you can about them.

  • Everyone is friendly and welcoming: This is a great feature for all your customers but can be especially important for anyone who might be anxious about going out.
  • You’ve done disability awareness training: Knowing that a business’ staff are aware of people’s various physical and communication needs is wonderful. It can reduce the anxiety for many customers who may have had bad experiences with other businesses in the past. If your team has done recent disability awareness training then shout about it.
  • You are fantastic communicators: Do any of your staff know BSL (British Sign Language)? Even a staff member who knows some basic signs can make a big difference to a customer’s experience.

Say hello!

You could include names and photos of your staff on your ‘Meet the Team’ page. Show how friendly and approachable they are. Including a bit of information about their hobbies and interests might help some people feel more comfortable when communicating with them.

Get the competitive edge

Can someone get in touch with a particular member of staff? Could they then be served by that same member of staff? Having already had contact with someone can make it easier to ask about access needs or just make someone feel more comfortable in your business.

Your menu

  • Your menu is available on your website: When done correctly, your blind or visually impaired customers can read your menu. Added bonus: if you aren’t providing a menu in another format, (eg. Braille or large-print) then people can check your menu in-house using a screen reader on someone’s smartphone, for example.

Sounds delicious

Not just an image please

When your food, drink or services menu is provided as just an image, ie. a .jpg or .png, it can’t be easily read by a screen reader. This is because there’s no text in it, only images of text. Similarly a PDF may also contain images rather than text, or the text may be formatted incorrectly so when it’s read out by a screen reader it’s not in the intended order. Of course including photos as well is a great feature!

Make it a web page

In the same way you’d build an About page, you can build a menu page. It doesn’t need to do anything fancy, in fact keeping it simple makes it more likely to be accessible. The biggest tip here is to use headings to their full potential. For a great example, see Shambles Kitchen’s online menu. Don’t forget to add alt text to any images you do include (see my previous post for tips).

Get the competitive edge

If your menu changes regularly, keep it up to date on your website. Include all the information that’s on your in-house menu; including allergens (for food and drink) and pricing. When someone’s choosing whether to visit your business or accessing your menu online while they’re at your venue, this ensures they’re getting the same information as everyone else.

Your booking system

A ‘reserved’ sign is on a table laid with plates and glasses. A small table lamp provides some light, there are small dots of light shining in the background.
  • A customer can add comments to their booking: Someone may need to ask for an extended time slot, be seated downstairs or need room for their guide dog. This is a wonderful feature to help open a conversation with a customer.

Say it at the start

Include the information at the beginning of the booking process, ie. ‘you can leave a comment when you book if you need anything in particular or would like us to get in touch.’

Get the competitive edge

Make clear all the conversation channels you have. Give all the standard contact details as well as any direct messaging services you’re using. Anything like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter etc. Just make sure you’re telling people about the ones that are monitored where they will get a response.

YDRF will shout with you!

Hopefully you can see just how many of the existing features of your business would encourage more disabled customers to choose to spend their money with you. Once you’ve identified these things then let York Disability Rights Forum know and we’ll help spread the word amongst the lovely disabled community in York!