Cultural Wellbeing Grants Support Creative Cafes

As part of York’s Culture Strategy, Make It York, York CVS, and City of York Council have come together to award funding of more than £60,000 to nineteen social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation, and mental ill-health across the city. 

The grants, which were made available via the Better Care Fund and Ways to Wellbeing, were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation, and social distancing. This series of case studies profiles each of the 2021 recipients: 

One of the projects which has been supported by the grants was the Creative Cafes project, which took place at both Acomb Explore and at The Centre@Burnholme throughout Autumn/Winter 2021. Creative Cafes aims to bring creative practitioners and local communities together in safe spaces, to increase engagement with culture and creativity, and improve emotional wellbeing. 

Creative Cafes has already proved extremely popular across a few locations in York, with residents able to interact and learn from local artists in small-group sessions over eight-week periods. Past programmes have proved particularly successful at increasing the sense of community within marginalised groups and improving access to sociable, creative activities.  

Acomb Explore was a new location for Creative Cafes, with the grant helping to create an eight-week programme with local artists Gemma Wood and Ingrid Bale. The ten places available on the programme were quickly booked, demonstrating the interest and needs of the local community in accessible creative activities. During the sessions, participants learnt how to work with a range of new materials and techniques as well as meet other like-minded community members. 

Creative Cafes at Burnholme saw local artists Jessica Grady and Kat Wood talk to the local Tang Hall community across an eight-week period. The project had previously taken place here in 2021 and was a success with the local community. This year, following the lifting of covid restrictions, saw slightly different practices take place, such as holding the sessions in a more intimate space and at varying times throughout the day. This meant the Creative Cafes team could learn, understand and adjust following residents’ feedback, ensuring future sessions fully fulfil the needs of the community.  

Feedback from participants spoke very highly of the project, with many expressing an interest in further volunteering at their local community centres and all participants commenting on the ability to meet new people in a safe, fun space.  

One of the participants said they “got new ideas for creativity, met people with lively chat. After Covid 19 with deaths of friends etc and isolation, this class has been essential for my mental and emotional well-being. Would very much like to continue with this class next year as the creativity helps also re. my partially disabled hand.” 

One of the artists involved with the project also commented, “I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Creative Cafes and in particular working alongside another artist, which in turn helped to spark ideas and collaborative ways to teach our own separate skills and bring them together. The space within the cafe was perfect – I found towards the end of the 8 weeks whilst setting up I was having more conversations with library users who were curious about the sessions and all the colourful materials that were on the tables. Working with the same group for 8 weeks also has great benefits for encouraging conversations between the group and I do think that leads to those participants wanting to return to the library and be involved in future activities.  

Having the freedom to develop our own programme for the 8 weeks was fantastic and allowed our skills as artists and workshop tutors to be at the forefront of the workshops. […] Overall, I really enjoyed the whole 8 weeks and working alongside the other artist and would love any opportunity to develop or continue the creative cafes in the future.” 

Wendy Kent, Reader Development Librarian at Explore York Libraries & Archives says “Funding from the Culture and Wellbeing fund enabled Explore to run a second round of Creative Cafes in two of our libraries in the autumn/winter of 2021. We were aware that many people had become much more isolated during the lockdowns and were seeking opportunities to meet and engage in creative activities within their communities and in a safe environment. 

Our cafes offered people the opportunity to share the expertise of four very talented and versatile professional artists, experience a wide range of different creative techniques and develop their own skills. At the same time, they were able to make connections with like-minded people within their communities which were sustained beyond the duration of the sessions.” 

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