Culture

Cultural Wellbeing Grant supports Foss Fairy Trail

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 Foss Fairy Trail, a public river walk created by Tracy Ostle, to encourage families to discover the magical hidden fairy world on the banks of the river Foss. 

The Foss Fairy Trail allows those walking along the river edge to explore a fairy village and discover the folklore, flora and fauna of the enchanted homes. 

Tracy, the founder of the Fairy Trail, began the project after walking down the river pathway during lockdown and seeing a fairy door leaning against a tree – the little door added magic to an area that had otherwise been neglected and abandoned. 

This little door inspired Tracy to create a series of ‘Nut Huts’ for the local squirrels, and the first of many fairy houses which have now been placed along the river with the aim to make people smile. To date, there are X number of fairy houses and magical installations across the river Foss.  

With the help of local funding, the project has escalated with the support of volunteers and community members, with regular clean-up projects taking place along the riverbed as well as a variety of workshops and children’s events.  

With this support and sheer determination, the Foss Fairy Trail has now become a retreat for many people. Volunteers regularly comment on how the fairy houses and general enhancement of the area have lifted the community as a whole. 

One anonymous volunteer said, “Being a volunteer for the Foss fairy trail really saved me from a dark hole of depression and fear, I felt welcomed into a world of nature and magic, I felt part of a community I can’t begin to say how much that helped me. Volunteering for the fairy trail lifted my depression enough for me to make some good decisions on where to go next in life coming across so many good people inspired me to go back and get Maths and English qualifications and do the thing I always dreamed of – going to university to study art. The Foss fairy trail volunteering gave me confidence and hope that I could do this. Thanks to the Foss Fairy trail I feel filled with hope in the future once more.” 

Tracy, founder of the Foss Fairy Trail, said, “From what started as a bit of a joke in lockdown, laying down fairy houses to make people smile has now become an increasingly popular river walk with locals and tourists alike.  The area is now providing free fun for families, helps people escape the drudgery of daily life and students sometimes study or sketch there.  I am thrilled that all the hard work myself and the volunteers have put into the project has paid off!  I get such joy from seeing a diverse number of people enjoying themselves, and all for free! You don’t often get that nowadays!” 

“A number of people have approached me when working down the trail and commented on how the changes to the area have helped improve their wellbeing. . . A gentleman homeless alcoholic comes to mind. He often sat on the trail watching people enjoy themselves and would love to have a chat. He bought us some solar fairy lights and said he had been so inspired by the efforts of the trail it had inspired him to become a better person.”  

Tracy has also published her own book ‘Why it all began’ – a tale of the fairies travelling down the river path and interactive with nature watching. All proceeds will go towards the continuation of the Fairy Trail.  

You can also find out more about upcoming Foss Fairy Trail events here

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Wilberforce Trust

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 ‘Where’s Wilber?’, a Ways to Wellbeing project from the Wilberforce Trust. 

The Wilberforce Trust is an organisation that supports those in York, and further across North Yorkshire, with visual and hearing impairments through a variety of initiatives. One of these is ‘Club Wilber’, a local group for the families of children with visual impairments. This group runs adapted activities, events and trips, allowing visually impaired children and their siblings to safely experience recreational activities in an inclusive environment. The group also connects parents of visually impaired children, creating a supportive network within the York community. 

The ‘Where’s Wilber’ project grows on this – research by the Wilberforce Trust showed that children with disabilities have been particularly struggling with their mental wellbeing, with 93% of families saying that Covid had a negative impact on their children’s access to social experiences and peer support. This is due to the vulnerability of those with disabilities, meaning they needed to isolate even after watching their peers return to pre-lockdown life. 

With few community initiatives helping this these young people, the Wilberforce Trust were able to use the provision of online and electronic resources to create a wide range of appropriate activities as part of ‘Club Wilber’, that these children could enjoy to reduce their mental stress.   

17 new activities were created to boost the mindset of the children involved, including interactive storytelling, relaxation workshops, theatre workshops with York Theatre Royal, and a range of interactive activities to take part at home such as Lego creation, baking and creating bird feeders.  

105 children took part in these activities, 50 of whom were visually impaired. 

86% of families from a recent impact report felt that this project had increased the variety of activities they have access to and 79% reported that they had greater access to more inclusive activities which include both visually impaired and sighted children. 

Comments from participants include:  

“Amazing people that run an amazing club giving families the opportunity to participate and enjoy activities together.” 

“It is a big part of our lives and we rely on them for information about how to support our daughter.” 

“My daughter’s brother was amazed when he saw the other children with canes – like his sister; it has been great for him to see and understand VI a little more and to meet other siblings and make friends.” 

Pip Myring, Club Wilber Co-ordinator, says “The difference the extra hours have made to the service and the impact this has had on the children’s mental health and well-being has been phenomenal. The new sessions we can now provide for them have seen them flourish and the grant has made all this possible.” 

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Pilot Theatre

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 supported by the grants is ‘Creative Connections with Sanctuary-Seekers’ – a project by Pilot Theatre which aims to creative a safe space to welcome sanctuary-seekers to York and encourage them to connect and socialise with others using a series of art, dance and craft sessions. 

Across a two-month period, Pilot Theatre delivered six creative sessions with families from sanctuary-seeker communities in York. Working closely with Stand and Be Counted Theatre, they partnered with organisations and freelancers to deliver the free activities across the city in cultural spaces, with the sessions covering a range of activities including drumming, singing, arts and crafts, dance, storytelling and creative writing.  

Participants ranged in age from early-years to middle-aged adults, predominantly from Syrian, Turkish and Nigerian origin. 

Firas Chihi was the lead practitioner working with Pilot Theatre on the delivery of the project, co-curating and co-facilitating all the creative sessions and liaising with participants. The sanctuary-seeker families were all known to him from his connection with Refugee Action York, which allowed them to instantly feel at ease during these sessions. Firas is also a multi-linguist, and delivered the sessions in Arabic and English, and interpreted for other practitioners as well. 

He said, “Working with Refugee Action York gave me the opportunity to realise that sanctuary seekers in York need a place where they can come together with their families, have a fun day, develop their skills, practise English, and get the chance to make some friends. This was made possible with the collaboration between Pilot Theatre and Stand and Be Counted Theatre. This project gave me the chance to better develop a relationship with our participants, understand their needs, find out what they enjoy doing the most and especially what makes them feel most welcome to a new city! It also made me realise that art and theatre can bring people together no matter where they came from or what their backgrounds are.  

“In this project we had participants from a range of countries and cultures – they mentioned that they loved the fact that we gave them a space where they can get to know each other. As one of the participants mentioned, she has been living in York for the past seven years and she has never had the opportunity to take part in any sort of activity like this. So I think it’s quite important to keep this workshop going.” 

The project proved successful in bringing sanctuary-seeker communities in the city together, developing community belonging, improving wellbeing, and increasing engagement with cultural activity. 

Amanda Smith, Executive Producer and Joint-CEO of Pilot Theatre, said: “The support from Make It York enabled Pilot Theatre and our partner organisations to actively engage with the local sanctuary-seeker communities of the city by offering free creative activities in welcoming and accessible locations. Bringing people together in this way has helped to strengthen social connections, improve wellbeing and to develop creative skills.” 

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Artery for Health

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 supported by the grants was Artery for Health. Developed by heritage and cultural learning consultant Karen Merrifield and the Arts team at York Hospital, to create a proof of concept model to improve connections between healthcare providers, artists and cultural organisations in the city. 

Two recent evaluations of arts interventions at York Hospital revealed healthcare staff and artists welcomed arts intervention with treatment, however, a better understanding of how healthcare professionals work with patients and what artists and cultural organisations can offer patients would be beneficial. Artists raised several areas where they need clarity and support. These include: 

  • The needs of the patient  
  • Expectation around arts and arts therapy 
  • If/How their arts practice complements the work of therapists working on the ward 
  • Delivery of sessions including preparation, timing, setting, delivery – one to one or performance-based session, choice of and place for music, infection control. 

The Cultural Wellbeing Grant allowed Artery for Health to work with Allied Health Professionals to answer these questions. This included largely physiotherapists and occupational therapists who work with patients either as they move from being in-patients to out-patients, or those working with patients with chronic conditions. This focused on those specialising in chronic pain, stroke/neurological conditions and pulmonary conditions. 

The first key finding was that healthcare professionals’ roles have changed hugely due to the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic. COVID 19 means staff are facing unprecedented challenges, including:  

  • Staff burn out and fatigue 
  • Staff shortages 
  • Changes in practice with many clinics moving to video or telephone consultation 
  • Relocation of services due to infection control. For example, Stroke Rehab has moved from Scarborough Hospital to Bridlington 
  • Patients in individual wards to minimise the risk of infection but this leads to a lack of social interaction which can affect recovery 
  • Strict control over who can go onto a ward. With restrictions on family and friends  
  • Through COVID 19 it has not been possible to offer arts interventions in the hospital. 

These findings show that old ways of working in the NHS are gone however this provides a timely opportunity to explore how to work more closely with arts and culture. 

Artery for Health ran workshops in the autumn, bringing cultural organisations, artists and healthcare professionals together to explore further how to work together, offering local artists opportunities to join existing educational programmes by Allied Health Professionals. These conversations were shared with the Northern Powerhouse group of arts teams in hospitals and there is a strong interest in taking this model forward. 

The next steps are pilot projects around: 

Stepping-stone  

Artist taster sessions informed by patients and AHPs to support meaningful and purposeful activity, relating arts to existing education or treatment programmes. These are designed to support patients with chronic and respiratory conditions to self-management.  

Community Culture Club 

A carousel of activities from cultural partners for long covid, chronic pain, pulmonary, neurology and stroke patient groups, social groups and AHPs e.g., the National Railway Museum. 

Art Residencies  

Artist in residence, working across the Trust to improve communication for patients and staff, on a staff-led project. 

Embedding learning 

Co-ordinate a joint learning day with York St. John University, where OTs students, hospital staff and academic staff explore how arts and culture can support their health and wellbeing. 

Additional opportunities with York St John University include: 

  • Research project for third year students (Students decide on research projects in Year 2 e.g., Dance with patients on the Dementia ward, lockdown projects – arts to support wellbeing) 
  • Work placements for students or OTs e.g., museum or other cultural venues 

The Artery for Health project has also recently been awarded grant funding from the 2022 Cultural Wellbeing Grants, which will help in creating these pilot projects and continuing the work in bringing arts interventions to York Hospital.  

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Thunk-It Theatre

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 Thunk-It Theatre’s ‘Common Ground: Back in the Room’ – a project which aimed to highlight shared experiences felt during Covid and build long-term, meaningful relationships to combat loneliness. 

The project aimed to engage with participants aged 16-25 and 50+ in The Groves area who had been affected by isolation and loneliness, particularly those who were isolated due to physical, financial or social barriers.  

The project included 9 workshops that explored creative communications such as letter writing, origami, and postcard creation, all facilitated by industry leaders with experience of delivering successful intergenerational work. This then formed an exhibition, held at Door 84, for friends, family and the Groves community to see, enjoy and celebrate. 

During the workshops, tools were used to encourage communication between participants, allowing them to reflect on the impact of Covid but also to look forward to the future together, through a shared piece of art and ownership.  

338 people engaged across the different activities, with one participant saying, “I had great fun each week, the activities were all interesting and engaging and I always had a great cup of tea. The sessions were always a highlight of my week, it was great to get out the house to meet people and get involved!”  

The team at Thunk-It Theatre said: ‘During the various lockdowns, we developed a number of virtual community projects which although successful, had one thing missing – face-to-face connection. With the funding from Culture and Wellbeing York & Ways to Wellbeing we were able to bring the successful virtual project ‘Common Ground’ to Door 84 in The Groves. Over a period of four months, we ran creative workshops for people aged 16-25, 50+, and workshops for anyone of either age to join. These sessions culminated in a pulling together of the work created as an exhibition, held at Door 84 for friends, family, and the Groves community to come see, enjoy, and celebrate. 

This project showcased the importance of face-to-face connection and creative spaces. The funding enabled us to facilitate a safe and successful project for community members in The Groves. Thank you.’  

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Movers and Shakers Project

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 supported by the grants is Movers and Shakers – a weekly programme of music, movement and social sessions for adults across York. Participants were all adults from across the city living with a range of learning and physical disabilities, sensory impairments and/or consciousness disorders. 

Across 24 sessions, 18 participants took part in fun musical games, movement activities, storytelling and dressing up. These were all led by participant interests, with participants being asked to choose which themes they’d like to explore before the sessions began. Each session also centred around a different participant’s favourite music to encourage them to connect and engage with the content. 

Following the end of the programme, 100% of participants said the Movers and Shakers project made them feel happy and more confident, whilst 90% said the sessions helped them to make new friends. 100% of participants said that they feel more confident in making their own decisions and feel more independent. 

Support workers also regularly commented on how participant behaviour positively changed throughout the course of the sessions, with comments such as: “E looks forward to coming and stands by the door waiting to come and always says she’s had a lovely time’’ and “B noticed the photo booth that Alison had set up, and stood up, ready for his turn without any prompting. This was fantastic as he doesn’t normally move around the room without encouragement.” 

Rose Kent, Creative Director of Accessible Arts and Media, said: ‘Thanks to a grant from Ways to Wellbeing we’re thrilled to be able to re-start our Movers and Shakers group in-person – one of our most popular sessions prior to the pandemic. Covid-19 had left our participants isolated. Now that sessions have started back up it is fabulous seeing their confidence rebuild and supporting them to re-connect with their friends whilst supporting their wellbeing. The smiles on everyone’s faces each week is testament to this!’ 

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports Next Door But One CIC

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 supported by the grants was ‘Keeping Hold of Creativity – Maintaining Artistic Skills and Connections Post COVID’ by Next Door But One CIC.  

Next Door But One CIC are an award-winning LGBTQ+ and disability-led theatre company whose focus is to promote creative skills and encourage community cohesion, particularly for those who may face barriers when accessing theatre.  

Next Door But One CIC launched many new projects as part of their participatory arts programme over COVID, so it was crucial that as they transitioned out of COVID restrictions the support and wellbeing of participants continued. A new programme was then created to act as a bridge into wider, in-person community events.  

The new programme delivered:  

  • YorQueatre – 7 Youth Theatre Workshops for 14-25 year olds who identify as LGBTQ+ 
  • Young Carers – 5 Youth Theatre Workshops for young adult carers (18-25 years olds) 
  • Discover Playback Theatre – 7 Playback Theatre training workshops for adults with mental health problems 
  • Opening Doors – 8 professional development and mentoring sessions for performing arts workers at risk of leaving their career 

In the YorQueatre workshops, all materials used were LGBTQ+ created or focused, whether that was the scripts used or the wider exploration of LGBTQ+ topics from contemporary culture (e.g. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill). There were two main reflections from the workshops. The first was the importance of exploring queer narratives – art and creativity often come from lived experiences and so, by removing heteronormative material, participants were able to connect creativity with their identity. The second was the importance of a regular, safe space – many of the participants were juggling significant milestones, such as exams, university, or moving away from home, and so to create a space where participants could decompress and engage without judgement was crucial. 

The Young Carers workshops worked closely with York Carers Centre, helping both to connect further with participants and members. The workshops often took place within York Carers hangout time slots, meaning if something was expressed in a session, support workers were then able to pick up the conversation in a 1:1 and follow up with support.  

The Discover Playback Theatre workshops developed participants’ confidence in performing. This could be seen through new participants becoming actively involved as the workshops progressed, as well as through existing participants taking a proactive approach in supporting the development of newer participants. There was also a validation of experience with many of the participants saying they felt their story had been seen and heard, making them feel less alone or disconnected.  

The Opening Doors sessions included a series of Q&As with Casting Directors and Festival Producers, creative retreats and 1:1 mentoring sessions. Reactions from this were positive, with all 17 participants commenting on a ‘real need’ for a supportive provision which would equip them with the skills and knowledge to develop their own career.  

During the space of this programme, 85 participants were engaged with 87% saying that the workshops had surpassed their expectations. Participants commented on how they had been inspired to try something new and had more confidence in their own skills and abilities.  

Matt Harper-Hardcastle, Artistic Director at Next Door But One CIC, says: “Even though they were still needed, as lockdown restrictions ended so too did many of the temporary provisions that had been put in place for some of the most impacted members of our community. LGBTQ+ young people still needed spaces that had been made safe and inclusive for them, young carers still wanted the variety of methods that had been created for them to access the services they need, adults with mental ill health still wanted to sustain online learning that had been established during lockdown, and performing arts professionals still needed support to ‘bounce back’ from the impacts of the pandemic. This grant enabled us to do that and because of its success we are still able to maintain all of that delivery. As a company our mission is to connect people to their creativity and community through the theatre we make and the stories we tell. Without a doubt this grant has contributed significantly to that and our ability to build on it!” 

The funding from the Cultural Wellbeing Grant allowed Next Door But One CIC to continue their work throughout Winter/Spring 2022 and increase their reach, sustain their impact and fortify their partnerships with other organisations and community groups. This puts them in a strong position to continue their work into Summer 2022 moving forwards.  

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.” 

Cultural Wellbeing Grants Support Archaeology on Prescription Project

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 is Archaeology on Prescription – the nation’s first archaeological dig ‘on prescription’ for individuals who have experienced mental health difficulties, instigated by York Archaeology (YA). 

In the Autumn of 2021, 38 residents took part in the new pilot project led by York Archaeology. The residents were all referred by wellbeing providers, with the project aiming to provide an opportunity for those who experience mental health to take part in developing their skills and knowledge of archaeology, as well as providing a social environment to break patterns of negative thinking and offer mindfulness.  

During this project, the residents were encouraged to take part in an archaeological dig on site at the former nursing home Willow House on Walmgate. The residents were empowered to make their own decisions about what activities they took part in each day, with those were physically unable to dig never feeling excluded from the archaeological work and other activities planned for bad weather days, including the logging of data, preparing the site, and creating artwork to portray the findings.

Over nine weeks, the perceptions and experiences of participants were gathered through participant observation, interviewing and case studies.  

The findings of the project can be identified in four main themes:  

  • Mental health improvements- the participants were aware of a positive change in their mental health over the course of the project 
  • Supportive and knowledgeable staff – the value and importance of the staff contributions in making people feel welcome and confident to engage in archaeology 
  • Belonging to a team – participants expressed the importance of feeling part of the archaeological team, which took place from the outset of the project 
  • Learning and Discovery – people felt that they had learned a great deal throughout the project and spoke about a sense of discovery/appreciation of the variety of tasks on the project 

One participant said – “As the dig went on, we all became more confident in what we were finding, identifying and ageing pieces of pottery. The number of items which were good enough to keep was amazing. The tactile shards hidden for hundreds of years almost came alive, inspiring imagination and amazement- what was it used for? The decoration on pieces and how it was made and by whom absolutely captivated me, every time I found something.” 

Katrina Gargett, Community Engagement Manager at York Archaeological Trust, says, “Even though Archaeology on Prescription is still a relatively new project, we’re thrilled to say it’s been a success in meeting its aims to positively improve wellbeing, foster new social connections and develop skills and knowledge, helping to contribute to a general sense of belonging for our participants.  

So far we’ve had individuals referred from a number of third-sector organisations across York and through the NHS via Social Prescribing Link Workers. Very few of our participants have taken part in archaeology before they join the project, and many have spoken about their excitement at being given the opportunity to have a go. The excitement is palpable on-site at Willow House, with every object discovered providing a tangible and fascinating link to York’s past. Archaeology really is powerful in the way it can connect people both with each other, through a shared sense of discovery, and with the people who lived before us. 

We are extremely grateful for the support of the Culture and Wellbeing Fund in enabling us to pilot using archaeology for social prescribing. The funding has helped us demonstrate the power of taking part in archaeology to improve well-being and will enable us to continue expanding the project to benefit as many people across the city as possible.” 

Archaeology on Prescription has provided rich insights into the running and results of the project and will allow the team to make a series of recommendations for similar, future projects. The scheme has already been extended into 2022 through the Government’s Community Renewal Fund, and further development of the project is expected. 

Cultural Wellbeing Grants Support Converge Connected Project

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 is Converge Connected – a cultural education programme with York St John University which offers remote access learning to adults with mental health issues, who use local mental health services.  

A team at York St John University visited interested students in the run up to the project to find out about their interests, it’s from here that a small selection of courses were made available for students to take part in. 

Over 28 weeks of zoom sessions, 86 students then took part in the Converge Connected courses, with tutors recalling high levels of engagement from the students which led to many high-quality debates and discussions.  

With these courses taking place primarily online, new systems to assist any student feeling distressed or unwell during the course needed to be developed. Break out rooms were created to provide short breaks for students and ensure any welfare issues were addressed, whilst volunteers kept the rest of the class settled and focused.  

Volunteers for the project were recruited from the student body at York St John to support tutors in classes and to bring their own expertise to classes. Eight student volunteers were involved, including postgraduate and undergraduate students from Creative Writing, Art and Music and Occupational Health and Nursing degrees. Students were offered two training sessions before the project began: one on mental health awareness,  another on boundaries and building rapport with students. 

For students who struggled with technology, or didn’t have access to suitable technology, materials and letters were posted to aid with their learning. One of these students said, “I felt so left behind, especially during the pandemic. I can’t go online; I’m terrified of scammers and honestly, it’s hard for me to understand how to use it. But I eagerly await the next package of materials and the letters from my tutor are so helpful and kind, and I feel like I’m part of something again.” 

Participants of Converge Connected spoke highly of the course as it offered them social elements that they felt they were lacking from their own life for reasons of isolation, disability, and social anxiety. Evaluations show that students felt their confidence improved, they made many social connections and looked forward to classes, with some citing them as the “highlight in their week.” 

Nick Rowe, Professor of Arts and Mental Health at York St John University and Director of Converge Connected, said, “In common with many projects, we developed online and postal courses during the Covid lockdown. We are very grateful to the Culture and Wellbeing Fund for their support; this enabled us to continue to develop our courses into what we now call, Converge Connected. 

Our participants vary widely in terms of previous educational experience and interests but are united by a strong desire to enrich their lives through learning. Many of them are taking early steps towards more social contact after periods of isolation due to ill health or disability. Others are further along in recovery but didn’t feel ready to re-join in-person classes. With the help of the funding, we have been able to offer a growing number of courses and individual sessions.” 

Following the success of this project, Converge Connected are looking to create a ‘Summer School’ of short taster courses over the summer for new students looking to join in October. They’ll also be a collection of ‘mini-courses’ – packages of learning on the York St John Online Classroom with email interaction with tutors. This will help students expand their studies, build confidence for future courses and carrying on learning during vacation times. You can find out more about future projects at www.yorksj.ac.uk/converge 

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