Case Studies

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 

Cultural Wellbeing Grants Support Heritage Hunters 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 Heritage Hunters – which saw 10 Hull Road residents join with York Museums Trust to look back and learn more about the history of the people who used to live in their area. This was not only a research project, but also a way to unite the community and encourage neighbours to learn more about each other.  

Through the use of five workshops running from January to April, the Heritage Hunters worked closely with both York Castle Museum and York Explore to uncover maps, council minutes, photographs, diaries and a whole variety of artefacts that would help them find out more about their local community. 

From the discussions, activities and responses of those involved, a pop-up exhibition has been created which will be loaned to local schools and community centres across the city, allowing them to learn about the newly uncovered history of their local area. Four banners have been created, highlighting all the information collated by the group, as well as booklets which will be distributed to local schools and community centres in May 2022. 

There has also been a 16-page toolkit which has been sent to interested parties living on Hull Road. To date, this has included 50 households and is currently downloadable from the York Musuem Trust website. 

Philip Newton, Communities Engagement Researcher who led the Heritage Hunters Project, says: 

“Honestly, Hull Road Heritage Hunters has been one of the most uplifting and enjoyable projects I have been involved with. Not only have we discovered interesting and personal stories linked to Hull Road but it has brought together neighbours who had never met and now share an interest in their local heritage. The Cultural Commissioning grant award has allowed us to test new ways of working with local communities and will now be able to continue this project annually with other areas in the city; expanding our knowledge of the city and sharing it with local residents.” 

Other comments from participants include:  

The most enjoyable part of the project was ‘meeting other people with interests in local history, and discussing ideas with them. Working in a group of new researchers, and presenting the work together in the community was the highlight. revealing the facts. I also loved scouring the archives.’ 

Participants were pleased at the opportunity of ‘getting the brain cells going, meeting other people and working out how to continue when the project has finished. i.e. attending Tang Hall History groups and the connections made at these places.’ 

‘We’ve loved working on this project & the opportunity to meet our neighbours. I’m sure we’ll all keep in touch. We’re not stopping now – I’m determined to find out when the Bees Wing was built!’ 

Cultural Wellbeing Grant Supports York Dance Space’s ‘Mindful Movements’ 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 York Dance Space’s Mindful Movements initiative. Designed to promote physical and mental wellbeing in people over the age of 55 living in York – York Dance Space created a series of activities that participants could take part in in their own homes to positively boost mind, body and soul during lockdown.   

Mindful Movements included five ‘audio movement sessions’ which were available to stream for free online. Taking participants on a journey of music and movement, the sessions guided people through a series of fun creative dance exercises. The audio sessions were created to encourage people to take just fifteen minutes out of their day to bring awareness to their bodies and get moving.  

Running alongside these were live online Zoom sessions focusing on creative dance and  mindfulness which participants could join each week for five weeks. The dance classes included a mixture of taught movement sequences and creative improvisations all delivered in a friendly and welcoming environment. People of all abilities were encouraged to take part, with absolutely no dance experience necessary to get involved. 

The evening mindfulness classes also ran each week – offering short thirty-minute sessions to get participants to take part in mindfulness awareness exercises and move their bodies. 

The sessions were well attended with 43 people taking part in the evening mindfulness classes and 29 in the morning creative dance –  and feedback was very positive. Comments included:  

“l found it released tensions and left me feeling cheerful and physically relaxed.” 

“Creative Dance on a Monday morning is brilliant. It’s relaxing and gets you moving at the same time. It’s gentle and energetic and a totally lovely way to start the week.” 

“I tried the online sessions and Wednesdays classes. They were lovely and calm and just what I could manage. I enjoyed connecting with other people as I’m currently strictly isolating.”  

Hannah Wintie-Hawkins of York Dance Space said, “Movement and dance has been proven to have great benefits for both physical and mental health and with this initiative we were really looking at ways to help boost people’s mental wellbeing through mindfulness.  The sessions were designed to make participants more aware of their bodies, be connected to the present moment in time and to respond physically through moving. We wanted them to be really inclusive so that everyone could participate at their own pace in the comfort of your own home with no experience needed. 

Feedback was really great and it lovely that we were able to bring together a growing community of people all interested in how dance and moving could benefit their health and wellbeing.   We had so many lovely people taking part in this project and we look forward to welcoming them to the studio and meeting them face to face now. We are planning on running more evening mindfulness sessions at a later time and opening this up to all ages so watch this space for more details on that. A huge thank you to everyone who took part and to the Better Care Fund for helping us to put these sessions on.”  

For more details about the Mindful Movement project here: yorkdancespace.com/mindful-movement 

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: www.yorksj.ac.uk/converge/

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