ACHWS Creative Health Conversations: Building Healthy Communities


Our first online conversation looked at the role of arts and collaboration in building healthy communities.

Robert Livingston, former CEO at Regional Screen Scotland started off looking at the wider role arts and culture can play, not just in the community health and wellbeing, but in wider aspects of community development.

He called for more arts and culture organisations to get involved in local development planning, 20-minute neighbourhoods, community wealth building etc. He feels arts and culture is hugely undervalued and under considered and often omitted completely from the engagement and planning process and that cultural sector also have to be proactive to ensure they are not absent from key meetings and discussion on these key policy issues.

He believes that a community with a lively and active culture will engage more of its members. Healthy and mentally active residents contribute to building healthy communities. In other words, cultural health can be used as an indicator of wider community health.

He then went on to discuss what ‘Culture’ and ‘Arts’ mean on a community level and felt they should be used in their widest sense including community-run museums and libraries, local events, music festivals, book groups, dance classes and amateur drama etc. seeing them as easily accessible entry points.  He used the cinema as a case study – it can be an especially accessible as a way for communities to start to grow cultural involvement: it’s the most popular and inclusive of all artforms (pre-pandemic more cinema tickets were sold in the UK than for all music and sporting events put together). It’s relatively simple and low cost to organise, and it can easily be delivered by volunteers with some simple training.

His final point was a call to action highlighting that the cultural ecology is under threat to an extent he had not known in 50 years of working in the arts. He cited examples of art funding stretched far beyond the available budgets and the disproportionate balance of financial support from the cultural sector vs. health and social care sector. Communities are also affected by localised challenges such as; rental costs rising, spaces closing, staff redundancies, volunteers not returning, funding pots reducing etc. He feels it is not a case of making the most of what the cultural sector can offer: it’s case of ensuring there is still some kind of viable cultural infrastructure in place.

Craig Crosthwaite, Coordinator of North Ayrshire Foodbank then joined in to talk about how they came into existence and how the needs of the community guided them to expand their services beyond the food back to become a much broader part of the local community.

Craig originally set up a local kids Saturday cinema club in his community when the large cinema closed down.  The organisation now offers a multi-faceted community offering which has evolved organically based on the feedback and needs of the local community.

The cinema offer expanded through working with the local learning team to create small teams in surrounding villages to show films in their local primary schools.  They provided the equipment and training for communities to run these events themselves.

With lock down a lot of the activity was suspended and there was a huge rise in areas such as social isolation, anxiety and mental health issues. As soon as they were able, they got a number of activities up and running which allowed people to get involved, meeting up with people in their local communities and create friendships and support networks.  There are more and more areas being added such as the book club to link between the written word and the film visuals etc.

As part of this expansion, they have started working with a freelance visual and participatory artist based in North Ayrshire – Ellie Swanston. She is a recent arts graduate with a focus on socially engaging arts.

Having been involved in a number of online arts and film projects over lock down she was looking to gain experience and evolve the co-creation approach of her work. She volunteered to work with a number of local projects and did the Participatory Arts short course at the Glasgow Connected Arts Network, which helped her develop frameworks for her participatory arts.

She then saw the food bank advert looking for volunteers for the ‘Warm Hub’, offering a warm space over the winter in response to rising fuel bills.  She offered to do some arts classes which proved to be really popular and led to setting up an ongoing funded project, Everyone an Artist, which is running now and there are plans in place to expand further.

There was a wider discussion looking at the difficult challenge to respond to the community needs, how to find funding for them and the balance of aiming to pay those providing their skills vs. the need to rely on volunteers for things to happen.  The need to working in partnership and the linking up of health and culture, including key organisations and Government.

It see the full conversation here using the passcode: 0t@1ZZiR

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