Exciting times ahead for social prescribing in Edinburgh

Social prescribing is everywhere – from government strategies and health service plans to Third Sector Organisations’ websites. Referring individuals to a range of local, non-clinical activities or services seems like a sensible way to reduce loneliness and/or social isolation. However, many people offered such advice often need a little bit of persuasion to attend or participate in new groups. Even when the person has expressed an interest in doing so, there can be tangible barriers to overcome first, for example, transport, accessibility issues and financial implications.

Several health and social care partnerships across Scotland have introduced Community Link Workers (CLWs) to provide people with support and encouragement to take those first steps towards engaging in local activities. To maximise the effectiveness of this role, CLWs are employed by Third Sector Organisations but are based in local GP practices working as part of the team. The CLWs ensure that practice teams are aware of what is available in the immediate neighbourhood so that the clinicians and reception staff can signpost people to community organisations and events. Although still in its infancy, there is growing academic evidence that highlights the benefits of social prescribing and as it becomes more established other organisations and services have started to explore this as an additional way to help people.

Although slightly removed from the more usual health setting, social prescribing is referred to throughout Scottish Government’s Culture Strategy. That said, the principle is the same – engagement in cultural activities results in reduced social isolation and improved health outcomes. It doesn’t matter whether this is participating in a drama workshop, attending an art class or learning a musical instrument. Every one of these, and more, are part of Scotland’s rich culture.

For some people activities that have a cultural basis can be daunting – stepping into new venues, attending exhibitions, exploring different and varied forms of art/music and perhaps feeling that some of these events are “out of bounds”. Happily, the CLWs have case studies that demonstrate that these activities can be enjoyed by everyone and in conjunction with Voluntary Health Scotland (VHScotland.org.uk), Edinburgh’s CLW Network has been working to encourage greater involvement.

VHS hosted two online events bringing together arts practitioners, such as Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, Museums Galleries Scotland, Art in Healthcare and some of the city’s link workers. There was a series of presentations and discussions over the course of both sessions allowing participants the opportunity to begin to understand one others’ roles and perspectives and to find ways to work together to improve access to a wide range of activities for people living in Edinburgh.

Shortly after these sessions a workshop was held for several of the city’s CLWs at The Collective, a contemporary art centre based at the top of Calton Hill. The aim was to introduce the CLWs to this resource and for the link workers to add it to their “toolbox” of activities. This took place during the pandemic and was therefore a virtual event but there are now ambitions to run another piece of collaborative work and some training for the CLWs, this time in person.

This led us to consider that there might be value in setting up direct conversations between art practitioners and link workers. We created a Teams meeting and invited participants from the two VHS events to come along. On the day we had representation from organisations such as Tinderbox, Art in Healthcare, The Collective, City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh International Film Festival. There was much discussion around the challenges of connecting with people who face challenges such as finance and housing, with arts and culture. The group were able to discuss how CLWs, their employing organisations, local practices and the arts and culture groups could work together to bring arts and culture to the people we work with in ways that suits them. It was agreed that contact details could be shared so that smaller, more specific discussions could take place.

We are delighted to report that these “pairings” have been extremely helpful. CLWs have highlighted specific barriers and offered some practical solutions to the individual organisations and the CLWs are able to describe and explain what local arts initiatives (in their very broadest sense) can offer and, where appropriate, encourage individuals to get involved.

The small groupings are due to come back together again during June 2022 to share learning and experiences. This will provide us with an opportunity to jointly agree next steps and future ventures. Exciting times lie ahead!

Written by Anne Crandles, CLW

Woven in Govan

Woven in Govan is a project in which commissioned artists have created work inspired by, or responding to, the stories and voices of women working as carers and/or in healthcare. Artists are socially-engaged practitioners with decades of experience working with local communities to create innovative, temporary artworks in Govan’s public realm.

Launch photographs: Dillon Clarke, StudioFV


Ursula Kam-Ling Cheng installation at the Wh•eat café featuring quotes and key themes relating to the care burden placed upon women through a series of engagement sessions with local women on beautifully designed graphics on milk cartons, leaflets and posters.

Mary Barbour statue outside Govan underground station dressed in nursing uniforms by artist ts Beal

Artwork: Deirdre Nelson. Image: Eoin Carey

The artworks are a glocal response to the increased care burden of women during the COVID-19 pandemic, part of an international partnership between Scotland, Ukraine and Sweden. Woven in Govan is led by Fablevision, working in partnership with Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, Govan HELP, Moogety Garden, and other organisations and local people in Govan, Glasgow. Commissioned artists are t s Beall (Lead), Ursula Kam-Ling Cheng, Deirdre Nelson, Audrey O’Brien, Donna Rutherford, Alex Wilde and Ailie Rutherford.

Read more here or insta @wovennetwork , fb @wovenartworks

A touring exhibition of the work can be viewed in Kinning Park Complex from Thursday, June 23rd for two weeks. And…. watch this space….discussions are taking place between Fablevision, Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership, the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Creative Renfrewshire about a possible ‘Woven in Renfrewshire’ project.

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 4 – 24th May 2022

#SMHAF22 is exploring the theme GATHER as it returns to live audiences across Scotland for the first time since 2019. The innovative programme of events is unveiled on the SMHAF website and in printed brochures available in community and cultural venues across Scotland, with over 200 events and activities, including both live and online programming, covering theatre, film, writing, visual arts and music.

Now in its 16th year, throughout the festival, gatherings will be happening across Scotland, and online, to celebrate the arts, promote good mental health and wellbeing, and bring communities together.

Gail Aldam, Arts and Events Manger at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming artists to Gather with us and share their incredible work exploring mental health issues, challenging stigma and demonstrating how engagement with the arts can improve wellbeing. The theme of Gather was inspired by the longing to come together, connect and share experiences after two years of restrictions but we are also questioning what it now means to gather as we enter a post-pandemic age.

“We are hugely excited to be returning to live venues with SMHAF this year. While the last two years have been challenging, it did allow us to reach new audiences in Scotland and beyond with our online events, which is why we will continue to offer digital events as part of our commitment to inclusive and accessible programming.”

SMHAF is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). The festival coincides with the charity’s Mental Health Awareness Week which, this year, is examining Loneliness. Research by MHF has found that loneliness has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The week will raise awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental wellbeing and the practical steps we can take to address it.

SMHAF is one of Scotland’s biggest, most diverse festivals. Its unique approach – programmed from the ground up by a team of regional co-ordinators all across the country, in combination with a film and theatre programme curated by the Mental Health Foundation – ensures it connects with audiences that other arts festivals often struggle to reach.


ACHWS submission of evidence to Scottish Government’s Spending Review

The Scottish Government has undertaken a Resource Spending Review. The purpose of a resource spending review is to set out spending plans for the remainder of the parliamentary term which support the Scottish Government’s ambitions. On 24th February 2022, Robbie McGhee, the Chair of ACHWS gave evidence to the Scottish Government’s Finance and Public Adminstration Committee.

The final report can be viewed here. Robbie’s evidence to support the written submission below can be found on pages 22-40 of the pdf report.

The evidence that has been submitted in advance of the meeting can be view here:


Mapping Arts & Health Provision in Scotland

Creative Scotland mapping of Arts and Health logo, white text on lilac background

Creative Scotland mapping of Arts and Health logo, white text on lilac background

Creative Scotland commissioned a mapping report by Rocket Science to understand the scale and scope of the current involvement of professional artists working in the area of health and wellbeing within Scotland.

“The scope of the work by Rocket Science was tightly defined to cover artsrelated activity led by one or more professional artists, created with explicit artistic and health or artistic and wellbeing objectives, and designed to enhance the health and/or wellbeing of those with a health related condition or illness, the wider public, and the healthcare workforce.”

The report outlines the policy landscape around art and health in the UK and specifically in Scotland. The development of Arts, Culture, Health and Wellbeing Scotland (ACHWS) network plays a role within the Scottish Government‘s Cultural Strategy by providing information and support for anyone working across arts and culture, health and wellbeing in Scotland.

While Rocket Science‘s mapping exercise hasn’t captured all the noteable work being carried out within Scotland, it provides a useful overview of the sector. Respondants were asked whether they had an equality, diversity and inclusion plan and whether they were disabled-led or multi-ethnic led. Other questions covered: artists’ practice in health and wellbeing; funding for arts and health in Scotland; the impact of COVID-19 on arts and health activities in Scotland; the challenges and barriers to delivering the arts and health / wellbeing agenda; ambitions for delivering the arts and health / wellbeing agenda; and how Creative Scotland can support organisations and artists involved in arts and health / wellbeing.

You can read the full report here.

A Frame is Not a State of Mind – Artist Talk

abstract still frame from artists' film
abstract still frame from artists' film
This was the first in a series of Creative Coffee Break Conversations: addressing the role of culture in tackling health inequalities, an event organised by Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland.


Health inequalities are the unjust and avoidable differences in people’s health across the population and between specific population groups.
Health inequalities go against the principles of social justice because they are avoidable. They do not occur randomly or by chance. They are socially determined by circumstances largely beyond an individual’s control. These circumstances disadvantage people and limit their chance to live longer, healthier lives.”  (Public Health Scotland)

During this Artist Talk, Chris McAdam and James McLardy were in conversation to discuss their process of making their collaborative film works during the two lockdowns. The first collaboration explored remoteness and the strangeness of the moment. The second key, life moments and their collaborative working relationship. Both films explore and question feelings of isolation and anxiety.

This original event took place online via Zoom on Tuesday 7 December 2021.

You can access the films and documentation of the conversation as a Vimeo Collection below. Or you can view these separately:  documentation of the conversation between Chris and and James, and the films that they talk about A Frame is Not a State of Mind  and  Summer in to Autumn.



Thanks to Chris McAdam and James McLardy for sharing their work with us.

This was the first event in series of conversations which will include looking at the role culture can play in supporting health outcomes including: food poverty, women’s health, and global culture and health collaborations. More information will be available soon.



Preventing Falls Using Dance, Dance to Health

older people taking part in jopyful movement session while seated

older people taking part in jopyful movement session while seated

The arts touch us all. Imagine a world without music, film, theatre, dance or photography. It would be bland and joyless.

We are all passionate about the arts: the music track that makes you get up and dance; the poem that feels as though it’s speaking directly to you; and those big, communal artistic occasions – Glastonbury, the opening ceremony of the London Olympics – which stay with you forever. The arts communicate to us all, bridging divides and breaking down barriers. They have the power to change, even shatter perceptions, in an instant. They can compel us to act, to change. They can transform individuals and societies.

Aesop is a charity that harnesses the power of the arts to help solve society’s big challenges.

Their lead programme addresses the challenge of older people falling. One in three people aged over 65 fall each year. In Scotland, more than 18,000 older people are admitted to hospital after a fall each year.

Sadly, having a fall is often the start of a downward spiral. Falls destroy confidence, increase isolation and reduce independence. About 1 in 10 older people who fall become afraid to leave their homes in case they fall again.

This challenge is going to get bigger. Scotland’s population is continuing to age, with a 50% increase in over 60s projected by 2033.

Dance to Health’s approach to meeting this challenge is to recruit experienced community dance artists. They then train as ‘Postural Stability Instructors’ – the recognized qualification for falls prevention exercise. Lastly they learn how to smuggle Postural Stability into creative dance.

Dance to Health then set up classes for groups of people, in their community or online. The fun, creative nature of the classes aims to increase engagement so more people take part and continue to do so for longer periods of time.

The Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) at Sheffield Hallam University was commissioned to evaluate Dance to Health. They concluded:

  • Dance to Health offers the health system an effective and cost-effective means to address the issue of older people’s falls.
  • Dance to Health reduces falls by 58%
  • If an older person visits A&E because of a fall, the likelihood of their becoming an in-patient is 35%. This reduces to 13% for Dance to Health participants.
  • Dance to Health’s fidelity to existing physiotherapy programmes was confirmed.
  • As a result of Dance to Health:
    • 96% of participants report becoming more physically active,
    • 96% report increased mental wellbeing,
    • 87% report making new friends.
  • 98% of participants said they would recommend the Dance to Health programme to people who have fallen or who are at risk of falling.

3 people young and older making creative movement

Equally as impressive as the evidence above is the feedback received directly from participants:

I can feel my legs are stronger. I went to a family christening at the weekend and my relatives couldn’t believe the difference in me. My entire posture has changed.

When I leave here I feel elated – it sort of uplifts you. Gives you a lovely feeling. I can come in depressed and go out feeling on top of the world.

After retirement my mobility had become increasingly compromised, by worn out, stiff and painful hips. After each session I was able to stand up straight instead of being stooped, if only temporarily, and move about more freely.

Dance to Health currently works with a wide range of organisations in England and Wales. Customers include Hywel Dda University Health Board, Swansea Bay University Health Board, Birmingham City Council Adult Social Services, Walsall Council Public Health, Anchor Care Homes and Age UK.

Dance to Health is exploring how best to support healthcare organisations in Scotland and welcomes conversations with anyone who would like to collaborate.

To find out more about Dance to Health, feel free to get in touch with Ben Worth, Head of Business Development & Marketing, t: 07723 310 714 / e: benworth@ae-sop.org

Harmony Choir, All Together Now

Harmony Choir will be raising awareness of effects of racism on mental health and share some thoughts on how to be an active bystander.

The reason behind this event is to support people we know, who have been affected by racism, either directly or vicariously.

All proceeds will go to anti-racist organisations: ESA Scotland, which provides (amongst others) peer-support sessions to the East and Southeast Asian community, and the Racial Justice Network, which provides bystander training free of charge.

The musical show on Monday 29th November will include short talks from (guest) performers and the two involved organisations.

The event will also launch a research project on this subject, with involvement from colleagues from the University of West-Scotland and the University of Roehampton. Ethical approval for this study has been granted by the University of Edinburgh, School of Health in Social Science.

You can read a bit more about the rationale behind the event and the research here, in a blog I wrote together with a member from Harmony Choir, Christina McClure and with Jingni Ma, a colleague PhD researcher: https://www.nationalelfservice.net/populations-and-settings/black-and-minority-ethnic/vicarious-racism-mental-health/

More information can be found here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/news/2021/choir-that-transforms-lives-extends-its-range.


Liesbeth Tip, Research Assistant, University of Edinburgh

The musical event is kindly funded by the Society for Theatre Research: https://www.str.org.uk/grants-prizes/research-awards/

Scottish Social Prescribing Network (SSPN) launch

Scottish Social Prescribing Network logo

Scottish Social Prescribing Network logo

Established in June 2020, the Scottish Social Prescribing Network (SSPN) is an inclusive network for the social prescribing community, spanning link workers, community activity providers, researchers and those individuals we seek to serve and support through social prescribing.

Over the past year the network has developed a Steering Group, organised and delivered a number of networking events, secured funding to run a future planning consultation day and launched the SSPN website https://www.scottishspn.org.uk/

The key aim of the network is to develop the strategic direction of social prescribing in Scotland and this will include raising awareness, identifying and sharing best practice, developing training programmes reflecting the full breadth of network membership, commissioning research and celebrating and showcasing the benefits of social prescribing to individuals, communities and the nation’s health.

If you would like to know more please visit the website or contact the SSPN on info@scottishspn.org.uk . If you wish to stay up to date please follow @ScottishSPN on Twitter.

Ruthanne Baxter is on the Steering Group for SSPN  and is the Museums Services Manager at the University of Edinburgh and Founder of Prescribe Culture, a heritage-based, non-clinical initiative for those seeking support for mental health and wellbeing. She is an ambassador for the power and benefits of the social prescribing movement, with a passion for the role of heritage to be a ‘vehicle’ for effective social prescribing.


For more information on social prescribing: