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.

Supporting Culture and Wellbeing from the Grassroots

Written by Lewis Hou (Founder and Director, Science Ceilidh)

Harmony Choir joining in a Fun Palaces even in Leith (Chris Scott, 2016)
Harmony Choir joining in a Fun Palaces even in Leith (Chris Scott, 2016)

Culture has an incredible role to play in supporting health and wellbeing so how do we support this on a grassroots level, starting from communities themselves?

I ask this question in response to a provocation that was brought up during a recent Culture Collective meeting I was invited to – “How do we move away from a problem-solving mentality when it comes to working with communities?”

This struck me as a powerful question particularly in the context of health and wellbeing and brought to mind some of the learnings we’ve developed as part of our action research work with the Fun Palaces campaign supporting Cultural Democracy in contrast to the Democratisation of Culture. That is, rather than valuing and making only one type of predefined “culture” more accessible, opening up “what counts” as culture in the first place and challenging a hierarchical and “deficit model” approach – that communities who don’t engage in specific cultural forms are somehow lacking. Instead, how do we support communities as active agents in their own cultural life and wellbeing and recognising their existing assets, knowledge and expertise?

This is one of the core philosophies that motivates our work with Science Ceilidh and something we celebrate during the Fun Palaces weekend of action in October – our shout out of the value of the skills and passions already in all communities and the power this has to challenge social isolation among other wider themes of climate action and inequity.

Another approach we take is breaking down the barriers around understanding (and contributing to) the links between creativity and wellbeing in the first place. We do this on the ground as practitioners through our school and youthwork programmes supporting educators and learners (including with our Youth Music Initiative resources) along with programmes such as supporting singing leader practitioners to do action research together and co-develop toolkits to support inclusive choirs and connecting the links (and appropriate boundaries required) between singing and mental health (our Singing Side By Side project).

Beyond delivery, we also hold space and networks “connecting the connectors” of communities – the trusted intermediaries who have built up meaningful relationships and can themselves advocate and support diverse cultural participation, ownership and wellbeing. This is the aim of the Culture and Wellbeing Community Network Scotland as an informal network with a facebook group, mailing list and discussions sharing ideas on broad themes across sectors – from community anchors like libraries to wider third sector organisations, creative practitioners and individuals and groups who are just curious themselves. For specifically youth workers – a critical bridge to a wide range of young people – we also support the Open Mind Network who meet to share practice and ideas supporting creativity and mental health.

Communities themselves should also be leading the evolving understanding of the role culture and creativity have in wellbeing more widely – and there is an increasing understanding that research must meaningfully incorporate different types of expertise and lived experiences.

What might it look like to be able to support communities to work with researchers to explore mental wellbeing in a way which is genuinely equitable rather than only being researched “on” – at best tokenistically included and at worst, extracted from. This is a question we are working with the British Science Association to understand with The Ideas Fund which is taking a more participatory approach to supporting these types of partnerships with groups in the Highlands and Islands. The first round supported over half a million pounds between 15 groups – many of whom this was their first experience of working with researchers and for some, their first bit of funding. Many of these projects heavily embed artists and arts-based approaches to explore mental wellbeing – from carers working as peer researchers in Moray and families on the Isle of Gigha understanding the role of art and nature, groups in North Uist exploring the role of gaelic heritage and digital approaches, to youth-led projects understanding the wellbeing benefits of blue spaces or glasswork in Caithness.

A sharing ceilidh with New Scots sharing a kurdish dance (Chris Scott, 2019)

Convening the groups and researchers for our regular Community of Practices has provided rich opportunities for both peer-based learning and connections along with wider learning about how these partnerships develop and can be supported – how to balance the push and pulls of having enough structure whilst being responsive to community needs (especially during a pandemic) and how to share power and decision-making in spite of the different pace and administrative requirements of community and academic research.

We have learnt a lot about the process of funding and supporting this work more equitably, and keen to share this to the wider sector (see some early reflections here). This has shaped our currently live Second Round calling for Expressions of Interest to join a funded “incubator” which provides tailored support, matching with researchers, and development time before finalising a project collaboratively between partners and the fund itself.

If you’re a community group in the Highlands and Islands and/or a researcher (including independent researcher) and interested in this process, find out more here. If you’re interested in this grant scheme (or any of our other projects) on a strategic level, we host an active stakeholder network sharing learning and opportunities to connect – please get in touch lewis@scienceceilidh.com

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.


For Freedom Space with Rivers, an intergenerational arts project

image of women smiling while working with ink on large paper scroll

image of women smiling while working with ink on large paper scroll

For Freedom Space with Rivers is a six month intergenerational arts project being led creatively by Rachel Clive and Kirsty Stansfield. It is building on Rachel Clive’s ecological theatre practice-based research at the University of Glasgow in collaboration with Kirsty Stansfield’s arts in health practise at the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice.

The concept and opening questions

River flooding, like sea level rise, is increasing across the world and the effect of this on humans who live by rivers can be devastating. Freedom space for rivers thinking is an approach to river/ flood risk management which seeks to workwith rivers as they respond to a changing climate, rather than against them. It acknowledges that there are urban areas in which hard engineering approaches are necessary but advocates, where possible, for “more space for rivers to migrate and flood naturally” (Biron et al, 2014). When rivers have the freedom space to find their own way, they enrich the environment and nurture biodiversity in the process. Protecting freedom space for rivers means not building new developments on flood plains. As flooding increases, humans will have to retreat from rivers in some areas, and relocate, something that will clearly be easier for some humans than others.

This project is interested in generating conversations, creative processes and art-works about our connections with the rivers and waterways we live with. What happens to freedom space for rivers thinking in urban contexts, given the constraints on rivers in built up areas? How do we understand and experience freedom space for rivers thinking both practically and emotionally? How might we explore it creatively? What does freedom space mean for us as humans? How do our personal, social and material circumstances affect our experiences and understandings of freedom space?

How might we respect and nurture our own and each others freedom space, as well as that of rivers, across our multiple differences?

woman collecting water from the River Clyde

About the project

The project is offering a series of arts-based workshops and individual arts commissions exploring our understandings and expressions of freedom space for rivers, with particular reference to the River Clyde and its tributaries. The first workshop series relates to COP26, and is based at the University of Glasgow. The second workshop series is evolving around questions of health and care, and is based at the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice. The third workshop series is focussing on urgent questions of precarity, migration, safety/asylum and solidarity and is based at Interfaith Glasgow. From these group workshops 15 individual artist commissions are being supported by the project. These commissions are being developed collectively with reference to a large travelling scroll, and will be shared publicly at the University of Glasgow in May 2022, six months after the end of COP26.

The project is funded by Being Human, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, and presented as part of the University of Glasgow’s The Dear Green Bothy programme, hosting creative and critical responses to climate emergency.

If you would like to engage with the project in any way then please contact Rachel Clive on Rachel.Clive@glasgow.ac.uk or Casi Dylan on Casi.Dylan@glasgow.ac.uk

Images:  Layering and Moving with the Scroll: Ardjila, Ghanima, Fatima, Fifi and Anwan, Springburn, March 2022 & Ghanima collecting water from the River Clyde, Dumbarton, March 2022.


CAIR: Caithness Artists in Residence, Lyth Arts Centre

people wearing embroidered aprons and holding other garments with emboidered text

people wearing embroidered aprons and holding other garments with emboidered text

Lyth Arts Centre (LAC) is the UK’s most northerly mainland arts centre, presenting an annual programme of live performance across Caithness alongside contemporary visual art and an extensive participatory programme of educational and socially-engaged arts projects led by local creatives in our community. LAC strives to be a nationally and internationally recognised, industry leading small arts centre that practices radical localism and challenges conceptions about what it means to be ‘rural’. Our Caithness community is at the heart of everything we do and we work across the county acting as a cultural hub for the North of Scotland.

Since the pandemic, LAC has been developing new arts and wellbeing programmes. Central to this has been CAIR: Caithness Artists in Residence – a new community arts initiative that connects artists and creative practitioners with distinct Caithness communities.
Led by LAC and local community organisations, the project explores how we could work with artists and facilitate creative responses to local problems, encouraging creative cultural activism and prioritising an artist and community centric approach to recovery after Coronavirus.

A steep decline in our communities mental wellbeing since Covid-19 is regularly reported by many of our partners and their participants. In response to this, several of the CAIR projects have focussed on arts-based wellbeing activities to reduce isolation, improve confidence and explore tools and ideas for healthy wellbeing in Caithness.

Five local artists worked with local communities in Caithness, responding to Locality Plans within the area. Kelly Munro worked with local young people to explore their maritime heritage and identity through metalwork and design. Karlyn Sutherland worked specifically with Caithness Community Connections in Lybster using her vast skill base. George Gunn worked across the county delivering writing workshops and developing ‘Words on the Wind’ a community poem/film project which explores and captures what it means to live in Caithness today. Donna Swanson collaborated with young people and communities in and around Thurso using theatre and film techniques to explore mental health and other local issues. And Joanne B Karr collaborated with Befriending Caithness – a voluntary service that aims to reduce isolation and loneliness in the county by matching volunteers to older isolated adults in the county.

During Joanne’s project she collaborated with Befriending Caithness to develop a textile reminiscent pack through weekly sessions. The themes were varied and included “School Days” and “Fishing Folk”. The group decided to collaboratively create a “reminiscence pack library” at the Befriending Caithness office where befrienders can go and pick up a pack and take it along to their meetings with befriendees to encourage conversation and memory. These will also be available to local care homes. As a culmination of the project the group decided to host a touring exhibition, taking some of the work to more rural and remote befriendees gardens.

Feedback from befrienders described the project as being like a breath of fresh air and a true inspiration, reporting that the best part of the project were the conversations that people had in preparation before sewing. Key worker Angie House from Befriending Caithness said,

‘The whole experience has encouraged conversation at a very difficult time, it brought laughter, socialising and exchanging our past individual stories within the community.’

Watch videos and find out more about the CAIR: Caithness Artists in Residence here.

Charlotte Mountford, Co-Director Lyth Arts Centre


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