On the 23rd of September ACHWS held on online event with a focus on climate. Chris Fremantle with input from Lauren Blair, Laurie Duffy, Victoria Hume, Kieran Jack, Gemma Kitson, Leila Loder, Jackie Sands, and Ben Twist reports on what was discussed.
Culture and the arts have a key role at the intersection of health & wellbeing and the climate and biodiversity crises – this was the clear conclusion of the first session held in Scotland focused on the issue.
With speakers from the largest NHS Board in Scotland, the lead organisation focused on greening the arts in Scotland, a socially engaged arts organisation working in a post-industrial context in the West of Scotland, and from a key representative organisation in England, this event scoped out the complexity as well as the opportunities for arts, culture, health and wellbeing to engage with environment. The event was put together in collaboration with Voluntary Health Scotland .
Arts and Sustainability – A New Agenda
The session led off with a presentation from NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde (NHSGGC). This highlighted both the significant challenges for Health Boards as well as demonstrating the role of the arts in addressing these challenges.
Kieran Jack (Assistant Sustainability Officer) led off by highlighting David Attenborough’s statement “Anything we can’t do for ever is by definition unsustainable”. Kieran highlighted the range of challenges including the ‘estate’ (all the buildings and landscapes that an NHS Board is responsible for) as well as the transport, food, and waste challenges.
Kieran highlighted the new standards for buildings that the NHS are working to which has resulted in the new Clydebank Health Centre having heat pumps in the Clyde. Heat pumps take ambient warmth in the river water and turn it into heat for the building. He went to say that NHSGGC is commissioning its first fully net carbon zero health centre.
Gemma Kitson (Greenspace and Urban Realm Officer) discussed the significant challenges for the NHS in turning its traditionally mown grass greenspaces into biodiversity hotspots. She noted the close correlation between disadvantaged communities and areas of ‘vacant and derelict land’ (a specific category for the Scottish Government and Local Authority planning.
Gemma highlighted numerous specific initiatives across NHSGGC to improve landscapes including at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. This agenda has very strong ongoing collaborative work with the arts. Jackie Sands (Health Improvement Senior: Arts and Health) picked up the story talking about the partnership work with Scottish Canals which has resulted in a significant green corridor linking the new Woodside, Possil and Maryhill health centres and the Clay Pits Nature Reserve via the opening up of a public access route the Garscube link as part of the Woodside Health and Care Centre art and environment strategy. Amongst the artworks on the route are some of the last pieces of poetry, earth and climate messages to us all, made by the eminent Scottish writer Alasdair Gray. Jackie highlighted the evidence base for arts & health work, in particular Janet Ruiz’ Literature Review. This drew attention to the overlaps in creating quality places, green amenity for community respite and active travel as part of Public Health cross boundary working, community wealth building and the work being taken forward to improve GGC estate helping residents to see value in accessing, making use of these sites and spaces – strengthening the health service Anchor status.
Leila Loder (Waste Officer) picked up the story and highlighted two specific areas of waste – food and plastic. She noted the multiple challenges for reducing waste including staff habits, internal space and infection control. Leila highlighted the impact of a project at Stobhill and Victoria hospitals which had saved NHSGGC £19,000 simply by separating waste effectively.
The value of partnership work between the sustainability team’s different agenda’s and the arts came across very clearly and the potential for the arts to align with NHSGGC’s net zero strategy is increasingly a priority. There was an interesting discussion on the potential for embedding an artist within the Sustainability Team and having a Sustainability Lead for Health Improvement too.
The second presentation came from Victoria Hume of the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA), the equivalent of ACHWS in England.
CHWA is a national membership organisation for creative health, with about 6000 members from freelancers to large cultural institutions – and a range of national and regional strategic partnerships. Its three pillars of work are advocacy, networking, and providing resources for the people doing and seeking to understand this work.
Victoria focused on CHWA’s Climate Awards which have now formed part of their programme for 3 years. 18 projects have been shortlisted over the 3 years and Victoria offered some findings from reviewing this portfolio. She highlighted that the arts & health sector has tenacity – it has been a long and challenging journey to mainstream the arts in health and wellbeing. The projects shortlisted for the Climate Awards suggest several themes including an increasing awareness of the lived experience of climate change, and a focus on skills-development for participants – from horticulture to design and planning. Many offered support for physical and/or mental health. Most of the projects depended on robust and often extensive local partnership to maximise their impact. Often, the arts were specifically used to challenge entrenched systems and create discussion and change, while heritage programmes and cultural buildings offered spaces in which activism and learning could be cultivated.
Victoria noted a positive shift in the last few years, whereby funders and commissioners may be more willing to support work that sees climate and health as intersecting issues, and perhaps beginning to move away from siloes of socially engaged practice.
CHWA’s starter-for-10 resource on climate and health can be found here.
The final presentation focused on Clyde Rebuilt , a climate adaptation project involving Creative Carbon Scotland (CCS), the lead organisation for greening the arts in Scotland, and RIG Arts, the socially engaged arts organisation in Greenock.
Ben Twist (Director of CCS) provided the overarching context for adaptation – a key area of work focused on the challenges of being resilient to climate change. Whilst the focus has been on ‘mitigation’ of climate change by actions to reduce carbon emissions, there is increased attention to adaptation, particularly of infrastructure.
Clyde Rebuilt was funded as part of the EU’s Climate KIC Innovation Programme which aims to stimulate regional innovation in adaptation. Clyde Rebuilt was led by Climate Ready Clyde, a consortium of local government (7 local authorities), transport, health and other agencies. Creative Carbon Scotland brought the cultural dimension to the table and Ben highlighted the important impacts on the project of the work with Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) and Rig Arts. He described the way the event at GWL framed the climate crisis in terms of colonialism.
The EIT Climate-KIC approach focused on changing the system rather than individual behaviour change. The Clyde Rebuilt team decided to focus on adapting to excess heat, which is not much considered in Glasgow (!) rather than the more obvious topic of flooding, which is where some work has already been done. A key element of the work done was building a map of the complex social system within which excess heat will be dealt with, to understand who might need to be involved. This included working with organisations which wouldn’t normally be invited to be part of climate change discussion such as housing associations and community groups. They also undertook a Social Impact Assessment. CCS worked with the Climate Ready Clyde Board and those organisations involved in the SIA to introduce more emotion and different ways of thinking into meetings by starting them with poetry – either reading it or running a short workshop on writing it – and ‘imagining exercises’, whereby participants were asked to imagine themselves in a transformed Glasgow in 2045. A survey suggested this increased participation in the meetings. Evaluation of the impacts of this work is available here.
CCS also worked on changing and simplifying the language used to communicate about adaptation, and by working with Rig Arts and Glasgow Women’s Library brought different voices into the discussion.
Laurie Duffy the lead artist for RIG Arts on the Clyde Rebuilt project introduced the organisation. RIG Arts is an award winning, socially engaged arts charity based in Inverclyde bringing artists and the community together in a collaborative and creative way. RIG Arts design and deliver a dynamic programme of visual arts & film projects, workshops, exhibitions, public artworks, community spaces and events. They use creativity to work with people to affect change in Urban Regeneration, Climate Challenge, Heritage and Mental Health. RIG Arts are passionate about using creativity and innovation to influence change and to make a positive difference in people’s lives and their environments. They have also collaborated with NHSGGC on other projects including the New Greenock Health and Care Centre’s Building Better Healthcare Award winning collaborative arts strategy ‘Lochs , Rivers and Sea – Found, Fragmented and Forgotten’ project, led by Lead Artist and Curator Stephen Hurrel.
Laurie described how their approach to Clyde Rebuilt grew out of ongoing programmes focused on working with communities on mental health involving projects on upcycling. Until that point, Rig Arts had not looked at adaptation so this was a new area for them. Working with a poet and a collage artist, workshop participants were sent surprise activity packs so they could write poetry and draw maps of an adapted Inverclyde. Workshops were then held on-line as Clyde Rebuilt was disrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown. The results are available here and the zine Costa Del Gourock.
At Glasgow Women’s Library a speaker Dana Thomas, who works with the Ubuntu Woman’s Shelter, an organisation working with migrants who have no recourse to public funds, highlighted the links between climate change and colonialism and sought to change the discourse and perspective from a western, white-focused one to one which acknowledges how a colonial framing still pervades both action and discussion. This opened up new avenues of thought for a local authority officer present who responded, as well as the audience.
The major takeaway Laurie and Ben highlighted was the difference in response to the adaptation from those involved professionally and those who were involved as inhabitants. The former focused on organisational issues such as buildings, infrastructure and risk registers, whereas the latter asked questions such as ‘What if I can’t leave my home?’ and ‘What if my home isn’t suitable during a heatwave?’
The chat included various useful references:
Thanks to Voluntary Health Scotland and in particular Lauren Blair for hosting and support with chat.