In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the country and it affected some of Greater Manchester’s most vulnerable young and older people the most.
Amongst those areas worst hit were young people in circumstances such as:
- Economic deprivation
- Experiencing mental health difficulties
- Being a young carer
- A care leaver
- Being disabled
- Being a ‘hidden’ young person (not in education, employment or training).
And older people in circumstances such as:
- With caring duties
- Mobility issues
- Health difficulties
- Those already experiencing loneliness.
‘I know how much I rely on the internet and wanted to help those who don’t have the privilege.’
Both age groups experienced a sharp drop off in face-to-face support from networks and agencies and many experienced concerning levels of isolation. To compound matters, as few as 5% of vulnerable young people took up emergency school places nationally, placing them and their mental health at serious risk.
Whilst the message to stay home and stay safe was necessary, it resulted in increased isolation, particularly for those who were and continue to be digitally excluded and without access to online support or ways to connect with friends and family.
Feelings of loneliness and vulnerability were compounded by media coverage of the susceptibility of older people to Covid-19, a strand of reporting which described older people as expendable during this crisis. Simultaneously, young people were blamed for the spread of the disease.
Arts organisations, schools, colleges, charities and community groups all quickly responded to the crisis by creating online, content but this did not reach many of the most in need.
In Greater Manchester, Creative Care Kits were developed for both older people and young people. Each kit was full of bespoke, structured activities and contained all the equipment needed to complete them.
Activities were selected by a cross-organisation curatorial team to include a wide range of inspiring creative and cultural disciplines including music, writing, craft, horticulture and visual arts.
‘It was a little strange getting on a bus and looking out the windows to empty streets-I felt good knowing that I was doing something that mattered.’
The kits were designed to be delivered to people in their own homes to counteract any feelings of being forgotten and to offer support with mental health and wellbeing. The kits were also designed to foster a feeling of connection at a time when face-to-face interactions with friends, family and support networks were largely impossible.
A second young people’s kit followed which focussed on social action and being the change they wanted to see in the world; making changes for the better in their communities and harnessing their own passions for community good.
Kits distributed across 10 Great Manchester boroughs
22,000 13-20 year old young people received Kits
16,000 older people with little or no digital access received Kits
Over 300 volunteers helped pack and distribute Kits
Over 50 organisations collaborated
Supporting and inspiring young people
Greater Manchester is home to 898,000 children and young people under the age of 25 including 2,000 young care leavers, 27,000 young carers (up to 25 years old), 12,000 unemployed young people aged 18-24. 22,000 of these young people received Creative Care Kits and there were two editions of the kit for young people.
All of the young people’s organisations who distributed the kits said they were good or very good. The wide range of well-thought through creative and cultural activities were designed to be as inclusive as possible and succeeded in appealing to a diverse range of young people across Greater Manchester.
‘…we were so very grateful that Manchester Young Carers received a share of the completed packs, being able to help construct and deliver the packs by way of small contribution to this amazing project.’
‘It’s helped calm me down and take time to chill out without stressing about school.’
‘[We’ve had] lots of great comments from young people on how this made them smile.’
Youth work organisation
Kits particularly helped some young people with mental health and wellbeing and provided a welcome diversion from other worries and concerns.
‘We received several emails from parents thanking us for the kits and especially commenting on the usefulness of the mental health messages within it.’
Reaching isolated older people
‘I thought this was helpful just knowing that someone was thinking and cared.’
16,000 of Greater Manchester’s most vulnerable older people received the Creative Care Kits.
Many older people said that receiving a kit made them feel that someone was thinking of them and helped them to feel connected at a time when isolation was so common.
‘Being at home it stopped me feeling forgotten and alone when I was asked if I wanted one. The human contact when it was brought to my home was like winning the lottery.’
The varied contents provided an opportunity for everyone to find something they liked and to revisit the kit time and time again. Nearly all organisations said that the kits had helped to keep the older people they worked with occupied during lockdown and helped them to express themselves.
‘The contents of the kits were very imaginative. It was a delight to go through them and even more pleasurable to put them to good use.’
‘Concentration is needed to colour, so it is helpful in taking your mind off everyday concerns.’
100% of organisations working with older people said that the kits were good or very good and had helped with older people’s mental health and wellbeing.
‘I was able to say “I did that” when some of the kits arrived at the care home where my mother is a resident.’
‘I have found many of its contents very inspiring, be they tips, activities, challenges and especially the exercises (very appropriate for me). I have done a collage, some weaving, grown a sunflower, exercised and quizzed and there are still things I hope to try in the months ahead.’
The volunteer community
‘To engage my kids in doing something for others (they loved it!).’
The mammoth task of construction and distribution of the Creative Care Kits was only made possible by over 300 people who volunteered their time. Volunteers from local communities, businesses, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and cultural organisations all worked together in shifts at the University of Salford to assemble Kits.
A diverse range of people, young and old, from across Greater Manchester, came together to form a temporary volunteer community from families and furloughed staff to those looking for work experience or a way to give back.
Volunteers talked about a range of reasons why they gave their time, for example:
- To be part of a group effort
- To learn new skills
- To use extra free time they had productively
- To break the monotony of lockdown
- To help others and their community.
‘I had recently been made redundant and was looking for an opportunity to volunteer as this was a much desired opportunity as it tied in with what I am trying to work towards in a new career.’
The convenient location, well-organised Covid-secure environment and easy shift system were all factors which made volunteering an easier decision for many. As well as helping to provide a vital lifeline to Greater Manchester’s most vulnerable, many volunteers gained from the experience:
- 90% said they felt more connected to others as a result of volunteering.
- 93% said that it helped to keep them occupied during lockdown
- 95% said that it has helped their mental health and wellbeing
‘Improved mental health, addressed feelings I was experiencing of powerlessness, felt as though I was part of a large project and it was great to know it was so worthwhile for the young people who would receive the packs.’
‘It is more productive than going to a gym!’
‘I have been interested in volunteering generally for a while. The Covid-19 pandemic means that I have lots more time to do this. I thought this project would be something I could do easily and was worthwhile.’
For others this was a chance to try out volunteering and 26% were first time volunteers.
And for others who regularly volunteer across Greater Manchester, it was an opportunity to still give their time when other volunteering opportunities had stopped.
The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in being involved in the volunteering effort was clear and this was reinforced by formal recognition from the High Sheriff of Greater Manchester.
Collaboration on a grand scale
The colossal task of organising the development, design, production, assembly, distribution and feedback of the Creative Care Kits is testament to the power of partnership working. Greater Manchester Combined Authority worked with a huge range of cultural organisations, creative practitioners, children’s and health service teams, voluntary and community organisations, businesses and care providers to make the Kits a reality.
An impressive range of partner organisations each donated an activity to the co-created kits which also contained information about each partner as well as signposting to services where recipients could get further support. Some activities were developed by artists and creative practitioners whose income and businesses had been severely impacted upon by the pandemic.
Activities were chosen to meet a range of different interests from crafting to creative writing, gardening to dance. These were then curated by a panel and brought together by a design team.
‘The variety of items in the kits was good and they were really thoughtfully put together to be inclusive.’
Young people’s organisation
A volunteer team was mobilised to assemble packs and the GMCA Humanitarian Response Group alongside district Community Response Hubs helped to identify the most effective delivery mechanisms into communities.
‘I Really enjoyed it, was very impressed with how organised it was and the tasks were easy to follow so would be encouraged to volunteer again.’
‘It demonstrated very clearly what can be achieved with modest cash resource, when you can bring people together and in particular land ambitious cross sector collaborative working that comes together with a clear purpose, also passion’.
Creative Care Kits was a Covid-19 response from the Great Place GM programme based at Greater Manchester Combined Authority and was delivered alongside a wide range of cultural, community and voluntary sector organisations.
Full list of creative contributors:
42nd Street, Arc, Art with Heart, The Blair Project, Bolton At Home, Bolton Libraries and Museums, Bolton Octagon, Born and Bred Dance Theatre, Brighter Sound, Bury Culture Champions, Bury Met, Cartwheel Arts, Castlefield Gallery, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Community Arts Northwest, Contact, Creative Industries Trafford, Creative City, Fareshare, Farnworth and Kearsley Events, Food Foundation, Future Everything, Gallery Oldham, GM Arts, GM iTHRIVE Arts and Mental Health Innovation Programme, Greater Sport, Link 4 Life, M6 Theatre Company, Manchester City of Literature, Manchester Craft and Design Centre, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Camerata, Manchester Culture Champions, Manchester Hip Hop Archive, Manchester Libraries, Manchester Museum, Manchester Nature Consortium Youth Panel, Manchester Urban Diggers, NCS (National Citizen Service), Octagon Theatre, Our Stories Matter, People’s History Museum, The Proud Trust, Royal Exchange Theatre, Salford Culture and Place Partnership, Small Things, Stretford Public Hall, Stockport Culture Champions, The Lowry, Trafford Culture Champions, The Turnpike, the University of Manchester, the University of Salford, Unity Radio, Whitworth Art Gallery, Z Arts.
Creative Care Kits was made possible with the generous support of:
Arts Council England, National Heritage Lottery Fund, National Lottery Community Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Curious Minds, Young Manchester, Trafford Housing Trust and Ambition For Ageing.
With additional support from:
Banner UK, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, Elixir Garden Supplies, Modern Designers, A34, Salford Design Studio and the University of Salford.