The challenge

Thirty six people interested in a healthier Greater Manchester gathered to discuss how we could help address the area’s significant health inequalities and poorer levels of healthy life expectancy.

From many decades of practical experience and academic endeavour, we know that the arts have a critical role to play in improving health outcomes for individuals and communities.

We wanted to test how we could create the conditions for the emergence of social movements for health through an arts-based approach. Our hypothesis was that these conditions might include:

  • Changes in social policy
  • Availability of financial resources to encourage social activism which drew on arts-based approaches to health
  • Opportunities to learn and network
  • Encouragement for experimentation and innovation
  • Access to research.

Our approach

We wanted to find a way to bring together organisations and individuals with a passion for making the health and wellbeing benefits of arts participation available to Greater Manchester’s geographically and culturally diverse communities.

‘Support the little people, because that’s where the magic happens.’

Sally Bonnie, Inspire Women, LWMA network member

We needed to create an intersectoral, multidisciplinary space which stimulated learning, partnership and new work. Early financial support from the Health as a Social Movement programme (commissioned by NHS England) enabled us to consult widely on the needs of the sector.

A lively network called Live Well Make Art was formed with 350 creative practitioners, experts in public health, arts and health commissioners, GPs, nurses, health researchers, those working in libraries, art galleries, grassroots neighbourhood- based community organisations, theatres, galleries and universities.

We were committed to everyone being able to share the benefits of engaging in and enjoying the arts and creative activities with each other. Together we wanted to make our streets, neighbourhoods and communities better places to live.

‘Thank you for organising this fantastic event… We have started to use some of the strategies and shared the Sketch App with the team at our Breakfast Friday meeting’

Farhat Ayaz, speech and language therapist for Greater Manchester Health

Great Place funding enabled us to:

  • Set up a two-year programme of networking and learning events – each one held in a different district
  • Commission a film to explore the connection between arts, health and wellbeing and young people in Greater Manchester https://
  • Run three small-scale test and learn pilots to facilitate deeper and stronger connections between health professionals and arts practitioners in Tameside, Bolton and South Manchester
  • Commission two hyper-local neighbourhood pilots in the Brunswick and Ardwick (Manchester) and Hollinwood (Oldham) neighbourhoods
  • Run a microgrant programme to stimulate grass roots delivery and development.

5 district-based events helped build momentum and develop the network, whilst facilitating access to the existing evidence base – something essential to the commissioning process. We took a deeper dive into thematic areas such as loneliness, social change, motherhood/early years and healthier working.

24 microgrant awards between £300-£500, encouraged organisations and individuals to explore potential new approaches and partnerships. These were available to organisations and individuals who, in turn, delivered workshops, small projects or used the opportunity to develop their own practice.

For example, Shanali Perara and Nicky Duirs delivered their ‘Make Space and Breathe’ workshop exploring how the arts could help combat stress. They received overwhelmingly positive feedback from health professionals, some of whom immediately began implementing their learning.

Neighbourhood pilots were co-designed with members of the community who identified as being in poor health, working alongside local arts, heritage and health professionals.

Projects delivered a tailored programme of work addressing health issues that the community believed important for the long- term benefit of their neighbourhood.

For example, in Brunswick, Women’s Footprints worked with creative practitioner Hebe Reilly to co-design a programme allowing members to explore creative arts and expand their cultural geography. The programme developed links with nearby cultural organisations and expanded beyond their neighbourhood, building organisational connections and raising the group’s profile locally and with the wider cultural sector. This has resulted in new opportunities, including participating in Manchester International Festival and participants taking part in projects outside of the group.

Participants realised that art is for them. They found themselves to be creative, both mentally and physically. The experience was therapeutic and sparked many conversations around the table.

  • 5 networking events with a total of 217 participants
  • 24 microgrants and two neighbourhood projects involving 15 events, 31 workshops and 684 participants
  • Three informal exchange events between health professionals and creative practitioners with a total of 59 participants.

‘A lot of lottery funding goes to middle class projects, but these (Brunswick and Ardwick) are the areas where people are buying the lottery tickets. That’s the tragedy. We have a museum at the end of the road and yet not many people feel it’s for them, whereas other people travel in from South Manchester to go there. So it’s been great in that sense.’

Mo Blue, Community Resources Manager (Brunswick Church LWMA network member)

What we achieved

The project created a mutually supportive network and a body of high quality, collaborative work which will contribute to Greater Manchester’s continuing development of its approach to culture, health and wellbeing with the voice of communities as its driving force.

The combined work of the members (grassroots, funded and unfunded, community and voluntary arts organisations) represents a large proportion of Greater Manchester’s cultural provision.

This has sown the seeds for a lively arts and health landscape with promising connections and emerging partnerships and collaborations between cultural organisations seeking to extend the health benefits of arts and creativity, grassroots organisations and the voluntary sector.

Health sector professionals, creative practitioners, cultural organisations and community organisations provide the backbone of Greater Manchester’s creative health ecology. Live Well Make Art provided events and opportunities to meet, understand more about each other’s priorities and develop new collaborations and partnerships.

In communities, individual participants benefitted from the enjoyment and satisfaction of participating in creative activities, making more use of the city region’s cultural facilities, and understanding more about the contribution that creativity could make to their health and wellbeing.

The network has made a valuable contribution to Greater Manchester’s creative health ecology, providing the city with excellent examples of work that put substantial ‘flesh on the bones’ of the city’s claims to be a leader in arts and health.

Many of Greater Manchester’s arts and community organisations are now in a position where they are better able to articulate the value of their work, apply for funding and/ or get involved in collaborations and partnerships due to contacts they have made.

We went to the theatre. These things are not in working class communities. We think they’re not for us, so we don’t access them.

So Hebe opened up our minds and imagination. Now we think the arts are for us and are for everyone. It’s opened up my mind and imagination, to see myself represented, to see people from my culture in the arts. And it’s good to see diverse people in the audience and on stage.’

Sandra Cotterell (Volunteer, Women’s Footprints)

What we learned

There is a growing understanding and enthusiasm amongst professionals in the health and social care sectors for the benefits of engaging in and creating culture. The support Live Well Make Art received for its work, from a range of partners, was clear evidence of this.

However, the same kinds of social determinants that lead to bad health outcomes –education, employment opportunities, social connections – negatively affected the opportunities many Greater Manchester residents had to engage in and create culture.

For those wishing to address this issue, having to ‘prove’ the impact or benefit of arts and culture to health, over and over again, diverts energy and resources and can stifle innovation. The evidence base exists and we need to make this more accessible to the cultural sector whilst disseminating it to our health colleagues.

It can still be very difficult to find the right people to talk to about an idea, project or programme of work and connections still need to be improved. We need a more systematised approach.

It is important to note that some creative practitioners find it deeply troubling that the arts are being used to address health and wellbeing issues, when they often suffer personally from the effect of precarious contracts and exploitation. This points to the need for the cultural sector to develop and model progressive work practices that support the physical and mental health of their workforce.

Live Well Make Art was entirely volunteer-led, with an experienced practitioner offering her time as a volunteer co-ordinator. This enabled it to be fleet of foot and able to respond quickly and flexibly to emerging issues and opportunities, but there were considerable limits to what we were able to offer, including our capacity to draw a much wider public into the conversation.

Image credits: © Lydia Entwhistle. © Live Well Make Art. © Women’s Footprints