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The importance of access to arts and creativity in care settings has become ever more apparent during the pandemic, writes Alison Teader.

art consultation in a care home
Capturing the magic using images - Sally Knocker and Nancy Cunningham

NAPA Consultation

This week marks the third National Day of Arts in Care Homes. Now an annual event, it was established to raise the profile and champion the benefits of arts, creativity and cultural participation in care settings and help shine a light on the work being done there - which often remains hidden. 

Speaking with colleagues in care homes last year, we were expecting to hear that we should pause the National Day 2020 due to the impact of Covid. Instead, arts and creative activities were continuing to be really important and they welcomed the opportunity to have something to plan for and look forward to. 

So, despite the very difficult situations many were facing, more than 450 care homes took part, organising an event on the day and sharing photos on Twitter. We were also delighted that over 63 museums, galleries and arts organisations joined in. This year we hope to see participation increase, and are already hearing inspiring stories about events including dance sessions, around-the-world virtual cultural tours, exhibitions, craft sessions and music performances.

Complex challenges to be addressed

It is no secret that the situations care homes have faced during the pandemic have been devastating, and that there are complex social challenges that need addressing. Despite this, we have heard time and again how valuable cultural and creative engagement has been, providing a means of expression, entertainment and connection with loved ones and local communities. 

This has taken place through a range of activities including our Only Connect Pen Pals programme and Music for Dementia’s toolkits and resources. Many organisations rose to the challenge and redeveloped their offer for care settings, sharing digital or postal resources, activity ideas and facilitating creative sessions online.  

At the start of the first lockdown, staff in care homes participating in Magic Me’s After Party project told us how helpful it was to have user-friendly creative ideas in the form of printed art packs which they could explore with residents on a one-to-one basis in their rooms. Another care home shared how creative activities gave residents a sense of purpose and achievement, while giving structure to their day, providing motivation and something to look forward to. As one activity co-ordinator told us “I don’t know how we would have survived lockdown without the arts”. 

Multiple benefits to be reaped

Having worked in the field for over 20 years, I have seen first-hand the many benefits resulting from engagement in arts and cultural activities for residents, staff and relatives. Often very meaningful exchanges and experiences can take place as the result of very simple interactions such as a reading a poem, listening to a piece of music, or looking at an image or a museum object. Memories, feelings and cultural connections can be re-awoken. 

Many older people who have held a lifelong belief that they are no good at drawing, writing or other creative forms, are encouraged to give it a go. Once the barrier is broken, it can lead to newfound confidence and increased self-esteem. Creative engagement can enable individuals to learn new skills, proving very beneficial to their sense of identity later in life. 

There are physical health benefits too, including better sleeping patterns and increased appetite for residents alongside improved morale and job satisfaction for staff in care homes with a regular arts offer. The arts and, in particular, art therapy also has an important role to play in palliative care, providing a means for individuals to express difficult thoughts and feelings around end of life. 

Need for a robust evidence base

Although we know the benefits from observation and anecdotal reporting, it is of course important to develop a robust evidence base. There are an increasing number of organisations and academics who are working to contribute to this including The National Centre for Creative Health and University College London.

This year we received funding from the Baring Foundation to lead a consultation to find out more about embedding arts and creativity in care settings. We consulted residents, staff, relatives, activity co-ordinators and artists, and will share our report on the National Day.   

Creative Ageing is a rapidly growing field in the UK, in part in response to the global phenomenon of population ageing. Developing effective partnerships between organisations of all sizes from the care, academic, arts and cultural sectors along with policy and funding bodies is key to unlocking the benefits it can offer. 

Growing connections

NAPA Arts in Care Homes is a strategic member of the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance and we are growing partnerships and connections with many cultural and arts organisations. We have been working with the Southbank Centre on their award-winning Art by Post initiative, and with Manchester Museums, who will share an exhibition they have been developing with a NAPA care home on the National Day.

And throughout the year we have been developing relationships with organisations including Leeds Arts, Health and Wellbeing Network and Culture Liverpool and we look forward to seeing what they share on the day too. While we are all still thinking about what we should do differently in a post-Covid world, we want to ensure that creative health and access to arts and creativity for people living and working in care homes is part of the conversation. 

Care homes are embedded in communities and we are working to help make connections, signpost resources and raise awareness. The National Day of Arts in Care Homes on 24 September is a celebration and also an invitation for everyone to join in. 

Alison Teader is Programme Director at NAPA Arts in Care Homes. 

 napa-activities.co.uk | artsincarehomes.org.uk

 @artsincarehomes #AICH2021

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