An evaluation of a £1m programme connecting arts organisations and care homes found much more needs to be done to extend the reach of quality arts for older people.

Photo of older people

A more widespread arts offer in care homes could help achieve the person-centred care agenda and potentially be more cost-effective than traditional care methods, a new report has concluded.

Assessing the success of four partnership projects funded over a three-year period, it also notes clashing workplace cultures, high turnover of key staff and the inevitably precarious funding landscape facing care homes and arts organisations present barriers to success.

“The programme has shown that the work of artists in care homes should be considered a necessity not a luxury – an essential element of a person-centred care home culture that has the wellbeing of every resident at its heart,” the report concludes.

“If the growing army of older people with significant care needs are to have a meaningful place in society, their imaginative, creative and playful potential must be recognised, resourced and celebrated.”

Programme

The £1m programme, jointly funded by Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation, aimed to encourage “high-quality creative practice with older people in care” and demonstrate the value of collaboration between the arts and care sectors. It responded to the rapid increase in the number of older people in care, and the need for new economic models for care services.

Four projects with different delivery models were chosen and each provided with £250k over the three-year period:

  • In West Yorkshire, a commercial model aimed to develop a subscription model with care homes
  • In Cornwall and parts of Devon and Somerset, a commissioning model planned to connect the care sector to the local cultural infrastructure
  • In the Nottingham area, a care home-led model was directed by a national care provider
  • In Gloucester and Oxford, an artist development model was supported by the Courtyard Theatre Hereford and a single care home provider.

The three-year programme generated over 2,200 hours of creative activity in care homes, just under 9,000 resident attendances, and the development of new strands of work specific to older people among several arts organisations new to working in care homes.

The evaluators found the benefits to residents were “described positively”, although difficult to quantify numerically. There were also benefits for the professional development of care home staff and arts and cultural workers.

Obstacles and learning

The projects were not without difficulties and the report concludes that none of the four projects presented a “best approach” model.

In two of the four projects, financial difficulties forced the lead arts organisations to cease trading. A new operator took over Cornwall’s commissioning model, while the West Yorkshire commercial-model project closed after the first year. The report notes this was a sign of “the weakness of a market-led model at a time of austerity”.

Problems also arose when the scale of the required contribution from the care homes was made clear. In the care home-led model, key staff changed, reducing the strategic support for the project, which led to the arts organisation taking over management and reporting for the project.

A longer lead in time could have helped alleviate some of the difficulties, the evaluators conclude. They also recommend major programmes carefully scrutinising the governance structures of participating organisations, to ensure their long-term viability, and stress national programmes should identify the optimal geographic footprint for regional partnerships and networks so resources are not stretched too thinly.

The programme highlighted a “significant deficit” in relevant skills and staff time within the care sector, and the report warns most care homes still see the arts as a “minority interest or optional luxury”. It recommends ACE supports the arts sector to provide leadership and build capacity in the care sector.

The report also warns that arts organisations can “easily underestimate the challenges of working in a care home environment”. It says collaborating organisations with very different operating cultures need time to build mutual and shared confidence and an understanding of each other’s working methods.

Writing in the foreword, David Cutler, Director of the Baring Foundation, noted: “So much more needs to be done to extend the reach of the quality arts into many more care homes.

“All residents, like the rest of society, should have the right to live in creative homes.”

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