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Group phone calls, radio and the postal system were used to keep participants connected during lockdown.

Delivery packs for participants in Staying Connected

Entelechy Arts.

A project to deliver arts remotely to older adults during lockdown may provide a blueprint for similar programmes in future.

As much of the sector turned to online arts, digital exclusion among older people presented a challenge to London-based Entelechy Arts, which had already been considering how to retain participants as they grow more frail.

Interviews with staff, artists and volunteers involved in Staying Connected highlighted the importance of supporting both participants and practitioners throughout the remote work, which proved emotionally taxing.


Queen Mary University researchers uncovered four key considerations for making such initiatives a success: accessibility, engagement, flexibility and "adressing wear and tear" on practitioners.

"It was really quite an extraordinary opportunity for us as an arts organisation to have independent analysis done on our programme," Entelechy's Director Maddy Mills said.

"One of the special things about Entelechy is that people are with us for decades. We have to have a programme that doesn't exclude people once they can't physically come to us."

But equally, Mills said, "we knew we couldn't just put everything on Zoom".

Researchers Janelle Jones and Claire Howlin said the AHRC-funded study has uniquely gathered information about participants and practitioners.

"We know from previous research that sometimes these programmes work really well and sometimes they don't work well at all," Howlin said.

"They [practitioners] obviously have a lot of intuition - but intuition isn't always correct."

Mills added: "We have kind of made all the mistakes; we know how it needs to happen [now]."

Challenges and successes

Between April 2020 and March this year, 62 older have people participated in 292 Staying Connected 'phone clusters'.

The entire programme was delivered in analogue formats - through group phone calls, a weekly radio programme that reviewed participants' performances and discussions, and deliveries of bespoke materials like song lyrics and poetry. Most activities were delivered in groups, with some solo activities for the participants to share and discuss with their families.

Practitioners' expertise shaped the iterative initiative, which often focused more on encouraging creativity than any particular output. 

Altogether, the older participants attended 1,338 times within a year.

Outside of the research, participants have expressed their gratitude for the enjoyment and "purpose" it added to their days.

"It's good to know there are people out there who still know we exist," one commented.

But supporting participants emotionally throughout lockdown took an unexpectedly high toll on practitioners and volunteers.

Although counselling and mentoring was available, the research recommended going further still.

"It may be necessary to introduce additional measures... to ensure that practitioners do not become overwhelmed and are suitably equipped to deal with the demands of of providing emotional support."

Effect on wellbeing

A second phase of the research, due for publication in June, will evaluate changes in participants' wellbeing.

Interviews at six month intervals will track whether changes correlate with engagement with the programme.

Howlin said the study will help tease out the fundamental elements needed to have an impact on wellbeing versus what might be more of an "embellishment".

"Rather than arts practitioners having to start from scratch each time, they can use the same format or avoid the same format. It's going to differ depending on what you're doing and who you are serving."