I joined the board of Arts and Health South West in 2019 around the same time of the annual conference which took place in Plymouth that year. The conference was like a home coming for me. I found myself welcomed and happily immersed in a community of artist practitioners and associated professionals all collaborating creatively about the contribution of the arts to our culture, health, and human flourishing. I was thrilled.
As a registered public health specialist in the UK government civil service I have learned through evidence-based practice how health is created and maintained through engineering, housing, environmental health, business regulation and community development. I also learned how ill health can be prevented by a more equitable distribution of resources. Fairness and wanting to contribute to the prevention and reduction of inequalities, particularly health inequality has been one of the central preoccupations of my working life. The other preoccupation has been my participation in the arts and using creative approaches to being alive. I graduated as a fine artist and maintained a practice as a visual artist for over 30 years alongside my public health career. I exhibited and sold work, received grants, set up studios and an exhibition space. I continue to develop my creative practice in preparation for the next stage of my journey.
Becoming a board member at AHSW working with Alex and the team has been a fabulous opportunity to synthesise these aspects of my working life. I reflect on how art and culture has enriched my life and maintained my health through challenging times. I now want to contribute to the work of the trust, to explore ways to leverage the power of human creativity so that it strengthens the health of our members and helps them to flourish.
I joined Arts and Health South West because Alex told me to……there is some truth in that statement but, for those who know me, you will also know that Alex was pushing at an open door.
I am an accountant by training but came to it from a degree in English Literature and to my degree through O’levels and A’Levels in Art and Art History. In my early years Literature, Art and Music were my escape and solace from study, exams, Balance Sheets and Profit & Loss Accounts, and this remains true today.
In the 1990’s I left practice with one of the largest Accountancy firms and started work in the National Health Service. I have worked in the NHS for the last 28 years, in Acute Hospitals, Mental Health Hospitals, Teaching Hospitals, Commissioning and the Regional structures of the NHS. I have been lucky to see the impact of all forms of the arts on the health and wellbeing of patients and carers across the health service. I have seen stunning examples of very vulnerable people cradled through ill-health in the arms of some wonderful arts practitioners.
As I move towards the end of my career in the Health Service, I feel an obligation to pass on those experiences and to do what I can to help others understand the value that the Arts bring to health, the vulnerable and the lonely. Arts and Health South West’s values absolutely reflect my sense of obligation and I am grateful to Alex for realising that, even before I did.
Many of us know instinctively that the arts are good for us. I want to help to tell stories that demonstrate the value of the arts for wellbeing, through statistics and evidence, and through compelling case studies that appeal to people’s emotions.
Although I have worked on a wide range of arts and health projects to raise their profile, in my former role at Arts Council England and now as a freelance consultant, it wasn’t until I had direct personal experience that I realised just how powerful the arts can be.
A friend of mine, a musician like me, was living in a dementia care home. She didn’t recognise people she knew and wasn’t always very responsive, so some friends and I went to play string quartets at the home where she was living. When we arrived, Julie didn’t recognise us or pay us any attention. Many of the other residents had come to listen to us play, and it was just before Christmas, so we played a few carols and well-known light music. Then we began to play quartets that she knew – Mozart and Haydn, and an arrangement of some Corelli that I had played with Julie several times. I could see her as I played, and over a period of time, she was transformed from a person sitting motionless and looking blank, to an engaged audience member enjoying the music. When we finished playing, she stood up and made a short speech to thank us for coming to play in her home. We went over to speak to her, and she said to one of the other members of the quartet, “you’re so lucky having Gillian to lead, she’s such a good player.” An hour previously, she hadn’t known who I was, and now she was chatting animatedly. It felt something truly magical had happened.
Julie really needed someone to play for her every day to help her to be herself and to engage with others. We all need the arts, but those in healthcare and social care settings, particularly so. My story is just one small example of how the arts can make a profound difference to people’s lives. I see my role as a board member for Arts & Health South West as a way to help to develop more opportunities for people to benefit from the arts for their health and wellbeing.
Photo: Jim Wileman
As a young GP new to the blood, sweat and tears of clinical practice I quickly learned that ten minute consultations are but a drop in the ocean of suffering for many, our input limited and lacking. I came to see that patient wellbeing or lack of it, was affected by much more than just physical symptoms and their treatments but included also relationships and their breakdowns, social factors and pressures, lifestyle choices, griefs, challenges and pressures of all kinds that people face.
I saw that people and communities had resources that they were often unaware of and wondered if they might be released through other means. That was why from 2007-2011 I partnered with another GP to secure funding and offer both creative writing and arts based sessions in 12 week blocks for our patients. Through the nurturing facilitation of our artist and poet and the strength of relationships and sharing established by patients, new friendships were formed, confidence found, courses started and life-giving choices made e.g. moving away from difficult neighbours etc. Participants found a ‘voice’ they didn’t know they had, found ‘sense[s] awakened’ and experienced ‘personal and emotional growth’.
‘I’ve benefitted from these sessions, I’ve let things go. I notice more about my surrounds, seasons, colours…’
‘It was very good for my health, tablets don’t help problems that are stuck inside’
Finally, when the world turned full circle and I became a cancer patient myself, the opportunity to write into the darkness was part of my journey back into life.
Director / Trustee
Samya is a medical student, with an intercalated BSc in Global Health at the University of Bristol. She’s volunteered with Off the Record (young’s people’s mental health charity) as a Young Advisor/Trustee and as the Chair of the Wellfest Committee. ‘Wellfest’ is a wellbeing festival for young peoples’ positive mental health, providing opportunities for them to get involved with services in fun, safe and engaging manner.
Samya has worked as a course rep, peer mentor and involved with various societies including Student’s for Global Health and Nutritank with the University. In her role as a Young Trustee at Off the Record she helped shape the charity’s 5 Year Business Plan in collaboration with the CEO and contributed to work with Bristol CCG.
She is passionate about challenging injustice, creating space for young people and championing diversity in education and healthcare, though her work as a BME Success Advocate at the University and nationally as a member of the NHS Youth Forum. In 2018 was selected as ‘Bristol’s 24 under 24 Most Influential Bristolians’ by Rife magazine.
Director / Trustee
Lerato joined the AHSW Trustee Board in 2020. She is an Arts Development Officer at Bristol City Council, a Community Arts and Health practitioner, and a Dance for Parkinson’s Facilitator. Lerato is particularly interested in how dance can contribute to physical and emotional health, and how a ‘Dance on Prescription’ model can support vulnerable people.
Director / Trustee
Agata is a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at Bath Spa University, and a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society (Division of Clinical Psychology). She took a degree in Psychology and an MA in Clinical Psychology at the University of Palermo, Italy; she then moved to Ireland, to undertake a PhD in Applied Psychology at NUI Maynooth. After her doctorate, she worked as an applied researcher in Dublin supporting young homeless people struggling with addiction, and then as a research fellow at The University of Limerick on a national project on assessing the effectiveness of Community Mental Health Teams.
Since moving to the UK in 2013, she has focused her research on exploring the risk factors affecting vulnerable groups and in developing community strategies to promote their wellbeing. She is currently working on developing art-based interventions to support individuals affected by multiple levels of trauma, including refugees, human trafficking survivors, and individuals living with HIV. Her projects with these groups are based on the benefits of creativity in promoting mental health, building resilience, and connecting cultures. Art is in fact a powerful tool in recovery from trauma, as it helps individuals reframe their stories, and to rebuild their Self with the support of virtual or real audiences. Arts and Health South West reflects Agata’s ethos; she sees her role within this organisation as a way to share knowledge and skills and to support and empower those who are on the path of social recovery through creativity.
Director / Trustee
I grew up in different places, across countries and cultures. As a result, I have become ever more pre-occupied with ‘belonging’ and what it means…it’s causes and consequences and how it is experienced differently by sex, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status and across generations.
This finds expression in my work as a Consultant in Public Health, particularly focusing on the wider determinants of health, and the unequal distribution of risk across different populations. It is also a central theme in much of my creative work, most recently in the development of Diaspora Stories, a series of interviews about the relationship between migration and belonging.
I joined the board of trustees of Arts & Health South West at the end of 2021, because I strongly believe that the interface between Health and the Arts is one that has immense potential to improve lives. In the context of population health, I am interested in the potential for the arts to affect the socio-cultural landscape within which values are held and decisions made including those that impact on health.
Director / Trustee
I joined AHSW in November 2021 as I’m keen to put my understanding of funding and the creative industries to good use. I currently work in the Creative Industries team at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, where I help manage the Creative Industries Cluster Programme.
Prior to joining AHRC I spent 15 years working in museums, heritage and culture, including holding the post of Curator at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and at the REME Museum. Outside of work, I act as a mentor in the Museums Association professional development scheme, and am a keen gardener and knitter.
Director / Trustee
I am an Occupational Therapist and a Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of Plymouth. I use creative methods for research and teaching; drawing from my professional experiences and evidence based practice, I explore with students the power of the arts to support health and wellbeing. In my clinical practice, I used art forms to support the health and wellbeing of adults and older adults experiencing mental health problems. More recently, I have supported student placements in third sector organisations where arts have played a key role in personal recovery journeys. I am currently a PhD student exploring how arts-based community projects can stimulate social change to tackle health inequalities.
I wanted to join Arts and Health South West as I am passionate about creativity and the arts as a vehicle for flourishing. There is significant (and generally well accepted evidence) for the health and wellbeing benefits of many of our daily occupations including regular exercise or being in nature. However, I feel there is scope to promote to the health and social care sector, the value individuals, groups and communities experience when engaging in meaningful arts-based doing. I want to support Arts and Health South West in its ambitions to develop creative collaboration between artists, health workers, patients and service users.
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