I came to Arts and Health South West in 2012 from a background in arts and media education and latterly leadership development for the culture and leisure sector. I had a long term commitment to the importance of active engagement with culture at all levels of the education system.
“Culture is what you grow people in.”
Through working with and helping grow Arts and Health South West’s brilliant staff team I have learned a huge amount about the unique contribution arts work makes to human health and wellbeing. Currently there is alarm at a national level about the precarious mental health of young people which we had already identified as a priority area of work in our business plan.
This resonates particularly for me as I reflect on my own pathway through life. When I was a teenager more than fifty years ago there were no mobile phones, social media or even day time TV. A tense set of family relationships exploded as I reached adolescence and I was intensely alone dealing with it. Novels, poetry, singing, theatre and performance came to my aid. Reading, listening to and performing other people’s experience gave me space and permission to begin to understand the pains – and occasional joys – of leading an adult life.
A few years ago when I was giving a talk on the importance of arts education, I alluded briefly to my own experience and found myself saying, “It saved my life.” It was the bare truth. It did. It does.
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.
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.
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
Director / Trustee
What if Creativity could be used to change the world?
Whether you’re in your back room trying to build your own business, a large organisation looking for something creative, or just someone who wants to draw a bit more – I know that creativity can make a difference. Creativity isn’t just about making something that looks good – I believe that it can create more welcoming spaces, nurture a positive approach to wellbeing and can genuinely make a difference.
I believe in working on positive projects that can create change in society, using the arts, creativity and wellbeing. I’m an Artist, Illustrator and Creative Producer based in Bristol.
I’m also one of the Directors of Freedom of Mind, where we want to break down the barriers to mental health. Across Bristol and London, we run a festival celebrating wellbeing and events promoting a positive approach to mental health.
I became a trustee for Arts and Health South West because I genuinely believe that the arts can have a positive impact on our health and I want to continue to promote that across the sector.
Director / Trustee
Samya is a 4th year 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
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.
Martin R White
Director / Trustee
Bio and Photo coming soon
Director / Trustee
Bio and Photo coming soon
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