Developing a Regional Strategy for Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the South West

Julia Puebla Fortier (Research Fellow at AHSW) talks about the process of developing  a flexible and evolving framework to guide future collaboration across the south west.

Over the last 15 months, I’ve been fortunate to work with AHSW on developing a regional strategy for arts, health and wellbeing as part of my doctoral programme at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Using a participatory action research design, we were able to include the experiences and perspectives of a variety of stakeholders who collaborate to deliver arts, health and wellbeing activities in the South West. The result is a flexible and evolving framework to guide future collaboration in this area.

 

Through interviews, focus groups, online input and discussions of the strategy working group, participants said a number of issues had an impact on their ability to work together with sectors such as health, mental health, local government, and other funding agencies. These include perceptions of the value and legitimacy of arts, health and wellbeing activities; the role of personal relationships and experiences that demonstrate the effect of the activity; the impact of funding constraints on organisational capacity to collaborate; and unequal power relationships between collaborators.

 

The strategy focuses on three key areas to address some of these issues in practical ways. The first goal of the strategy is strengthening capacity through skills-building and other activities that include helping arts organisations and practitioners respond to commissioning opportunities; developing co-production and evaluation capacity; and developing shared quality standards.  The emphasis is on activities that would engage and strengthen capacities for actors in different sectors, working together. This approach also responds to the need to strengthen cross sectoral communication and create shared value.

 

The second goal speaks directly to aligning with health and wellbeing priorities. It recognises thatworking locally and responding to local priorities is the starting point. It also highlights loneliness, mental health, and social prescribing agendas as offering opportunities to focus deeply and develop expertise in priorities that other stakeholders are interested in.

 

The third goal of the strategy is to widen awareness of the value of arts activities in health and wellbeing priorities by promoting evidence and using a variety of strategies to raise visibility and conduct advocacy around arts, health and wellbeing. This addresses the high importance placed on developing and disseminating evidence in order to address issues of legitimacy and beneficial outcomes.

 

The health and social care landscape is complex and can be challenging for arts organizations and practitioners to navigate. The South West region holds a wealth of expertise in delivering and studying the impact of arts, health and wellbeing activities. The strength of strategy development effort comes from the variety of perspectives that inform this agenda for action in the South West. AHSW has facilitated an important first step in producing a roadmap — implementing the strategy will depend on further collaborations between all stakeholders in the region to start conversations, share information, combine efforts, and undertake specific projects.

 

We invite you to look at the strategy and the proposed activities to see how you can help move this work forward.

 

If you have any feedback on this developing piece of work, you can email Alex at alex[at]ahsw.org.uk and Julia at Julia.fortier[at]lshtm.ac.uk.

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