LAHF – coming of age

As the last fortnight’s series of blogs indicates, the arts in health sector is in an exciting place with great opportunities alongside some tough challenges. Damian Hebron argues that the challenges are indicative of a maturing sector of practice and as LAHF approaches its 18th birthday and he prepares to step down as Director, he reflects on the way the organisation has developed alongside the sector it supports.

LAHF is the successor to the Forum for Art in Hospitals. The Forum was created by the King’s Fund in 1991. Its original aim was to provide regular opportunities for people involved in art in hospitals (doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, artists, therapists, volunteers) to share their experiences and ideas. Meetings took place four times per year at a different London hospital. Speakers from the host institution would talk about their arts programme and show Forum members examples of their work. The buffet supper that followed Forum events was a central draw for many attenders. Through the 1990s the Forum’s focus on the visual arts expanded to include all artforms (e.g. poetry, storytelling, dance, theatre, music, film).

In 1997, the King’s Fund commissioned a study into the viability of a national forum for the arts in health. As a result of that report, the King’s Fund decided to support the creation of what was to become the National Network for the Arts in Health (launched October 2000). The King’s Fund gave the Forum for Art in Hospitals notice that its funding would be coming to an end in March 2002.

The Forum or Art in Hospitals consulted its members and decided to change its name to reflect the wider range of activities in which those members were involved, and to become legally constituted. London Arts in Health Forum – or LAHF – was constituted in 2000 and held its first meeting in March 2001. An Executive Committee was elected by the members in October 2001.

At this point – this was its logo

Old LAHF Logo

a leaflet was produced which described the organisation:

“The London Arts in Health Forum (LAHF) is a London-based networking organisation for health and arts professionals and health-related organisations. LAHF promotes knowledge and understanding of the arts in health care, encourages best practice in the field and stimulates new ideas. The Forum’s primary activity is the sharing of expertise, experience, information and ideas – face to face, on paper and on line. LAHF is a membership organisation. Its members include NHS Trusts, Primary Care Trusts and General Practices, their professional and managerial staff, arts organisations, funding bodies, educational institutions, artists, architects, designers, art therapists and other practitioners in the arts and health. LAHF’s remit includes all aspects of physical and mental health, primary and secondary health care and providers in both the public and private sectors.”

In 2002, a successful bid to London Arts secured £10,000 for the organisation which meant that in 2003, the Committee could recruit a Co-ordinator and Damian Hebron was appointed. His main responsibilities were writing a quarterly (print) newsletter, organising quarterly events, collecting membership subscriptions and servicing the Executive Committee – including arranging annual elections. Over the period 2004-5, LAHF achieved Regularly Funded Organisation status with Arts Council England and also secured a grant to develop a website. The logo changed and LAHF developed an online presence and began to supplement the print newsletter with an e-version.

By 2006, LAHF described itself in this way: “London Arts in Health Forum (LAHF) is a London-based networking organisation for health and arts professionals and health-related organisations. LAHF promotes knowledge and understanding of the arts in health care, encourages best practice in the field and stimulates new ideas.”

In 2007, the Committee took the decision to constitute as a company and subsequently a charity. This was finally achieved in 2009. At the same time, membership fees were dropped and LAHF took the decision to expand its services and offer newsletters, events and advice free to all. Damian’s role was changed to Director and occasional part time administrative and marketing associates were appointed. By 2009, the National Network for Arts in Health had closed down but other regional networks in England were emerging and LAHF was forging links internationally.

In 2009, LAHF successfully applied to remain in the Arts Council’s portfolio, describing itself this way: “LAHF works to join-up thinking in the arts in health sector, bringing together practitioners and opinion formers to develop a strategic approach to arts in health. It does this by hosting events, sharing information, informal networking and the promotion of arts in health through the media. LAHF also distributes a regular, free monthly newsletter with news and information about developments in the sector in London and nationally.”

In 2010 LAHF began working in earnest with partners nationally to develop what became the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing and in 2011, the organisation was successful in being included in the new (and significantly reduced) Arts Council portfolio with an uplift in funding. By 2012, a permanent Administrator was appointed (Neil Parker) and LAHF mounted Fidget – a major public health project designed to coincide with the London Olympics (with funding from the Wellcome Trust)

2012 also saw the first Creativity and Wellbeing Week and the development of LAHF’s annual survey of the arts and health sector. Since that time, Twitter and Facebook presences have been developed along with a blog and LAHF’s newsletter has become a regular fortnightly update. In 2013, LAHF supported the development of the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing and worked to develop a bid for a national sector support organisation. In 2014, LAHF helped the development of a new All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing which began a process of reviewing the sector.

In 2014, the board created a new business plan which defined LAHF as “creating more opportunities for people to benefit from involvement in the arts by:

  • delivering exemplar arts in health activity engaging with significant numbers of people with limited access to the arts,
  • engaging with the health and social care sector to increase their engagement with the arts,
  • raising the standards of arts practice around health and wellbeing,
  • instigating and actively participating in a national debate about the influence of the arts on individual and community wellbeing,
  • raising awareness of the best arts in health activity.”

In July 2017, LAHF was awarded continued status in the Arts Council’s National Portfolio and in the same month, Creative Health, the report of the All Party parliamentary Group was published. LAHF had been instrumental in developing this and in bringing people together to support it. Creativity and Wellbeing Week is established as the key national event in this field. The LAHF newsletter is the most read on this subject in the world. LAHF has more followers through social media than any similarly focused organisation.

In 2018, the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance was launched – merging the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing and the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing. Alongside its other outputs, LAHF writes and produces the new Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance bulletin and, with the support of partners from around the country, in 2019 Creativity and Wellbeing will become a national festival.

As we turn 18 towards the end of this year, a new Director will shape a fresh vision for the organisation, as this new chapter starts, everyone who has supported LAHF over the years can reflect with pride on what the organisation has achieved so far…

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