The new year marked my official start as Director for the London Arts in Health Forum. In January there is always temptation to take out the old and bring in the new, and there may be a degree of that in the next few months. However, I am incredibly lucky to be coming into a position where the charity is already well established and highly respected. This means my main purpose is not to start afresh but to build on the fantastic achievements both the charity and the sector have accomplished. I know that I also have a very big pair of boots to fill!
I first started working in mental health over twenty years ago. At this point it was working in outreach and front-line services and it is safe to say that mental health was still very taboo. When people found out what I did they would either look at me sympathetically or start to tell me about some ‘mad’ old relative they knew.
I am so pleased to say that this is no longer the reality for most of us who are living with mental health problems. People from all walks of life are disclosing mental health conditions and mental health is finally being talked about openly, even if the services are sadly not there to support everyone in need.
For me, coming into the Arts and Health sector at this time feels very much like the sea change we saw in mental health. We have a health secretary who is openly supportive, pledging support for social prescribing and emphasising prevention rather than cure. Tabloid newspapers who once may have mocked creativity and wellbeing are reporting the benefits of culture and creativity on health, generally sensitively and accurately. The recent television show Dancing for Happiness on BBC2 reached a huge audience and was watched widely by an audience who may not have been interested in the sector.
However, despite heaps of evidence around the effectiveness of using arts, culture and creativity to improve wellbeing, this sector is still not necessarily mainstream or seen by the general public as a healthcare solution. People generally are much more likely to participate in physical rather than cultural activities for their wellbeing. I hope that over the next year we will see a huge increase in public understanding and reach to people who may benefit most.
The past year has been highly significant for the organisation and the wider arts and health sector. For the past five years, LAHF has been at the forefront of delivering a national advocacy approach to arts and health resulting in the establishment of the (merged and renamed) Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance. The alliance will be holding their first annual conference in March this year which will showcase much of the fantastic work in this area and hopefully spark all sorts of new conversations.
LAHF also supported the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing. Their Creative Health report was a hugely significant moment for people working in this area, generating new recognition for the impact of the arts on health and wellbeing and serving as an incredible action plan going forward.
My first impression of the role and over the past couple of weeks is that there are some incredible people with many years of experience and expertise in this sector who may well chuckle quietly to themselves as this ‘new’ phenomenon of arts in health continues to gain traction. I have also been so impressed by the sheer volume of collaboration in this field. As I spend my first few weeks in the job visiting projects and learning more about future plans for the sector, I feel in a very privileged position and look forward to hearing from lots of you about your new year resolutions.