Over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Welsh NHS Confederation and the Arts Council of Wales have been highlighting the many initiatives artists and the NHS in Wales have set up to help support and maintain people’s mental health and well-being.
Despite the arts facing significant economic challenges resulting from the pandemic, artists have worked creatively to ensure their work continues to reach their audience and continues to benefit all of society.
Their contribution cannot and should not be understated. Reports published before the Coronavirus pandemic suggested that nearly one third of people in Wales feel lonely or isolated. This number is now likely to be significantly higher.
That is why, despite the Coronavirus pandemic, Wales continued to lead the way in using creativity to help support mental health and wellbeing. This momentum could have easily been lost as restrictions were imposed. But rather than accept and pause the progress we had been making, other innovative ways to help keep these vital services running have been found.
By changing the way we deliver artistic services to comply with social distancing, and support people’s physical and mental health and well-being, we can look towards a bold new future for how we can increase access to arts and health initiatives in a post-coronavirus world through using digital technology and empowering staff within health and care settings to take forward and embed creativity when supporting people in their care. One example of this includes Span Arts.
Span Arts is a community arts charity based in Narberth, Pembrokeshire. They have been delivering a high quality and diverse range of music, theatre, comedy and voice events for over 30 years, alongside a wide range of arts and well-being projects to an area where people otherwise do not have access to the arts. Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, they have moved all programmes online and are developing a series of unique projects to keep people singing during these difficult times.
At the beginning of the Coronavirus restrictions, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and the Arts Council of Wales invited people to connect with themselves and others by producing virtual postcards. The project supported young people, the wider Gwent communities and key workers by commissioning a different artist each day to create a bespoke postcard focussing on different aspects of well-being, working with their communities to respond to the crisis. They offered ideas of how people can stay connected, encouraged, and comforted while we were being asked to stay at home. The project fostered specific interactions such as teachers connecting with pupils who could be severely affected by the current restrictions.
The future demand for mental health and well-being services is likely to be significant. NHS organisations are already preparing for an increase in people in their communities requiring support. It has been integral to keep some services running to minimise the impact now, but also to provide a roadmap for how we can provide services for a larger number of people in the longer term.
NHS Wales is well aware that creativity will help to ensure we are able to tackle the indirect health consequences of Coronavirus now, and in the future.
We need to come through this crisis with as much support in our communities as possible, and this means maintaining our well-being as best we can now, but we also need to provide sustainable cultural and creative services in Wales beyond the pandemic.
Nesta Lloyd-Jones is the Assistant Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation which represents all NHS organisations in Wales