The national Culture Strategy launched by the Scottish Government on 28th February 2020 has a small, but very welcome, section on culture and health, including these words:
Culture improves places for individuals and communities. It plays a key role in maintaining good mental health and wellbeing and it has been shown to reduce levels of social isolation, strengthen social networks and increase self-confidence and resilience. It can support good health and wellbeing for all ages.
Here at VHS we hope that this plants a small seed of change that will grow to ensure that arts and culture are properly recognised, valued, invested in and integrated into the planning and delivery of health and social care across Scotland. We are proud that VHS, our members and the wider voluntary health sector have an influence during the development of the strategy, not least through the Cross Party Group on Health Inequalities 2017 discussion on culture that we organised, our 2018 conference Get the Picture, Culture, Health and Wellbeing, and our series of Keeping the Conversation Going events during 2019 that have fostered stronger engagement and understanding between the arts, health and voluntary sectors. We are also proud to be playing a very active role in the development of Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland, the network highlighted in the Culture Strategy as a key partner in realising a series of ambitions:
In addition, we will support the further development of Arts Culture Health Wellbeing Scotland to include all forms of cultural engagement. The expanded network will advocate for cultural approaches to prevent poor individual and population health and promote cultural intervention as an effective means of tackling health inequality and supporting rehabilitation. It will improve collaboration across the sectors and share good practice and opportunities for joint working. We will also work with the network and Creative Scotland to develop and implement a joint action plan that will build on recent evaluation findings.
The strategy mentions Public Health Scotland prominently, saying the Scottish Government will work with the new agency to create opportunities for realising shared health and wellbeing outcomes through culture. VHS has worked hard over the past four years to raise awareness and engage the third sector in the development of Public Health Scotland and the six national public health priorities. Helping the combined arts, culture and health sectors understand and engage with the new public health landscape will be part of our next task.
Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland (ACHWS) has welcomed the Culture Strategy with a formal statement, which is partly replicated below so that you can see the cross-sectoral nature of this endeavour:
Our ambition for ACHWS is that it will continue to develop and grow and to meet our shared ambitions for arts and culture in supporting improved health and wellbeing in Scotland. ACHWS will support practitioners and organisations to engage more fully with the health and wellbeing agenda in Scotland, working to include a range of different art forms, settings and disciplines.
ACHWS is in the process of seeking SCIO status. It is Chaired by Robbie McGhee (Associate Director, Art in Hospital) and the Secretary is Claire Stevens (Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Scotland). Other committee members are Lucy Casot (CEO, Museums Galleries Scotland), Anne Crandles (Social Prescribing/Community Link Worker Network Manager, Edinburgh Health & Social Care Partnership), Chris Fremantle (Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer in Contemporary Art Practice, Gray’s School of Art), Chris Kelly (Projects Coordinator, Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust), Anne Lee (Organisational Lead for Health and Work Award Programmes, NHS Health Scotland), Len McCaffer (Arts Development Officer at West Lothian Council and Doctoral Researcher, University of West of Scotland), Barbara McEwan Gulliver (Artistic Director, Art in Hospital), Fiona O’Sullivan (Arts Programme Manager, Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity), Jan-Bert van den Berg (Director, Artlink), and Katey Warran (Doctoral Researcher, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and Coordinator, Arts Health Early Career Research Network).
Some of you reading this may have tried to book a place on the next Keeping the Conversation Going event, a collaborative VHS/ACHWS seminar on the role of arts and culture in tackling loneliness and social isolation (Perth, 31st March). This event booked out within 4 hours of our advertising it, so we doubled the number of places available to 80 and they booked up immediately too. We now have a waiting list of 86 which is growing daily. If this level of demand is anything to go by, the Culture Strategy is going to keep VHS and ACHWS extremely busy, not just in keeping conversations going but in getting some real action underway. So watch this space!
Claire Stevens is Chief Executive of VHS.