21 May 2021

CNWL have a dedicated Arts in Health team. Since the Covid-19 crisis, they have been making efforts to engage service-users remotely and they’re now making further plans as restrictions are gradually lifted.

What is CNWL Arts in Health?

A rapidly expanding step-down service, running alongside mainstream psychiatric care, particularly CNWL’s Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster Arts Psychotherapies teams. Through its links, both within the community and inpatient settings, they use arts and culture to support people with complex, lived experiences of mental health difficulties. To find out more about the service, visit the service webpage here.

How do people access the service?

Most referrals are received from secondary care, particularly the Arts Therapies. The team receive some primary care referrals and occasionally self-referrals, though this is typically from current or previous CNWL service users within the Trust’s remit.

The Friday Studios Online

The team have been running hour-long, creativity and supportive studios, on Friday afternoons, using Zoom. The Friday Studios are built around the following structure:

  • Welcome – Time dedicated to check in with participants and welcome them into the space
  • Studio time – Participants are encouraged to engage in creative activities from origami, painting and drawing to spoken word and poetry
  • Sharing – Participants are invited to share the work with the group, or share with the Arts in Health team directly, after the Studios
  • Body Scan – Sessions end with a full body scan lead by Nina Patel, CNWL Arts in Health’s Co-Lead and registered Dance Movement Psychotherapist. This gives participants the opportunity to check in with themselves and practice mindfulness

Each session works around a central theme which participants decide on themselves, supported by the Arts in Health team. Previous themes have included ‘bravery and resilience,’ ‘gratitude’ and ‘through the window.’

Laiqa Miriam, CNWL Arts in Health Project Worker, said: “Being able to hold the Friday Studios virtually helps us to reach participants who may be anxious or concerned about meeting up during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s supported them to build a digital community during a time when social isolation is heightened.” Despite this success, the team are hoping to bring in hybrid sessions that will welcome participants both remotely and in person as restrictions are gradually eased.

The British Museum Workshop

Previously, the team would organise monthly visits to cultural hubs like, The Royal Academy of Arts and The Wellcome Collection. In response to Covid-19 restrictions, CNWL Arts in Health partnered with the British Museum to bring the arts to their patients virtually.

Their first digital workshop explored objects from around the world and across eras to highlight themes of creativity, craftsmanship and resilience. Participants were invited to analyse the objects in detail and reflect on how they’ve used creativity to build their resilience during Covid. This workshop was the service’s largest online participation to date and was well-received by service users. 

What do service users say?

  • “Being part of the online studios has given me an opportunity to be myself and express my thoughts and feelings through artwork.”
  • “My social interaction has been improved by Friday Studios. It’s very welcoming and no one is excluded.”
  • “CNWL Arts in Health is a no-pressure group and it’s a more secure place if you find it hard to mix with others.” 

What do the team say?

We asked staff about their own thoughts on the relationship between arts engagement and mental health. Laiqa said: “Research increasingly shows that taking part in creative activities has a positive effect on physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. It can improve people’s wellbeing and provide a real sense of fulfilment - the Friday Studios have been such a valuable experience for both our participants and staff. I’ve really enjoyed working as a part of this team.”

Levar Polson, CNWL Arts in Health Lead, said: “Arts in Health, exists to create space for service users (who we refer to as ‘Participants’) to continue to progress in their recovery and general wellbeing through creativity, quality and community. Our ongoing focus is to promote expression via arts and culture towards independence and better social engagement.”

What’s next for the service? 

  • There are plans to relaunch the service’s pre-Covid film club – this will include screenings over Zoom and artist-led workshops
  • The team will be launching a brand-new website in the next couple of months – the team will also be looking to increase their social media outreach
  • Future collaborations and partnerships are in the making with more leading arts organisations
  • The launch of a CNWL Arts Hub – Stay posted for more news on this