Posted by Kathleen Steeden
Professor Norma Daykin is a social scientist working in the Department of Health and Applied Social Sciences and the first Professor of Arts in Health. In 2008 she was awarded the Royal Society of Public Health Award for her contribution to music and health research. I met up with her to discuss her research.
How did you become involved in researching the role of arts in health?
I first got involved about eight years ago when I undertook a small study of musicians' attitudes to health and risk. Through this I became aware of the value many musicians attach to the experience of working in health and social care settings where they can develop ‘healthy’ and socially engaged working practices. After this I conducted further research studies including a small study of the role of music therapy in cancer care - a collaboration with colleagues from UWE’s music therapy team. This drew attention from a growing community of researchers and practitioners who are dedicated to enhancing healthcare through the arts.
What sort of research have you been involved with recently?
One of UWE’s most recent projects is a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Willis Newson, an arts consultancy, which specialises in arts and health and manages arts projects in hospitals and healthcare settings. We’ve been working with them for about five years, with UWE evaluating various projects.
What kind of projects do they run?
It’s very varied. One of UWE’s big involvements was to evaluate the ‘Moving On’ Project, a three year modernisation programme that used arts to enhance mental healthcare environments within Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust. Professional artists and architects were commissioned to create artworks for new buildings and there were some really lovely pieces created. At the Fromeside Clinic in Bristol they produced a huge stained glass window for the entrance, courtyard sculptures, a water feature, a room for reflection, lighting installations and wooden furniture. Our research looked at the way that these artworks could enhance environments and improve patient experiences, for example, reducing stigma and providing distraction and relaxation.
The stained glass glazing in the entrance at the Fromeside Clinic in Bristol. The windows were designed and made by glass artist Martin Donlin who developed the concept with service users as part of the Moving On project. [Image: Paul Highnam]
From this followed the Arts at Callington Road project where resident artists ran workshops in poetry, drumming and visual arts. We explored the effects of participation on service users and staff and we also identified those factors that encouraged people to take part.
So did your findings show that the project was beneficial to patients?
Feedback from patients and staff indicated that they found arts very beneficial, and this is confirmed in wider research. However, our research did not just focus on the therapeutic aspects of arts: we were also interested in the role of participatory arts as a method for engaging people who might otherwise find it difficult to take part in service development.
Did it improve the atmosphere around the hospital?
The arts activities had a powerful effect on the environment as a whole. Staff reported that creative arts sessions offered something different and beneficial for them, helping them develop new knowledge and skills. The project also had lasting effects. As well as showcasing patients’ work and engendering a great sense of pride, it created beautiful permanent artworks and displays that can still be seen at the hospital.
Are you working on any other projects with Willis Newson at the moment?
We have just completed an evaluation of a project called Reach that finished in June this year. It used participatory art to engage ‘hard to reach’ groups, in mental health services. In Bristol there were workshops for members of a local a Chinese women’s group and a support group for Asian elders called Dhek Bhal.
So were these workshops run as outreach in the community?
Yes. The participants were very proud of the art they made. At Dhek Bhal the participants created spiral memory maps as a visual representation of their life stories. The Chinese women’s group made a beautiful book called Just food which was full of stories and memories as well as recipes they shared.
A spread from the 'Just food' book made by members of a Chinese Women's Group during art workshops run by artists Barbara Disney and Karen Hayes as part of the Bristol Reach project run by Willis Newson. [Image: Barbara Disney]
I imagine some people from these groups could have felt quite isolated?
Yes, people were incredibly motivated to attend and the groups brought together people who might have felt isolated in their communities. The presence of mental health support workers at the groups enabled people from marginalised communities to understand their own mental health needs and also raised their awareness of the support that’s available. So although it didn’t offer therapy with a capital ‘T’, it was therapeutic in that it raised awareness of people’s mental health needs and created referral routes to formal services when these were needed.
So what’s on the horizon for arts and health research?
Well the Department of Health has published an arts and health prospectus that supports commissioning of art programmes for health services. However, it is widely acknowledged that there needs to be a stronger evidence base for arts and health. The problem is that many small projects might be viewed locally as highly successful but they do not have the resources to run good evaluation research. Willis Newson and UWE have funding for a two year KTP project focused on developing evaluation and training for the arts and health sector. The KTP associate, Megan Attwood, is developing a range of evaluation services as well as training and continuing professional development for artists, managers and healthcare professionals. We hope that ultimately this project will support agencies to be able to conduct their own high quality evaluation and present evidence supporting the benefits of their projects.
And you're also involved with the Musical Pathways project?
Yes. This brings together the arts and health research programme with prison health research at UWE led by Dr Nick de Viggiani. It’s a three year project funded by Big Lottery Research that’s examining the impact of music workshops on health, identity and attitudes to offending in young offenders.
What do you think it is about music that means it has the power to affect our mental health?
That’s a complex question: music is a powerful tool that can affect health through biological, psychological and social pathways; as a social scientist my interest is mainly in the latter. Music making can affect mental health by creating positive experiences of fun, sharing and achievement for people in difficult circumstances. Its non verbal nature means that it can enable expression of emotions that are difficult to describe and that it is accessible to a wide range of people. It can also bring a sense of pride and prestige, countering the stigma that some service users may experience.
Are you an artist yourself?
Yes, I’m a musician. I play saxophone, am in a salsa band and am also MD, conductor and composer for Bristol Reggae Orchestra.
Really! Where have you played?
Our last performance was in October at St George’s. The Orchestra is a mixture of amateurs and professionals and everyone is welcome, we have a lot of fun. One of the aims is to encourage local people, particularly from the St Paul’s area of Bristol, to get involved and develop their musicianship. It’s not directly related to Arts and Health but the Orchestra does create community education and social support for people from disadvantaged communities so in that respect it definitely has a positive impact on everyone involved.
For more information about Willis Newson visit their website.
Click here to contact Professor Norma Daykin.
[Photo of Prof Daykin: Monica Connell]