Featured Project: Creative Alternatives
In the UK 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. According to the Mental Health Foundation, mixed anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health problems experienced, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately affected. The economic costs of mental ill health are estimated to be £70 billion per year.
The Alef Trust manages Creative Alternatives, an award-winning ‘arts on prescription’ service for adults experiencing anxiety, stress and depression. Arts on prescription embraces the philosophy of social prescribing which recognises that many health conditions are not purely bio-medical in origin but have broader social determinants: social prescribing programmes offer non-medical interventions that promote wellbeing and self-care.
Creative Alternatives is funded by Public Health and it delivers multi-modal arts workshop programmes and events, combining expressive arts practice with mindfulness, relaxation and social stimulation. All programme outputs are underpinned by the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, a set of evidence based actions developed by the UK think tank the New Economics Foundation which promote wellbeing and foster resilience.
Creative Alternatives was first established in 2006 in Sefton, Merseyside, UK, where the service flourished for 10 years. In 2015 the service expanded to St.Helens, Merseyside.
We are now working on building Creative Alternatives Online, a live arts programme delivered through our online learning portals which will be accessible to people from anywhere in the UK.
The Baring Foundation: Being creative and being together: Creative Alternatives Online
“Social prescribing can alleviate […] pressure on GPs and other healthcare professionals, general practices and the health service more widely, all of whom are struggling to survive difficult times. Social prescribing goes further than that. By facilitating the patients’ access to a whole range of voluntary and local services, including becoming volunteers themselves, there is much potential to nurture local social capital and catalyse health-creating communities that strengthen their ability to care for themselves and each other.” Report of the Annual Social Prescribing Network Conference, January 2016
Creative Alternatives workshops combine relaxation and mindfulness practices with expressive multi-modal arts activity, featuring creative writing, visual arts and sculpture, photography, pottery and woodwork. One-off projects have included creative cooking and gardening, as well as drama and dance.
Our Online Service…
Creative Alternatives works locally as well as online. In 2017 we designed an online version of our local arts-on-prescription service, offering themed creative wellbeing activities over a period of 12 weeks. We took an asset-based approach to the design of content, focusing on themes of self-care, gratitude, as well as a vision-building, identifying sources of inspiration & wellness with every participant. We delivered this through a collaborative online learning environment, offering a safe & confidential online space accessible via sign-in. Every week we shared new content – videos, podcasts, activity guides, exploring an uplifting theme. Participants engaged with new content and then shared their responses in asynchronous forums, where they could write and share artwork at a time convenient to them. We also held live sessions on a video-conferencing platform, enabling people to connect directly, talk, play and dream. Our evaluation showed that the online pilot programme was as effective as our local provision.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst many people are isolated at home, we’re developing our online platform, evolving our content and resources and planning a bigger rollout to serve more people. In this online programme we’ll be encouraging people to explore weekly videos and prompts, encouraging ideas for creative activities that can easily be done from home and without expensive arts materials. Each week, we will also host live video-conferencing sessions with our artists, encouraging people to share their ideas and experiences and inspire each other. If you are a social prescribing provider interested in accessing the programme, or referral agent, or indeed if you’re interested in joining this online programme for your own enjoyment and enrichment, please complete the form below, and we’ll add you to our newsletter.
What participants say…
“Before joining Creative Alternatives I felt like I’d lost sense of who I was and like I was trapped in a dark place. Since taking part I can now see light again and have gained confidence in the person that I used to be. The creative process has helped me do that and I get lost in drawing and painting for hours on end. I now also feel confident that I can join new groups and meet new people. Without Creative Alternatives I honestly think I would still be at home feeling lost and alone in the darkness.”
“I feel stronger and more balanced, I have not had to go to the surgery since joining CA and have now discussed with my doctor about reduction in medication.”
“I am finding confidence to speak to strangers, to have opinions, and to find a little courage to face my fears. I am becoming more involved again and less withdrawn.”
”I just want you to know how special and important these arts workshops are to me. They are a lifeline. They are the only moments in a week when I feel free to share and communicate. They draw my emotions, and make me feel vulnerable but somehow safe too. They give me a confidence to try to express some of my fears and deepest feelings, and there are always people there who are willing to listen and encourage.”
“Creative Alternatives has been beneficial to me as it is totally away from the normal things I would do in everyday life. I find going to the classes therapeutic and relaxing, the staff and people who attend make you totally at ease.”
“I think this could be a real milestone for me. Everyone was so welcoming and kind, and I feel I made some real friends. I thoroughly enjoyed the workshops. As I mentioned to you, I’ve done a great deal of choral singing in the past, but it is something I haven’t felt able to do recently. To sing again in harmony from music felt wonderful, and was a very important step for me.”
“I have found that Creative Alternatives helped me prolong the time when I didn’t have to go onto an anti-depressant.”
“I have a better outlook on my life now and I realise there are other people like myself who are isolated. Creative Alternatives helped me move forward and ask for help. My mum died while I was on the programme. Creative Alternatives helped me while I was looking after her and it helped me deal with my loss of her.”
“I am going through a lot of stress in my private life. Amongst all the chaos Creative Alternatives has been a place where I can relax and have a different focus. It’s been a life-line to me, a real God send.”
If you’d like to contact us about Creative Alternatives or receive our newsletter with regular updates on events, courses, and remain connected to our network: