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
Creative Alternatives takes a multi-modal arts-based approach to Social Prescribing, utilising a diverse team of experienced applied arts facilitators, many of whom have dual expertise in psychology, counselling, arts therapy and/or mindfulness-based interventions, and who take a person-centred approach to workshop planning and delivery.
“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.”
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.
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 and 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 art 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.
Creative Alternatives has consistently outperformed its targets and achieved life-changing results for many of its participants.
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