Extensive research has shown that crafts can have a really positive impact on our mental wellbeing, which has led to its use by mental health charities such as Mind, and inspired the founding of organisations such as Art Refuge, Create and Arts Against Isolation.
For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to shine some light on several amazing organisations, people and charities who are using craft as a way to help relieve symptoms of mental ill-health, inspire people and connect communities. We talked to them about their first-hand experience of the transformative impact of crafts.
Craft and Well Being
In 2018, Dr Daisy Fancourt from Univerity College London carried out a study with almost 50,000 people in which she observed how creative activities can be effective in improving our mood. The research established that taking part in even a small amount of a creative activity can boost wellbeing in three key ways:
- Distraction – focusing our minds on the creative process.
- Contemplation – being creative provides us with space to get perspective on our lives and problems.
- Self-development - being creative helps us to build self-esteem and confidence.
This research consolidates what humans have been recognising for centuries – from the relaxation provided by the repetitive action of stitching, to the satisfaction of being creative and making something with our own hands – crafting makes us feel good. Craft has been used by individuals for relaxation and escapism for decades, but it wasn’t until Art Therapy was coined in 1942 by Adrien Hill that it actually started to be prescribed more widely to patients. Hill was ill with tuberculosis when he turned to “the simple act of drawing” to overcome his isolation and boredom. He went on to encourage patients and recovering soldiers to doodle, helping them to grow in confidence and develop essential skills.
Knitting was also used during both world wars as a form of therapy for injured soldiers, advocated as a form of convalescence for servicemen. Patients also practiced crafts such as blacksmithing and tailoring.
Fast forward to the current day and craft is being used more than ever as a form of therapy, with charities and organisations such as Art Refuge, Create, Mind and Hackney Circle using crafts to provide rehabilitation, grow self-esteem and connect communities across the UK.
Cassie Quinn works at Mortar Studios through which Hackney Circle was created, a council-led free membership for over 55’s in Hackney which allows older residents to enjoy discounts and opportunities from creative and cultural businesses in Hackney. Recognising the need for connection and a sense of community among more isolated residents due to the Covid-19 restrictions, Hackney Circle developed the Arts Against Isolation programme.
“Covid-19 greatly impacted the amount of opportunities that were available and especially affected our older residents who needed to isolate themselves. In response to this situation we launched Arts Against Isolation, an accessible programme of arts and craft workshops."
"Our pilot programme was launched with our studio members, Make Town and included workshop materials delivered to the doors of participants, video and printed instructions and digital meet-up sessions. Our hope was to provide support to bring older residents back into the community and provide confidence in socialising with each other.”
We asked Cassie why craft had been their chosen way to reach out to the Hackney community.
“Engagement in the arts is greatly beneficial to our mental health and can reduce anxiety, and engaging with crafting in a social setting helps to reduce the impacts that loneliness and isolation cause.”
"The feedback from the initial workshops was overwhelmingly positive with 100% of participants wanting to join future workshops and 67% of participants saying that the workshops had made them feel less isolated and lonely."
"Moving forward, the scheme is set to continue to grow and reach out to more and more people and will hopefully eventually result in opportunities for residents to meet in person."
“We have recently started working with local housing partners to deliver some pilot projects with their residents. This partnership will allow us to reach a wider audience and help us to reach more people that are truly in need of support via the arts."
"As we slowly move out of lockdown and can socialise in person, we plan to adapt our workshops to deliver alongside one another. The effects of the past year will resonate for a long time to come and we hope that Arts Against Isolation will provide a source of hope for older residents in Hackney.”
Another amazing organisation which aims to support and inspire through the arts is Create, a charity born at Nicky Goulder’s dining table in 2003 when she was working as Chief Executive of the Orchestra of St John’s.
“I had a vision of a charity that would use the creative arts to connect, empower, inspire and upskill society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, enhancing their wellbeing. I dreamt – and still dream – of a society that is fairer, more caring, more inclusive and more sustainable.”
It was Nicky’s passion to make music accessible to people who would not normally have had the opportunity to get involved. The inspiring results of her work with the orchestra helped Nicky to see the potential that other arts could have to create change for individuals.
“Whilst there, I developed the programme into an extensive series of projects with older people, disabled and non-disabled children, homeless people and prisoners. I was constantly inspired by the incredible impact that music had. But it had to be music because we were an orchestra. At Create, we are able to design and deliver creative arts projects across a wide range of artforms from dance and photography to music and visual art.”
Create Founder Nicky Goulder
Create now works with a range of talented creatives, from costume designers to authors and musicians to jewellery makers, who inspire and share their outstanding skills and experience through the workshops run by Create. They also run a programme called Nurturing Talent which upskills emerging artists to deliver creative workshops in challenging community settings.
Nicky found the experience of seeing the results from these workshops first-hand extremely rewarding.
“As a creative arts charity that has wellbeing at its heart, we continually witness the positive impact that being creative has on mental health."
“For instance, a young patient who participated in our recent project at an adolescent psychiatric unit, was struggling to connect with other people owing to his mental illness. As the project progressed, the staff on the ward were amazed to see how engaged he became. Under the guidance of our professional Create artist, he created the design for a tote bag that he absolutely loved."
“Once completed, he carried his bag around the ward, rightfully proud of his accomplishment. The project also enabled him to form bonds with some of the other young people, through the act of making in a group setting. We regularly witness stories like this, reminding us of the power of the arts in reducing isolation and promoting wellbeing.”
“At a time when young people are finding it increasingly challenging to find a job and the World Economic Forum has identified creativity as the third most important skill for business, these skills have never been more important."
“Some of us may take the opportunity to be creative for granted, but we cannot overestimate the impact it has on a young carer providing 90 hours of care each week, a disabled child who society excludes from so many activities, or an older person living in isolation, particularly during the pandemic. Our work has shown without a doubt that the creative arts are vital to wellbeing and can, indeed must, play an integral role in building a fairer, more caring, more inclusive, more sustainable society.”
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