The UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Culture, Health and Wellbeing recently led a round table on how co-production and creativity with young people can influence mental health service design and delivery.

Creativity and Wellbeing Week 2022 was themed ‘Nature’, and the event began with testimonies from young ‘Artscapers,’ children who participate in outdoors education as part of Branching Out. Ruth Sapsed, Director of Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination, said that Branching Out asks how we can help more schools enable more children to have arts in nature experiences. Artscapers Alana, Erin and Immy explained that it felt it to be more freeing and calming to be outside than in, and, through being outside, felt they could find different ways to learn that suited them.

Participating in the round table were practitioners working with young people, strategic professionals, and clinicians, from across the country. We heard from Greater London Authority, and I shared our work at GM i-THRIVE to embed more creative offers in and around children’s services.

Greater London Authority

2.8 Million Minds launched their manifesto in Parliament following the APPG round table. 2.8 Million Minds is a project about how culture can help support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Artist and mental health activist ‘the vacuum cleaner’ James Leadbitter is working with Bernie Grant Arts Centre and Chisenhale Gallery to work creatively with young people to devise the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) action plan for young people and mental health, through art and culture. Together with artists, “young people will imagine and develop an action plan for cultural activity to benefit all of London’s 2.8 million young minds.”

Greater Manchester Creative Health

Julie McCarthy from Greater Manchester Combined Authority, who leads on Creative Health, focussed on Social Prescribing for children and young people, in the context of work toward making Greater Manchester a ‘creative health city region’ meaning that act on the knowledge that creative health can contribute to addressing inequities, that creative activities help us keep us well, socially connected and can aid recovery.

GM have found that Social Prescribing is very underdeveloped in terms of children and young people, as Link Workers are not typically trained in working with young people and services for them. A joined approach was therefore taken to work with the Association of Colleges and Street Games, to train up pastoral staff as Link Workers, develop pathways, and provide funds for young people to identify destination activities. This being located in colleges improves access, and the ability to support college staff to better understand how to support young people seeking help with their mental health. Outcomes include better pathways for support and advice between colleges, primary care and the voluntary sector. Staff feel more skilled to support CYP, they report more capacity to help where there is a link worker in place. CYP report getting help where and when they need it, and are building on existing assets in a community, while creating more.

Also in GM, BeeWell has provided a unique data set resulting from surveying 40,000 young people in Years 8 and 10 on their wellbeing. In response to broad inequalities in wellbeing, a social prescribing pilot is under development. In this project, young people will be offered training to become Youth Health Champions (a Level 2 qualification), and a new Creative Health module for young people is being developed with the Royal Society for Public Health.

GM i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health programme

On behalf of GM i-THRIVE I shared an overview of the work to embed creative options into children’s services, through the unique GM i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health programme. Established in 2019, the programme seeks to build on the evidence base around arts and creative activities and young people, test the reality of blended models of delivery in clinical services by partnering with the cultural sector, evaluate outcomes, offer training to the workforce, and support a whole-system approach to drive these aims.  

Q&A: What are the big barriers to scaling and sustaining social prescribing in mental health settings?

James Leadbitter highlighted a lack of funding as the major barrier, and the not unrelated high levels of burn-out among the workforce. James said people and artists working with CYP in creative ways need paying, they need contracts that allow for days off, and they need psychological support. James also shared concern about the NHS pushing this work into the third sector and into the arts where people feel they are not – or are not – adequately, trained, supervised or supported to do it – a concern I share. 

Live Well Make Art network:

THRIVE programme:

Arts, Culture and Mental Health programme website:

Case studies on art-led CAMHS proof of concepts:

Request evaluation Kit (Greater Mcr only):

Become an Arts, Culture and Mental Health Ambassador:

10 Ways to Engage with the programme (and a monthly blog):

I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

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