Evidence of impact
Hear about the impact of Arts on Prescription from our participants and Artist Facilitators:
Find out about the impact of our Dance Research project on co-producers living with chronic pain:
Hear about how Flourish impacted on our participants living with or beyond cancer:
Case Studies – What Artlift Participants Say
Claire referred herself to Artlift in August 2022 after a conversation with Anna Creed, a former Navigator Developer with Gloucestershire Rural Community Council.
At the time, she was not working due to ill health and was struggling with anxiety and depression. Claire was encouraged by a friend to attend job club where, albeit she felt she wasn’t yet at the right stage to start looking for work, Anna’s suggestion of an Arts on Prescription course made her think “why not”?
A former primary school teacher for 22 years, Claire’s mental health was impacted negatively by a combination of Covid and the menopause. She said “…my anxiety went through the roof. I had a bit of an apocolypse mentally!”
Claire joined ‘Altered Books’, Artlift’s course at Jameson Court in Moreton-in-Marsh facilitated by Amy Freeman. She went along with a friend and neighbour living with similar challenges and completed 14 sessions over the autumn 2022 and spring 2023 terms.
‘All my life I’ve been told ‘you’re not creative’, ‘you can’t do art’. And then Amy just completely opened up this can of creativity in me that I have never thought I had, and it’s just gone wild.’
Although Claire was initially anxious about attending the first session, she felt hugely welcomed and was, ultimately, amazed at how her progress on the courses changed her self-perception.
Claire’s group worked on transforming old books. They did leaf printing, explored print making and Claire soon moved on to much more, finding inspiration from a collage artist called Constance Rose,
“The course gave me the confidence to get out there and do something again rather than sit at home wallowing in the depression and anxiety.
“Just having someone I could talk about it with and being in a safe environment where, if I wanted to go along and just cut things out and have tea and cake, that was a safe place for that too”.
Claire appreciated the way the courses were structured – the fact you could just go along and do as little or as much as you can, want to, or feel able to. She welcomed the safe space and meeting others in a similar situation. Also, to have the guided sessions – “…you’ve got to have that kick start. Have someone who’ll say, ‘Right! This is what we’re going to do today and, if you don’t like it, here’s an option you can do instead’”.
‘When I’m faced with something, I think ‘do you know what, I can do this.’ I don’t need to get myself in a pickle about it.’
The fact the course was free and that Amy was able to change what she does to the level of the people she’s working with, Claire felt was “amazing”. The courses gave her the confidence to explore arts and crafts again – “I loved it as a child but was always told I wasn’t the creative one”. It has given her something “to get up and get out for”, something to work towards, and the resilience to face life’s challenges.
Artlift’s courses helped Claire to develop new skills, such as print-making, and build confidence in her drawing. It helped her realise that the important thing is to “have a go” and that she learnt it’s OK if things aren’t perfect the first time. She said –
“That’s a huge thing for me – I’m a bit of a perfectionist. To know with print making, it’s going to go wrong as that’s the art of print making, and it doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect. It’s given me the confidence to make mistakes”.
So, where next?
Claire is feeling more balanced now and tends to have more good days than bad. She is currently working on another ‘altered book’ for Christmas, continues to collect and buy resources for her home art studio and to explore a myriad of techniques and approaches – “I’ve done tapestry, printing, water colour and acrylic painting, lino cutting, sewing…just exploring all different avenues of art”.
‘It’s a bit of mindfulness isn’t it really? When I just can’t face anything else, I’ll cut things out of magazines for collages or get paints out. I’ll spend time with others with similar interests, like my neighbour, and I will just drink squash and do embroidery.’
She continues to use arts activities to help sustain her wellbeing and stay connected with others.
Claire has now created so much work that she’s wondering what to do with it – perhaps to sell it? She continues to work as a charity shop Assistant Manager and has secured a college place to do a Foundation Art degree, which she will be starting next year.
‘There’s no judgement from anyone and we all just supported each other and lots of us have become friends through it’
She also continues to stay in touch with friends she made on the Artlift course.
Create Well participant, 2022
We spoke to Peter about his Artlift experience. He attended two Artlift courses, one in Stroud (painting, photography and drawing), then a second in Cirencester (altered books). Here Peter describes how it felt getting to the courses:
‘On the day of the course it could be a challenge to get out of the house, as I will avoid going out if I can, but if I’ve made a commitment to do something, I will go, even if it feels a bit more difficult. I knew the regularity and routine of attending an Artlift course would make a helpful anchor point in my week.’
He goes on to explain how Artlift helped him:
‘Artlift helped to reduce my feelings of isolation; I got to speak to other people, which in turn helped to build my confidence. It’s improved my mood, it felt good to be doing something. It undoubtedly helped with managing my anxiety & depression, and also improved my sleep patterns.’
‘Attending Artlift certainly encouraged me to do things I haven’t done for a long time, if ever. I was committed to the course, and started to look forward to it, even buying additional arts materials with the intention of continuing at home and during the week between each Artlift session (though tutors were already very supportive in providing loans of equipment, without which the impact of the course would have been significantly lessened). Carrying on with art during the week gave a focus for my attention which helped to regulate my anxiety. Artlift also gave me something positive to talk about in phone calls with my family, which made these conversations easier for me.’
‘Having participated in Artlift, I now feel more confident to engage with other social activities for which, happily, there is now greater opportunity, following the lifting of covid restrictions. I recently attended a reunion meet-up with other participants from my Artlift course, and am hoping that we will have more of these in future. I feel that Artlift has improved my mental health and has made life easier for me.’
As we chatted Peter told us:
‘Artlift was transformative; I felt able to breathe again. I was glad to have been given a place on the course, and felt a commitment to it.’
Peter also explained how attending Artlift helped him to feel better alongside using CBT and mindfulness practice skills:
‘The approaches in an Artlift course are much less direct and are of lower intensity than those in counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (both of which have been helpful to me in the past). At Artlift I was enabled to engage with an activity that has no direct focus on my health condition, in a low pressure, supportive environment. This made Artlift a more enjoyable, and less challenging experience, although having the confidence to expose my creative skills (or lack thereof) to others, some of whom had rather greater ability, was a challenge in itself!’
‘Artlift gave me a focus through which I could reflect on, and apply, some of the tools I had received from CBT as well as “Mindfulness” practice. I am still dealing with anxiety on a daily basis, but things have improved. I try to set myself achievable challenges, to recognise that sometimes the greatest benefit is to be had by tackling them even when I feel least like doing so, and to forgive myself when I do not manage to do so.’
Finally Peter said:
‘If I was talking to someone thinking about attending Artlift, I would say: If you think that this is something that you might enjoy, then give it a go. If you decide to do so, then the more you engage with it, the greater the likely benefit you will experience. It has been very helpful to me.’
Create Well participant, 2022
Adrian lives in the Forest of Dean with his wife Fiona and their 12 year old son. Adrian attended the Artlift course Altered Books in Cinderford over two ten-week terms.
Adrian was referred to Artlift by his mental health team in 2021 to help him manage long standing anxiety, depression, agrophobia and PTSD.
Previously, Adrian – a forces veteran – had not left the house for six years and was struggling with isolation and OCD, resulting in compulsive cleaning that was becoming increasing hard to live with. Adrian’s family have been right behind him attending Artlift, with Fiona persuading him that this would be worth at least giving it a go!
Adrian hadn’t done any art since leaving school 30 years ago. Whilst he enjoyed art at school, he remembers it was something you werent really encouraged to do.
I highly recommend Artlift
Using techniques I’ve learnt, I can do my own thing and make my own rules. I can express myself in my own way using my own mix of medium
On day one of the Artlift course Adrian recalled feeling nervous, thinking “I cant do this’” and wondering “what was the point”? However, he decided he wanted to see the course through, reminding himself he wasnt “a quitter”. He said he started to realise that ‘being creative was begining to help with managing my OCD’, and it helped that the artist faciliating the course could give him extra work to keep him going during the week.
Amy Freeman, Adrian’s Artist Facilitator, taught him many new creative techniques such as lino cuts, marbling, tie dying, and carving stamps but Adrian’s favourite was image transfer printing. Adrian explains that this “ignited a creative spark!”
Meeting in a local cafe (something that would have previously been impossible), Adrian and Fiona told me about the positive impact attending Artlift has had on Adrian. Fiona describes how they now “sit at home as a family, talk more and make art together’ and that, despite being a strong couple already, their relationship has strengthened after a very tough 12 months”.
Adrian went on to say that attending Artlift gave him numerous benefits in many areas of his life – he felt “part of a team”, that it have given him “a purpose”, and that his confidence grew. After just one course his medication was reduced, he was no longer in active therapy and had been discharged from the mental health team back to his GP.
Crucially, Adrian points out that attending Artlift got him out of the house and made him “feel better”, he now feels “much happier” in himself. He reported walking up to attend the courses was
“the first time I’d been out in the town I’ve lived in for the last 7 years”.
Adrian also told me:
“My son and I created art together just this weekend, something we would not have done before Artlift. We have as laugh together, that’s what it’s all about.
There’s no right or wrong, as long as we have fun”
Adrian said that, longer term, he plans on continuing to develop his arts practice, ‘to keep moving forward and feeling better’, but also as it has opened up a new avenue for him.
With Fiona keeping him in a constant supply of art materials and enthusiasm, Adrian is working on getting a portfolio of work together.
Living Well with Chronic Pain participant 2021
Clare from Cheltenham was referred to Artlift by Gloucestershire Hospitals’ Pain Management team to help with managing her chronic and acute pain. At the time, Clare was using strong medication. She describes her chronic pain and how it affects her as a “deep 24/7 background pain which can quickly turn to a sharp pain”.
Here Clare explains to us what she found valuable about attending an Artlift course:
“Because Artlift offers actual physical and mental support, it meant I didn’t have to worry about medication, for example, making me feel unwell or tired, or worry about side effects.
It gave me energy, enthusiasm, provides excitement & is engaging.
We did different things weekly and could take stuff home and carry on with it. Artlift is so important – I didn’t know this until I took part in a course.”
Attending Artlift gave me support and fun at a time when I wasn’t having fun at all
Pre-Covid, Clare was working – something she says gave her life structure. She then retired. With Covid hitting, retirement and other large issues all coming at the same time, Clare had a lot to cope with. She is a carer for her husband and they were both vulnerable during the pandemic. Clare explained:
“I was always Plan A and, after getting exhausted, I was too tired to get around my challenges to find a Plan B…Not working left me with no discipline, and I was left floating. I am the sort of person that needs discipline in their life.
“I was frightened to death about attending due to Covid-19. However, when I attended I felt safe, so with Artlift I was given structure & discipline back again.”
Being a creative person Clare needed little persuasion to attend Artlift – she was able to draw on her existing creative skills as well as set herself challenges in trying something new. She described how during the sessions they would learn and carry out the making together. Then, during the week she would do more research and work independently, using it to “take my mind off things and escape”, particularly enjoying puppet making, making a theatre box, and Japanese book binding!
“What was important is that I felt safe. We laughed a lot in the group; both the artist and the volunteer were kind, considerate and naturally giving. They didn’t make me feel stupid. People can hurry you & get cross when you’re unwell and that can make you feel stupid.”
Whilst attending her 10-week Artlift course, Clare – who describes herself as “not a particularly sociable person” – and her fellow participants discovered that “…having something to do, to share with, & for, others is important for everyone and that’s what Artlift gave us, along with the importance of valuing myself”.
She plans to continue making art as in her words “it allows me to forget my pain by pushing it into the subconscious….Doing art keeps my general pain muted – I’m able to go deaf to it”. Describing how important it is to her Clare says “Artlift gives people a bit of themselves back, finding confidence and helping strength to return”.
“I feel so lucky to have attended this programme, to re-start the rest of my life. Artlift gave me belief again on so many levels. I have reached out to other people by joining the Facebook Artlift Move On hub. Having something in common with other people is really helpful.”
Looking forward, Clare has set herself another creative challenge: joining a course called Adventures in Acrylics. She laughed “I don’t like acrylics or abstract art, so am finding a new admiration for abstract… this was a new challenge for me and I’m getting through it!”
Summing up the importance of her Artlift experience Clare states:
“Artlift is about all-encompassing wellbeing, health treatment is not only about medication; the aftercare is important too. Artlift brings back the humane and social interaction. It’s false economy not to do something like Artlift”.