No.11 Arts: Binding Pages
Binding Pages was a pilot project delivered in Birmingham libraries for adults over 50 who may feel isolated. A variety of arts activities were used to connect people and create friendship leading to improved mental well-being, confidence and social cohesion.
For several years there has been a growing recognition of the important role that arts and cultural activity and programmes can have on the health and wellbeing of citizens and communities. Alongside this, there has been a growing recognition in social care and health of the need to promote independence, personalisation, health, happiness and wellbeing in order to foster better outcomes for citizens. Binding Pages was a project that aimed to contribute to the realisation of the above vision.
The pilot phase of Binding Pages, which was delivered in 2019, engaged 6 artists from different disciplines to deliver their participatory practice with citizens in two libraries in Birmingham, Perry Common in the Erdington District and Acocks Green in Yardley District. The project managers worked with GPs and Social Workers to refer people into the programme using the concept of social prescribing or arts on prescription. Participants had a chance to have a go at visual arts, craft, drumming, singing, music making and clay in a fun and engaging way with others in a safe community space.
For myself, I often find myself so absorbed in the details of the activity that I become completely quiet, which sometimes makes the facilitators a little worried that I am not chatting with the others. I explain that it’s a form of mindfulness that works better for me than any mindfulness session I have had. It’s very restful.
Participant, Acocks Green Sessions
What is social prescribing?
Social prescribing, sometimes referred to as community referral, is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. Recognising that people’s health is determined primarily by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way. It also aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health.
Social prescribing schemes can involve a variety of activities which are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.
“It’s not about being the best artist.”
Social prescribing is designed to support people with a wide range of social, emotional or practical needs, and many schemes are focussed on improving mental health and physical well-being. Those who could benefit from social prescribing schemes include people with mild or long-term mental health problems, vulnerable groups, people who are socially isolated, and those who frequently attend either primary or secondary health care.
There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and well-being outcomes. Studies have pointed to improvements in areas such as quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing, and levels of depression and anxiety. Social prescribing schemes may also lead to a reduction in the use of NHS services
Impact of Binding Pages
At the start of Binding Pages, I had many participants tell me they couldn’t draw. I was told by many that when they were in school their teachers had told them they were rubbish or drawn things wrong and that had a long term negative impact on their lives. After showing them that they can draw and that there is no right way and no wrong way of drawing, their confidence grew in a couple of sessions. Suddenly they could all draw by the second session because they realised that everything they did was right, because ultimately it was their work and their interpretation. One lady with autism said,
The binding pages project wasn’t just art workshops but they were life changing experiences. Some of the participants told me at the end of the six weeks that they can’t believe they have produced such beautiful work because they never thought it was possible. They said when they look at their finished work they think someone else must have created it. This gave the participants with learning disabilities huge boosts of confidence and self belief. Many participants wanted to attend the afternoon sessions as well because they gained so much from the drawing and painting workshops.
Each week their skills and confidence grew at rapid paces. Many were quite reluctant to talk in the first week and extremely frustrated needing support in the first session. After being taught how to draw, how to see things, how to see the best in their work, by the next session these participants totally changed their attitudes. Suddenly, they became confident in working independently and started saying positive things about their work. They began smiling, laughing and talking to others in the sessions in a more relaxed and positive way. All the participants showed so much gratitude for the sessions and said they really enjoyed them and enquired about when the next drawing and painting sessions would start. We obviously told them that this was being piloted and we were unsure. This created disappointment because they felt the need to continue for their well being and benefit.
Many talked about their youth and times of corporal punishment and the lack of opportunities in their time and how these workshops were making up for lost time and healing feelings and misconceptions of the past. Many of the participants had severe learning and other special needs. These workshops gave them a massive boost of confidence and many had amazing creative undiscovered skills which were unfolded during the workshops. The paintings and drawings became a language for them to express themselves.
I thoroughly enjoyed delivering Binding Pages because in six weeks I saw the massive positive impact it had on all the participants. This was a fantastic experience for all involved especially in helping and supporting so many people with ill health, special needs, physical and mental health problems. Such experiences are invaluable and priceless.
"I wish I had been told the positive things you have made me believe about myself when I was young because then I wouldn’t have spent my whole life believing the negative things that other people have said as truth."