Sarah Derbyshire MBE from Orchestras Live; Fiona Harvey from Association of British Orchestras and Matthew Swann from City of London Sinfonia give and update on how the UK’s professional orchestras are playing an increasingly active role in this country’s health wellbeing and social care sectors.

It might come as a surprise to learn that the UK’s professional orchestras are playing an increasingly active role in this country’s health, wellbeing and social care sectors. Whether in acute and chronic hospital care settings, mental health settings, social care and care homes or Primary Care Trusts, this area of work has grown hugely in recent years and is now integral to the mission of many orchestras.

In the last 5 years we have seen a growing recognition of the role played by the arts in enhancing health and wellbeing.  Two notable publications helped to increase momentum: Creative Health, a report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing (2017) and Social Prescribing at a Glance published by Health Education England the previous year.

The prospect of social prescribing has been warmly welcomed as the next, significant step to embed creative activities in personalised healthcare.  This was never more evident than at the

Creative Health conference hosted by London’s Southbank Centre a year ago, which attracted hundreds of delegates from both the health and cultural sectors.  This was mirrored in January this year, when James Sanderson, Director of Personalised Care at NHS England and also Head of the National Academy of Social Prescribing, joined a panel of healthcare professionals, musicians and academics at the annual conference of the Association of British Orchestras.

Against this background, individual orchestras are collaborating with healthcare partners throughout the UK. Manchester Camerata’s extensive programme of weekly health and wellbeing activities across the North West and East Yorkshire engages with older people, people living with dementia and people with additional needs to create music in care homes, housing schemes and community centres.  Most recently, in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust, they have been delivering monthly song-writing workshops with groups of older adults in Manchester to combat loneliness.

In the South West, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) runs a vast array of activities to support health and wellbeing, from Cake Concerts (relaxed, dementia friendly) to Rusty Musicians, offering those who used to play an instrument a unique coaching and performance experience alongside BSO’s musicians.  Currently, the orchestra is working in partnership with Bristol Drugs Project to present the Recovery Orchestra for people living with addiction.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) in partnership with Hull Integrated Community Stroke Service, part of City Health Care Partnership, has developed Strokestra, a pioneering stroke rehabilitation programme that harnesses the power of group creative music-making alongside professional musicians and clinicians to drive patient-led recovery in stroke patients and their carers.  Findings through the initial evaluation were so impressive that the RPO and Hull & East Riding Community Stroke Service are currently rolling out a three-year programme reaching up to 300 stroke survivors and carers.

City of London Sinfonia (CLS) reaches over 10,000 people annually through their participation programme in schools, hospitals, hospices and care homes.. For the last three years, they have run a residency in the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School for pupils aged six to nineteen who are resident and day patients at the psychiatric hospital.  CLS is developing a pedagogy and practice that will be integrated throughout the orchestra’s health and wellbeing work. Impact evaluation is conducted in partnership with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN).

These are just a few examples from the scores of orchestras that are collaborating with health and wellbeing partners.  And yet there is currently no comprehensive picture of the activity orchestras collectively deliver. This presents a significant hurdle as we try to engage with NHS partners and fit orchestral activity into the jigsaw puzzle of social prescribing, let alone collaborate on research.

Moreover, as we emerge from social distancing, the creative, responsive approach that our musicians bring to these settings will be in even greater demand. The existing, urgent need to create a comprehensive baseline picture has only been increased by Covid-19 and its long-term health and societal consequences.

For all these reasons, we are surveying all UK orchestras in order to compile a comprehensive picture of the activity they’re delivering in this field.

Our research will bring together the range and variety of projects orchestras are delivering with which partners, how many musicians are involved and what training and development they receive.  We’ll be analysing the level of investment in this activity, and from what sources.  And we’ll review what research is available.

With this comprehensive picture we will next consider how this work can develop in the future.   We aim to engage with an academic partner to reveal the impact of such extensive delivery – our hypothesis is that orchestral activity in healthcare settings bring exponential benefits to all involved – and identify new areas for research.

 We are delighted to have the support of the Southbank Centre and the National Academy of Social Prescribing in undertaking this research and in disseminating the results.

Orchestras and the healthcare sector share an ambition to develop personalised care in as creative and effective a way as possible but hitherto there has been little shared communication of the scope of orchestra’s aims and capabilities beyond specific, localised projects. Orchestras also often find the wider healthcare sector to be a confusing and complex area to navigate.

Our research will help to spark a dialogue between individual orchestras and healthcare providers, and also help to fuel the growth of the wider connections between arts and health. We look forward to sharing it with you and meantime would encourage both our orchestral colleagues and those in the healthcare sector to start conversations that will help people emerging from the recent lockdown, in need of the creative, personalised care that we can provide together.

Sarah Derbyshire MBE, Orchestras Live;

Fiona Harvey, Association of British Orchestras;

Matthew Swann, City of London Sinfonia

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