01/03/2021 Orchestras contributed £1.6M to public health in the UK

Group of ethnically diverse teenagers standing in a line looking at music sheets and playing instruments.
The role of orchestras in supporting people's health and wellbeing

Orchestras contribute more than £1.6 million to the public health sector, reveals a report out today. It finds that almost two thirds of professional orchestras in the UK are contributing in some way to health, wellbeing and social care.

The Orchestras in Healthcare report offers the first comprehensive picture of the creative and financial contribution made by professional orchestras to the health, wellbeing and social care sectors across the UK.

Conceived by Sarah Derbyshire (Chief Executive, Orchestras Live), Fiona Harvey (Education and Youth Ensembles Consultant, Association of British Orchestras) and Matthew Swann (Chief Executive, City of London Sinfonia), the report seeks to understand the scale and impact of the work orchestras delivered in a range of public health contexts between April 2019 and March 2020.

From interactive music workshops for people living with dementia on hospital wards in Edinburgh to a creative expression and social interaction project for adults recovering from drug and alcohol addiction in Bristol, live performances in specialist cancer facilities in Northern Ireland to composition workshops with young people from across London and the South East living with severe mental health and psychiatric conditions, the report highlights the wealth of participatory music-making happening in health, wellbeing and social care contexts up and down the UK.

Drawn from a survey of 54 ABO member orchestras, opera companies and choirs, the report reveals the geographical location and type of healthcare settings in which the work takes place; orchestras’ motivation for their involvement in the healthcare sector and the role health and wellbeing delivery plays in their business models. Here are some of the key findings:  

  • Almost two thirds of professional orchestras surveyed (63%) deliver work in health, wellbeing and social care settings across the UK. Of the remaining 37%, most stated that they wish or have plans to do so in the future.
  • 50% are working in hospitals (31% in acute settings, 19% in chronic settings), 22% are working in mental health settings, 31% are working in social care settings.
  • This contribution is significant: representing a net gain of at least £1.6 million to the public health sector of which 93% (£1.48m) was raised by orchestras themselves.
  • Chamber orchestras are at the forefront of developments in health and wellbeing activity and partnerships.
  • There is great pride in this work: 53% of orchestras identified health and wellbeing work as central to their business model in serving wider audiences and making a positive impact on society.
  • There is considerable geographical unevenness in provision, particularly across the English regions. It is notable that Scotland and Greater Manchester – two areas where orchestras have formal links with a social prescribing programme – each operate devolved health authorities.

A robust infrastructure for social prescribing to better connect the culture and healthcare sectors is developing quickly. It meets an orchestral sector ambitious to play a greater role in a range of health, wellbeing and care contexts.

Featuring introductions from James Sanderson, Chief Executive of the National Academy of Social Prescribing, and Dr Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, the report makes recommendations for further academic and clinical research to help orchestras better demonstrate their impact in public health contexts. This will enable them to implement policy and professional practice that will allow musicians and orchestras to expand their work in health, wellbeing and social care settings.

James Sanderson, Chief Executive, National Academy of Social Prescribing, said:

“I welcome this excellent report, and the opportunity to raise awareness of the positive impact that orchestras working in health and care can make. I encourage our partners to embrace this as a catalyst to connect across the worlds of health and care and music, to help people to live better, healthier and happier lives.”

Dr Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said:

“The research presents a timely opportunity to raise awareness of the impact that orchestras have achieved within the health and social care fields so far, by providing a significant evidence base to develop policy and practice, to build cross-sector collaboration, to engage with developments such as social prescribing, and to encourage further investment.”

Sarah Derbyshire MBE, Chief Executive, Orchestras Live, said:

This report demonstrates for the first time the extent and ambition of orchestras and musicians working in health and social care. It’s vital that we use it as the launchpad for a collective endeavour to developing policy and practice within the orchestral profession, co-ordinating with developments in the health and social care sector and putting orchestras and their musicians firmly at the heart of social prescribing.

Matthew Swann, Chief Executive, City of London Sinfonia, said:

“The UK’s orchestral musicians are at the heart of all this activity, and at City of London Sinfonia we are developing their creative practice in these settings – being responsive, in-the-moment and communicating one-on-one – as recognised by our recent Royal Philharmonic Society ‘Impact’ Award for our work with young people with severe mental health and psychiatric conditions. These are the very qualities that we will increasingly need to engage with wider audiences as we emerge from the pandemic. We have an opportunity, together with our healthcare partners, to create a creative care workforce that will contribute to the case for all UK orchestras and their place in society.”

Mark Pemberton, Director, Association of British Orchestras, said:

“Our members should take pride in the astonishing level of activity they are delivering in the health and social care sectors, through which they are reaching into a wide range of diverse communities. It once again illustrates that work in community settings, as well as on the concert platform and in music education, is intrinsic to what it means to be an orchestra today, as evidenced in previous reports published by the ABO.”

Read the report in full on the ABO, City of London Sinfonia and Orchestras Live websites.


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