“Creative expression… sense of community… friendship.”

National survey highlights the social benefit of participating in creative activity

  • Second annual survey of creative participation from Voluntary Arts, with hundreds of responses from across the UK and Ireland
  • The social element of participation in creative groups is one of the most important reasons for taking part, and the sector contributes a huge amount to addressing loneliness and isolation
  • Volunteers contribute an average of over 6 hours per week to arts groups
  • Despite numerous challenges, optimism in the voluntary creative sector remains high

In 2017, Voluntary Arts – the national voice of voluntary and amateur arts – ran its first Big Conversation, seeking to undertake a detailed analysis of the estimated 60,000 voluntary-led creative groups which operate across the UK and Ireland. In late 2018, Voluntary Arts issued its second survey of creative participation, to gather up-to-date information and enable a comparison with the previous year.

Overwhelmingly, the recent survey highlights the huge contribution that the voluntary and amateur creative sector makes to addressing one of the most pressing public policy challenges: that of loneliness and social isolation. When asked about the reasons for taking part, the social element of participation in creative groups was one of the most important reasons. The most frequent terms used were: friendship, community, and meeting other people. “Getting together with other like-minded people to enjoy, to socialise, and make new friends” was a typical response.

For the first time, respondents were asked whether their creative group did any targeted work prioritising particular policy areas, and 61% of those involved in creative activity said that their group does work to support people experiencing (or at risk of) loneliness. And for those respondents who said they were not currently involved in creative groups, the strongest motivator for wanting to take part is also the social element.

Many respondents also talked about the benefits to their health and wellbeing of participation in creative activities, variously describing their regular practice as “uplifting”, “exhilarating”, “stress-relieving”, “relaxing” and “keeping depression at bay”. This accords with an increasing body of evidence which demonstrates that regular participation in creative activities is beneficial to health.

Funding, inevitably, remains at the top of the challenges faced by the voluntary arts sector. Other shared challenges include marketing and promotion; recruiting new members; gaining support or recognition; and improving diversity of their group.

But despite the particular challenges faced by creative individuals and groups, and the broader context of political uncertainty, optimism about the future of the voluntary arts sector remains high, scoring 4.35 out of a possible 5. This is down very slightly from 4.5 in 2017, but is still indicative of positivity and resilience in the sector.

Voluntary Arts also wanted to estimate the amount of time contributed by volunteers to the running of local creative groups. The survey revealed that the average number of hours volunteered is 6.3 hours per week. Putting an economic value on this contribution is notoriously difficult, but it is clear that the cultural life of our communities is sustained by a huge amount of unpaid activity.

Of similar importance is the venue. The vast majority of voluntary and amateur creative activity takes place in shared community venues: community halls, church halls, schools and libraries topped the list. Appropriate and available community-based venues are vital for a sustainable voluntary arts sector.

Voluntary Arts aims to support creative groups through its guidance and resources, as well as its advocacy work. Many areas of concern are dealt with in Voluntary Arts briefings and toolkits, available for anyone to download for free. The proportion of survey respondents who have used these Voluntary Arts resources has gone up by half since 2017, and those who have used these resources rated them highly – an average score of just over 4 out of 5.

For those who would like to join a creative group, lack of knowledge about where to find up-to-date information about activities in a local area remains a significant barrier to participation. Voluntary Arts has recently attempted to address this, and support those groups keen to recruit new members, through its crowd-sourced Creativity Map – an online map which aims to link the people who are looking for creative activities on their doorstep to the diversity of existing creative groups across the UK and Ireland.

The upcoming Get Creative Festival, which takes in May 2019, and is supported by a partnership of organisations including Voluntary Arts, also provides an excellent opportunity for arts groups to showcase their work, and for individuals to try a new creative pursuit in their local area.

When asked why they take part in creative activities, survey respondents said:

  • “Interacting with likeminded creatives of all ages and abilities.”
  • “Giving something back and connecting with other people. I enjoy 'making' and stimulating reminiscence”
  • "I am disabled so it cheers me up, gets me out and I am meeting new people; whilst enjoying being part of a knitting group and improving my craft. It generally improves my health and mental well-being. I really enjoy the club - everyone is so friendly and it is well run.”
  • “Companionship, keeping the brain active, keeping the body active, acquiring new skills, good will, fun, fitness, friendship, travel, projecting our enjoyment out to others, keeping customs and traditions alive and well”
  • “Being creative. Making opportunities for people to participate in theatre projects who normally find it difficult to access mainstream arts.”
  • “I get pleasure out of singing and it is a healthy exercise. Also I am glad to be able to use my administrative and financial talents in the service of the community.”
  • “Pure joy. I am a creative person, I paint draw and sew. I've got a very ordinary vpice and I can't read music but have always enjoyed singing. Joining our community choir is one of the best things I have ever done for myself; I love the feeling of being part of an amazing group and contributing to their performances. It beats the joy I get from my solo crafting and I'm so glad I joined. Well, I'm so glad it was there for me to join!”

Robin Simpson, Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts, said:

It is incredibly encouraging to see how, in the most challenging of times, creative participation continues to thrive, on a huge scale, across the UK and Ireland. I am struck by the extent to which this voluntary activity, present in almost every community but often unnoticed or under-appreciated, contributes to health and wellbeing and addressing loneliness and isolation. Voluntary Arts is aware how regular creative practice with others improves wellbeing by strengthening social connectedness, the quality and number of connections one has with other people, and we are currently working with partners to improve the evidence base in this area.

Stay up to date with Voluntary Arts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and our enews.