During 2020-2021, Creative Lives worked with University College London (UCL) researchers and a consortium of partners including Arts Council England, Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance, Lived Experience Network and the National Social Prescribing Academy, to support the University College London researchers gathering examples of the role of cultural and creative activities in sustaining health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

Creative Lives staff based across England, conducted interviews with a diverse range of contributors who generously shared their experiences, from pastimes to ongoing health and wellbeing, and we want to sincerely thank all those that responded to the survey, shared stories during these interviews and took part in the creative workshops instigated by the research team.

UCL’s researchers published the final report for and research findings to support this AHRC-funded project in December 2021, finding that over 80 per cent of respondents took part in activities more often during COVD restrictions and over 75 percent participated in more offline activities, despite the significant increase in online delivery. Other findings include:


Recognised benefits of participation

Research findings point out that alleviation of loneliness and improved wellbeing associated with taking part in activities: 

I am a self-taught, disabled artist. Art allows me to travel in ways I no longer can due to being mainly housebound. 

Overwhelmingly, participants – whether they were professionals or members of the community – recognised tangible health and wellbeing benefits of creative, community and cultural activities, particularly in supporting mental health.

Arts and crafts definitely help my mental health.

It's just hugely satisfying. You think 'I can see what I did today'. There's a product of what I did today.

I can come into the start of the [Create] session sometimes feeling quite low but step out of them feeling boosted and exhilarated as if I’ve travelled to far-flung places. - a carer.

I think my partner certainly has noticed a change. He's definitely noticed that I've been getting better in my mood since joining the choir. I’m happier and ‘singy’.

Barriers to participation

Data gathered as part of this research project consistently showed barriers to participation, particularly for vulnerable people. Ineffective outreach resulted in vulnerable people not knowing of opportunities yet being interested in the idea. 

The report also draws attention towards the existing fragility in the ecosystem, and that organisations are working on tight budgets or in danger of folding.

Some community and voluntary groups are not able to function just because of COVID restrictions. Things just physically can’t take place any more. A lot of my patients were involved in the community beforehand. And now that’s all been taken away.

Challenges of evaluation

Evidence gathering was a difficult task for many organisations and professionals, according to the researchers. Charity and arts professionals often felt fatigued or marginalised by evaluation processes, which can be confusing, overly technical and quantitative, or can require specialist training and knowledge of the social sciences.

With the group of refugees that I work with was a participant, who never touched the camera and was really quiet, always came and sat down and didn’t engage massively in an outspoken way, but came every week. So there is some kind of value in that sense that if they didn’t enjoy being in that environment or enjoy what we’re doing or something or didn’t get any benefit from that they would stop coming, you know, because it’s completely voluntary. 

Other than the traditional, validated and standardised measurement techniques outlined in the report, organisations may want to innovate and try out new, more artistic forms of evaluation that might be more in keeping with the ethos of the organisation. 

Read the full 'Community Covid' report online here.