National Partnership for Culture: Workshop 1 – culture and wellbeing information paper

Information paper for the meeting of the National Partnership for Culture on culture and wellbeing held in March 2021.

This paper is an abridged version of the information paper produced for the National Partnership for Culture, Culture and Wellbeing workshop on 12 March 2021.

If you would like the full version, please email:

National Partnership for Culture

The National Partnership for Culture (NPC) provides advice and guidance to Scottish Ministers on key strategic issues affecting culture in Scotland. It was established in response to consultation feedback on the draft Culture Strategy to provide a cross-sector, interdisciplinary voice which can both advise and influence Scottish Ministers on the delivery of the Culture Strategy for Scotland.

A culture strategy for Scotland and current policy context

A Culture Strategy for Scotland, which was published in February 2020, recognises that culture has intrinsic value and has the power to inspire, enrich and transform people’s lives, our communities and the places where we live, work and have fun.

The strategy sets out a vision where everyone has an equal opportunity to experience culture’s empowering and transformative potential. The Culture Strategy aims to put culture as a central consideration in all policy areas. In order to respond effectively to the impact of the pandemic, there is a need to prioritise those policy areas most relevant to both recovery and longer-term renewal, including health and wellbeing.

The Culture Strategy recognises the impact that culture can make on tackling health inequalities. It can prevent mental and physical illness and promote recovery and general wellbeing.

The Scottish Government announced funding for the expansion of the Arts, Culture, Health and Wellbeing Scotland Network in the Strategy. This is to support sector-wide conversations around these topics and further develop partnerships between the health and culture sectors.

Synergies, ideas and good practice spanning culture and health policy areas are shared across existing national and local networks, but the approach is often not strategic and successes can be fragmented by the availability of short-term funding.

Barriers to the scaling-up of projects and initiatives  even where these have been successful are around perceptions of the quality,  how relevant the  evidence of cultural interventionsis on health outcomes and lack of awareness of exisiting evidence. 

Key themes

Health inequalities  and cultural participation

As presented at meeting four of the NPC by Angiolina Foster and Dr Linda Irvine Fitzpatrick, the impact of inequality on life expectancy is six times greater than even a completely unmitigated pandemic and therefore underlying health inequalities have a greater longitudinal impact and represent a more harmful, longer-term issue than COVID-19.

Access to and participation in culture is a human right however health inequality and disability can limit this participation. Those living with health issues including mental illness and disabilities face obstacles to fulfilling that right.

There is a need for broader recognition of the ways in which cultural participation can help to reduce health inequalities and further exploration of how this can be taken forward in Scotland.

Collaboration and research

There is a need for a stronger emphasis on multi-disciplinary working that can lead to better alignment between culture and health policies, for example where these deliver against shared outcomes.

There are opportunities for health and social care professions to bridge gaps and create stronger connections with creative practitioners and cultural organisations, including the commissioning or synthesis of high-quality evaluation and research and in jointly advocating for the scaling-up of effective cultural interventions.

Community health and wellbeing

The transformative potential of culture, including the positive impact on individuals, communities and places, should be better recognised and utilised by local authorities, health boards and the Scottish Government. Through the Culture Strategy consultation there was particular reference to the potential of culture to improve health and wellbeing with some respondents noting the important role that their own organisation or sector already plays, including a number of third sector organisations using cultural approaches to support people’s health and wellbeing in a community setting.

Initial proposals

Health inequalities and cultural participation

  • consider how best to take advantage of the growing different digital and technological advances that might help to improve access to culture for a range of audiences, including ensuring new programmes such as the new Creative Digital Initiative can capture and promote relevant lessons.

Cross-sector collaboration

  • strengthen the relationship between Scottish Government and local authorities. Working closely with local authorities on guidance for implementation of culture initiatives and provision of local solutions tailored to the specific needs of the area, and ensuring that culture has a seat at the table in the relevant decision-making structures.
  • increased joined up working at the strategic policy-level across the Scottish Government, and with local authorities and cultural trusts, with culture appropriately reflected across key policy areas and supported via innovative cross-budgeting models.
  • develop and maintain strong links with Creative Scotland’s ongoing work on health and wellbeing.
  • link-in and establish relationships with other national agencies and organisations out with the culture sector that work across culture and wellbeing.

Cultural research

  • there may be a case for considering greater use of cultural and social prescribing as a lower-cost treatment for certain health conditions (case studies have shown a positive impact in relation to conditions such as Parkinson’s, for example the Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland run by Scottish Ballet.).
  • however, the Centre for Cultural Value suggests that there is scant evidence in certain areas of cultural research e.g. on impact of cultural referral or prescriptions. A partial solution could be making culture and wellbeing projects more evaluable through ensuring where possible that initiatives have multi-year funding. Avoiding a short-term project approach could also help avoid fragmentation of evaluation efforts and increase the prospects of evaluation and research being able to fill knowledge gaps and allow for scaling up of more effective approaches.
  • national agencies can have a key role in promoting agreement on definitions and developing relevant measures of wellbeing outcomes at a national level. This consistent use of language around wellbeing indicators may allow for better comparison across the different activities in this area of interest.

Community health and wellbeing

  • the institutions of regional health and local government should designate individuals responsible for policy and delivery of cultural interventions, health and wellbeing at their regional and local level. e.g. culture and health co-ordinators (e.g. Paisley Partnership)
  • encourage and develop awareness and training for those in clinical and community settings on the efficacy and appropriateness of cultural approaches and interventions as interventions which can be used by care givers as an option to individuals developing their own care plans, for example.
  • develop programmes to support artists and creative practitioners who want to work on health and wellbeing, and enable them to develop creative interventions that have positive impacts in these areas.
  • expand social prescribing, taking into consideration heritage and museum settings, could also help to address health inequalities. The Art in Healthcare social prescribing project ‘Room for Art’ has helped to address health inequalities and brought the benefits of engaging with art to people at times of need. The UK Government announced £5m for social prescribing in August 2020.

Further proposals for consideration

  • consider how we can more effectively use public spaces and the built environment to support health and wellbeing (e.g. museums, galleries, heritage settings, parks, public spaces and broadband)
  • scale up arts interventions in wider social care settings (linking to policy aims in justice, for example, including violence reduction). An existing example is the Creative Communities programme, co-funded by the Culture and Justice portfolios within the Scottish Government.
  • work to expand upon the use of arts and object based therapies in clinical or related settings (such as cancer treatment, brain injuries, cystic fibrosis, dementia). Examples include: Teapot Scotland, Scottish Ballet (Dance for Parkinson’s), Elderflowers.
  • promote and encourage more holistic planning of mental health services, co-designed at local, regional and national levels, and involving culture and arts sector representatives.
  • work with local authorities, museums, galleries, libraries and schools to expand and introduce cultural programmes that specifically address wellbeing. Existing examples include Big Noise and the Youth Music Initiative and the museum sector dementia, reminiscence work.
  • expand of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and similar events as a catalyst for forging new relationships, raising awareness, and promoting solutions.
  • promote and provide opportunities for partnerships for programmes that will specifically help to alleviate existing barriers to accessing cultural wellbeing initiatives (e.g. socio-economic demographics).
  • encourage funding bodies to request wellbeing evidence and outcomes in applications, where appropriate, and support the development of evaluations that take wellbeing measures into account.
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