Arts for Wellbeing: unlocking social energy to increase wellbeing

Arts for Wellbeing: unlocking social energy to increase wellbeing

By Ecorys UK


Find out how Creative People and Places project Bait has unlocked 'social energy' and made positive changes in its community.

bait is a programme of arts and cultural activity across South East (SE) Northumberland and is
one of 21 Creative People and Places (CPP) programmes funded by Arts Council England. The
bait programme is managed by a consortium led by Woodhorn Charitable Trust and comprising Northumberland County Council (through Active Northumberland and Northumberland Public Health), Northumberland Council for Voluntary Action (NCVA), and Queens Hall Arts.

The project launched in 2013, initially to deliver a three year programme of events, with the aim of creating a “long-term change in the level of arts participation of people living in the area, driven by the creativity and ambition of the people living in SE Northumberland, and having a demonstrable effect on the well-being of local people and levels of social energy and activism within communities.”

Social energy is generated when residents come together to make a positive change in their community and it’s one of the three key ways in which the theme of wellbeing runs through the entire bait project, alongside family wellbeing (supporting adults and young people with caring responsibilities) and recovery wellbeing (for adults – or those who care for them - affected by substance misuse).

This case study explores the theme of ‘arts for wellbeing’, focusing particularly on the sub-theme of ‘social energy’. Through interviews with the bait team, Creative Connectors, project curators/leaders and beneficiaries, it examines how bait has worked with partners in health and across community groups to use the arts as a mechanism for making positive change across SE Northumberland, focusing particularly on the outcomes for two geographical communities: Hirst (in Ashington) and Bedlington. As bait was successful in securing CPP funding for another three years (2016-2019), this case study also examines stakeholders’ perceptions about sustainability and how lessons learned from phase one are contributing to delivery in phase two.

Key Findings

  • bait has commissioned different projects to unlock ‘social energy’ that have successfully supported people to come together to make positive changes for their communities.
  • By using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS4) tool which measures mental wellbeing (feeling good and functioning well), bait has shown that through activities such as ‘Time to Enjoy’ (art taster sessions for people with mild-to-moderate mental heath problems), peoples’ wellbeing improves, on average, by 16% over a 12 week period, highlighting the clear potential for the arts to improve wellbeing.
  • Some of the social energy projects have been supported by bait to secure additional funding to continue their work outside of CPP to a total of almost £50,000. Sources including the Arts Council’s ‘Grants for the Arts’ programme, the Rayne Foundation and Bedlington Town Team are helping to sustain activities which use the arts to support the wellbeing of the local population.
  • Having a health practitioner within bait has helped to broker relationships with the health sector to facilitate clear referral pathways into community arts projects. This has been necessary to ensure that those with mild-to-moderate mental health problems (who are often unlikely to engage in the arts) can access the provision. The investment of Northumberland County Council’s Public Health team in funding an Arts for Wellbeing manager – alongside playing an active role in the programme’s consortium – has therefore been pivotal to bait’s success in improving wellbeing across SE Northumberland.


SE Northumberland is an area characterised by pockets of high deprivation, with many Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in places such as Ashington, Cramlington, Bedlington and Blyth being
in the most deprived 10% of such areas in England. Many of the villages and towns in the area were built around the mining, fishing and shipping industries, but the decline of industry (particularly coal mining) had a devastating impact on the area, resulting in high levels of worklessness and associated issues such as poor mental and physical health, substance and alcohol misuse and high levels of youth offending. In particular, levels of long-term mental health problems are higher in Northumberland than the national average (5.6% of the adult population as opposed to 4.3% in England). Prior to CPP, much of the lack of engagement in the arts was due to low levels of ambition, aspiration and feelings of disenfranchisement from society.

Despite these social and economic issues, there is a strong sense of community in the area and many community groups operate within the villages and towns. Prior to CPP however, these community groups tended to operate in isolation and the local arts infrastructure was poor. There were very few arts venues within easy reach for communities, with the nearest concentration of arts venues being in Newcastle and Gateshead. The lack of arts – and general – infrastructure is an ongoing point of contention for local residents; for example in 2015, almost 2,000 people came together for the ‘Make a Noise for Bedlington’ campaign to protest against the lack of investment in Bedlington by the local authority.

Download the case study to read on:
Arts for Wellbeing: unlocking social energy to increase wellbeing (PDF)

Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2017