Fresh Arts on Referral; Creative support for patients with chronic conditions

Willis Newson has been working with North Bristol NHS Trust’s arts programme, Fresh Arts, to set up Fresh Arts  on Referral, an ‘arts on prescription’ programme for patients living with cancer, chronic pain and dementia.

Arts on Referral

People can feel isolated and overwhelmed following diagnosis of a chronic condition. The weight of a diagnosis, along with the symptoms of the condition, can feel debilitating. Patients told us:
“I felt like I’d hit a brick wall.”
“Life felt like it had just stopped.”
Supporting people at this crucial point in their lives can help them to feel more positive and confident about the future, enabling them to better manage their condition and improve their quality of life. Patients talked about: 
“I’m moving out of darkness into colour.”
“Taking care of myself, looking after myself”
Arts Referral
Fresh Arts on Referral was developed in collaboration with clinical departments, and a link staff member from each department supported workshops. It was funded by North Bristol NHS Trust Hospital Charity, Macmillan Cancer Support and Arts Council England.
Patients were referred by clinicians to one of nine 6-week arts and creative writing programmes led by professional artists Ali Brown and Rachel Davies and writer Claire Williamson between February and July 2018. Following the programme, patients were encouraged to continue being creative by being referred to follow-on arts groups in the community run by local partners.
At the end of the programme, patients told us: 
“I’ve stopped being stuck.”
“I’ve felt like me again.”
A mixed-methods evaluation is being undertaken by Willis Newson. The Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale was used to assess patients’ wellbeing scores before and after each 6-week intervention. A range of qualitative tools, including participant focus groups, semi-structured interviews and participant case studies together with self-reported feedback, were used alongside monitoring to understand the wider impacts of the programme.
Arts on Referral
The evaluation will be published in early 2019, but early indications show that Fresh Arts on Referral has supported patients in a range of areas including increased wellbeing, enjoyment, expression and connection as well as improved self-esteem.

“I have found this course to be the most effective and enjoyable support for my wellbeing. I initially was anxious about a group, but with an excellent facilitator & support from the group, it has been very rewarding. I hope to continue writing.”  Cancer Group Participant
Analysis of focus group discussion and patient feedback demonstrates that the programme helped patients connect with others in similar situations, relieving a sense of isolation and providing opportunities for peer-support. Patients valued the opportunity to share with others and to both give and receive support from peers.
“People talked more today about managing conditions and did so in a warm, positive way.  There was support, offerings, and sharing.” Chronic Pain Group Participant

Participating in the programme appears to have increased patients’ confidence, motivation and desire to continue to manage their wellbeing through ongoing creative activity and peer support. They talked of being:

“More confident to do more, try more.”
The onward referral support at the end of each 6-week programme increased patients’ knowledge of what was available and confidence to access community provision. Patients demonstrated increased openness to try new things.
“It’s been a springboard onto other things.”
Many patients also arranged to meet and support each other beyond the end of the 6-week programme and both the Chronic Pain and Dementia groups requested provision be made for follow-on groups in the hospital so that they could continue to meet and be creative together.
Chronic Pain Workshop
Fresh Arts on Referral will continue into 2019, and we are actively seeking funding to develop and grow it in the longer-term.
If you are interested in hearing more about the programme, the model we used or the evaluation findings, please contact