Fresh Arts on Referral

Social Prescribing has been big news this year, with Health Minister Matt Hancock enthusiastically endorsing arts and culture. Willis Newson worked 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.

People can feel isolated and overwhelmed following diagnosis of a chronic condition. The weight of a diagnosis, along with the symptoms of a condition, can feel debilitating.
“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 confident and positive about the future. Which, in turn, can enable them to better manage their condition and improve their quality of life.
“I’m moving out of darkness into colour”
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”
“I felt lighter after each session”
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.
The evaluation will be published in January 2019, but early indications show that Fresh Arts on Referral has supported patients in a range of areas. These include increased wellbeing, enjoyment, expression and connection as well as improved self-esteem.  The programme appears to have increased patients’ confidence, motivation and desire to continue to manage their wellbeing through ongoing creative activity and peer support.
Analysis of focus group discussion and patient feedback demonstrates that the workshops have 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.
“There was a lot of sharing in the group - people were eager to chat amongst each other and share what they have been doing, sharing conversation, sharing stories of what they have been up to, sharing the art materials.” Dementia Group Participant
There appears to have been a marked improvement in levels of engagement in self-care, with patients talking about having increased motivation, confidence and openness to seek support elsewhere, for example via community-based arts on referral programmes. 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.
Moreover, many patients demonstrated increased agency and control by arranging 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 so that they could continue to meet and be creative together.
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 or see our project page for more information.