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Well London partnership

  • Date: 13 April 2011
  • Artform: None
  • Area: London
People in red t-shirts dancing in front of a double decker bus All Folk'd Up, a T-Mobile Big Dance Bus event as part of Folk Formula. An East London Dance project, 2010, photo: Nick Gurney

Arts Council England played a central role in improving the health and wellbeing of some of London's most deprived people through new opportunities for communities to engage in great art.

'We were part of an alliance of seven organisations that designed and ran Well London, a five-year programme to transform the health of people living in 20 of London's most disadvantaged neighbourhoods', explains Karen Taylor, Project Manager Be Creative Be Well, Arts Council England.

The Well London alliance asked residents what they needed to improve their health and what they would like to see happening in their area. Residents then helped shape a programme of activities to increase healthy eating, physical activity and mental wellbeing.

Helping to secure funding

It became clear early on that people wanted something different and to have fun. An alliance partner was needed to lead on creative practice. Karen says: 'We bid to join the alliance and helped work up a funding application to the Big Lottery Fund. This had a separate arts and creative practice strand called Be Creative Be Well, and incorporated creativity across the entire Well London programme. The application was successful - the alliance received £9.4 million from Big.'

Creating new opportunities

Karen continues: 'Our role was to deliver Be Creative Be Well across all 20 areas. We commissioned local artists and organisations who would respond to community needs as well as deliver high quality creative experiences. We also coordinated all the Well London activities in three of the areas on behalf of the alliance.'

In less than four years we commissioned a diverse programme of over 100 creative projects ranging from dance, to Wii music composition, story-telling, knitting, reminiscence, chair dancing, moveable drawing sheds, community plays, community choirs, mosaics, murals and green crafts.

'The Arts Council clearly has considerable specialist expertise and strategic reach across London', says Alison Pearce, Programme Manager, Well London at the London Health Commission. 'We needed both to make Well London work.'

Engaging local people

Be Creative Be Well engaged residents in designing and delivering projects in their areas. That meant adopting a community development approach, working at a very local level to broker face to face relations with and between community groups, residents and artists.

For example, we worked with a housing tenant management organisation (TMO) in Canning Town, Newham called CTR Triangle.

Robert Churchill of CTR Triangle explains: 'Karen Taylor found us, we were coming up as an area that wasn't participating in other programmes, so Karen came to our board meeting and explained what was going on.

'We had a wonderful summer programme, and all the things we got from Well London improved the relationship between tenants and the TMO and created friendships across communities.'

Alison says: 'Be Creative Be Well has been a wonderful way of engaging people. It tapped into the very strong cultural traditions in the areas we worked in and people clearly enjoyed the activities'.

Improving people's health and wellbeing

The University of East London led on a ground breaking evaluation framework to measure the overall effectiveness of the programme, and will report in 2012. But it's already clear that Well London was a huge success.

'All the indicators are that it's been a successful approach for improving health in deprived areas', says Alison. 'It's also helped local residents themselves to deliver positive change in their neighbourhoods.' 

  • by June 2010 more than 10,000 people had taken part, 3,000 of those in Be Creative Be Well 
  • over 75 per cent of Well London participants reported positive changes in their mental health, physical activity and healthy eating. In addition, personal testimonies show the difference Be Creative Be Well projects made to people's lives
  • hundreds of residents volunteered in delivering projects and accessed training opportunities
  • the capacity of the local community and voluntary sector increased

Alison adds: 'Be Creative Be Well was able to tackle the three objectives agreed with Big. It provided a really good alternative for people to get involved in physical activity that wasn't sport, and we had some lovely outcomes around improved mental wellbeing. Projects like South Acton Community Play brought different people together and really instilled pride in where they live.'

Leaving a legacy

The programme ended in March 2011. But that's not the end of the story. Karen says: 'We've built relationships between local artists, arts organisations and residents, which will help many of the activities to continue.

'Many of our projects will leave a permanent improvement to facilities and spaces. Individuals and groups have been trained in skills to help improve wellbeing. And some projects have built effective relationships with other funders and set themselves up as community interest groups.'

The alliance is also developing tools to help local authorities, GP consortia and other agencies commission the Well London approach in other disadvantaged areas.

Find out more about Well London. Browse more local authority case studies.