Research Impact: arts and health organisation collaborates with British Academy Innovation Fellow on project to improve frontline NHS staff wellbeing

19 Oct 2023

A British Academy Innovation Fellow has joined forces with an award-winning arts and health organisation to launch Create+, a pioneering project aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of frontline staff at the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT).

The project was founded by Dawn Prescott, Lime Art's Director, and Dr Kim Wiltshire, a British Academy Innovation Fellow and Reader in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University. It provides therapeutic support through art to NHS staff who have taken sick leave or are at risk of taking sick leave due to stress, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.

Dr Wiltshire, who has worked as an artist and project manager with Lime for over twenty years, was awarded the British Academy Innovation Fellowship in 2021 for her project ‘Embedding Arts in Healthcare: Tackling the staff mental health crisis in the NHS through creative arts workshops’. The funding allowed Dr Wiltshire to research years of evaluations to form a model of best practice for creative arts workshops.

Lime Art previously focussed on supporting patients through participatory arts, but when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the organisation redirected all its resources towards supporting the NHS workforce with online workshops. This new direction led directly to the research collaboration which has produced Create+.

To access the support, NHS Line Managers refer staff directly to Create+ where they then complete a six-week course delivered by award-winning artists such as Lucy Burscough and Colette Whittington.

The workshops are held at Lime Art’s purpose-built Art and Wellbeing Centre in Manchester. The artworks produced formed part of a pop-up exhibition at Lime Art’s Creative Wellbeing festival in July 2023, including masks, sculptures, etchings and print based artworks.

Lynsey Phelan, Clinical Endoscopy Manager at the MRI, has referred members of her staff to Create+. She said: “I opened this flyer that was emailed through and thought, because I’m not an artsy person, it wasn’t anything I was particularly interested in.

“But I could see how it would help some people and there was a member of staff who was having such a tough time and had stuff going on at home. I thought this is right up her street. She did the Create+ course and couldn’t speak highly enough about it.

“And actually, I’m thinking I want to go on it! Because this is the only thing that I can see that the staff have actually enjoyed. The trust talk about wellbeing, and this is the one thing that has made a difference.”

Create+ has been shortlisted for the 2023 Best Staff Wellbeing Initiative Reward at the Nursing Times Workforce Summit, and the 2023 Manchester Culture Arts and Health Award for Promotion of Health and Wellbeing.

Dr Kim Wiltshire, British Academy Innovation Fellow, said:

“My partner was on life support for four weeks at an MFT hospital, and the nurses were fantastic. When Dawn called me to discuss the potential project, I couldn’t think of a better way to thank them. I was very lucky to receive British Academy funding and we could get to work straight away on the project.

“We are measuring the project to explore the benefits of using the arts for wellbeing, and how we can embed arts into healthcare settings, and so far, we are seeing fantastic results, with participants reporting on average around 80% improvement in their wellbeing.”

Dawn Prescott, Lime Art’s Director, said:

“The new staff wellbeing strand of work is going from strength to strength and will continue to grow as we roll out the offer across the entire Trust combining nine hospital sites and a total workforce of over 28,000 staff.

“By giving NHS staff members the opportunity to work with high calibre and skilled artists such as Lucy and Colette, artists we can trust to have the participants best interests at heart, we can ensure that not only is the experience of the workshop a calming and therapeutic one, but that the participants learn skills and find creative possibilities they never knew they had.”

The Innovation Fellowships Scheme provides funding and support for early-career and mid-career researchers in the humanities and social sciences to partner with UK-based organisations in the creative and cultural, public, private, commercial, or policy sectors.

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