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9 May 2017

There are challenges but the case for arts in care homes is overwhelming

David Cutler
A version of a speech delivered by David Cutler, Director of the Baring Foundation, to the conference at the Art Council of Northern Ireland.

It is a privilege to be asked to speak today and the Baring Foundation has been delighted to support this conference. Our partner, the Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI), was the first of the national arts councils in the UK to recognise the importance of arts and older people as a focus. The roots of work in care homes go deep in Northern Ireland as exemplified by the performance that we have just seen by Arts Care.

For those of you who don’t know us, the Baring Foundation is an independent funder dedicated to tackling discrimination and disadvantage through strengthening the voluntary sector. Since 2010 we have dedicated our arts programme to arts and older people as we believe this to have been a neglected area. This has resulted, among other things, in partnerships with all the Arts Councils in the UK. The first phase of our partnership with Arts Council Northern Ireland was a £1 million fund between 2013 and 2016 and we have now entered into  a second three-year joint programme.

Since 2010, the Foundation has been a supporter of a large number of initiatives to increase the quantity and improve the quality of arts in care homes across the UK. These have included:

  • The partnership with ACNI which has funded 37 projects working in care homes;
  • An open programme of 12 grants across the UK of exemplar projects for arts organisations to link care homes to their local community;
  • Creative Homes – a best practice publication and a grant to the Social Care Institute for Excellence to promote the arts as a key element of personalised care;
  • A £1 million programme with the Arts Council England of four major grants over three years for work in care homes, with a publication of lessons learnt due to be published this summer;
  • Work with umbrella bodies for care homes providers, including annual awards for arts in care homes and a national conference in London in 2016;
  • Support for Luminate, the national creative ageing festival in Scotland, to hold a conference in Perth 2014 on arts in care homes which resulted in a resource pack jointly published with the Care Inspectorate;
  • A Choir in Every Care Home led by Live Music Now, which has already resulted in a stream of work such as identifying the research evidence for impact. Online resources will be produced and available by the end of the year;
  • Grants with the Nominet Trust to Ladder to the Moon to produce an online guide to drama in care homes and another grant to City Arts in Nottingham to develop their Armchair Gallery, digitising some of the great galleries of the world;
  • Today we are just next door to the Ulster Folk Museum which does magnificent work with older people and is an active member of the Age Friendly Museums Network, which encourages museums and galleries to take work out to care homes;
  • Joint funding with the Arts Council Wales for cARTrefu hosted by Age Cymru which has placed artists in residence in around a quarter of Welsh care homes.

This is an expert audience indeed, so it is with some trepidation that I am going to tackle the subject of the case for the arts in care homes. A good reason for this though, is that it has so many aspects and these are rarely all considered.

Firstly and mostly importantly there is a moral case for arts in care homes. Every human being needs the arts and everyone has a right to access culture and take part in creativity. Someone does not forego that right by becoming a resident in a care home. Even if there was no other reason this would be entirely sufficient.

But in fact there are many other reasons.

The arts have many benefits for residents in terms of health and wellbeing, whether that is physical stamina and flexibility or cognitive skills such as concentration and memory.

Family, carers and friends all benefit. They see new aspects of their loved one and renewed joy and purpose.

Care home providers benefit. It has been suggested that the effective use of the arts may reduce the amount of medication needed by a resident or so called attention seeking or disruptive behaviour, all of which may reduce the costs of giving care.

The broader local community will benefit. Artists often work intergenerationally, involving for instance local primary schools. There is always a special energy and magic of children learning and creating with older people. But there is no reason to stop there. National Care Home Open Day each year is a great opportunity to involve the local community with an artistic theme.

There is evidence that the arts can help increase job satisfaction by staff reducing absenteeism and sick leave and giving them new skills. The arts can give a fresh way of looking at tasks such as a dancer using their knowledge about lifting and carrying but also touch and grace. Professional artists in care homes allow greater access to creativity by care staff, who may also have little contact with the arts.

Increasingly the arts will be seen by regulators as a marker of a high-quality care home by regulators. For instance in England, arts activity is required if a care home is to be deemed outstanding and in Scotland it is planned that Inspectors will be given training in identifying good provision.

All of which amounts to a business case for the provision of the arts in care homes. I believe that potential residents and families will look ever more closely at the range of activities in a care home and the resultant atmosphere.

The case for arts in care homes is surely overwhelming, but that is not to gainsay the many challenges. The social care system throughout the UK is under intense financial pressure and the arts need to make their argument loud and clear and appreciate that. There will never be sufficient funding for year-round involvement of professional artists and care homes need to be more inventive and systematic about giving training and resources to care home staff and involving volunteers and family members. The profile of work in care homes is far too low and needs to be celebrated – this event is an outstanding example of just that.