The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly and profoundly affected the ways people are able to engage with one another. These changes intensified already high levels of social isolation and loneliness for many in the UK. Increased loneliness in turn impacts on mental health and well-being, leading to extra pressure on the health sector and on the economy, making it a significant challenge of Covid recovery.
Taking part in creative writing and reading has been clinically proven to be beneficial to our well-being, both physical and mental. Literature is a powerful economic tool which can be used to positively address some of these issues and can contribute to improving the lives of people in Wales.
What will we do?
We will work towards a healthier Wales:
By delivering participation projects across a wide range of communities, schools, and healthcare services, we will help create a healthier Wales and use the power of literature to address health and well-being issues including anxiety, depression, loneliness, and isolation.
We will measure the impact of literature:
We will set measurable outcomes for our projects to increase the skills, confidence, and abilities of participants to actively take part in their community, gain employment or perhaps to achieve better learning outcomes in school.
We will forge successful partnerships:
We will expand and build on our partnerships in the health sector, including with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales, local health boards and the Wales Arts Health & Well-being Network, to ensure that our projects have a lasting impact. Together with the wider arts sector, we will explore ways to embed literature within social prescribing programmes as preventative, curative and palliative treatments, and work to upscale successful pilot projects to the whole of Wales.
Why Prioritise Health and Well-being?
The physical distancing and lockdown measures required by the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly and profoundly affected the ways people were able to engage with one another. These changes exacerbated already high levels of social isolation and loneliness for many in the UK. Increased isolation in turn impacts on mental health and well-being and compounds other health and economic factors, making it a significant challenge for post-pandemic recovery. Furthermore, almost a third of children in Wales now live in poverty a figure that has been made worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. Poverty and inequality cause significant socio-economic challenges, and are strongly correlated with low literacy levels, loneliness, isolation, social exclusion, mental health problems, physical illness, substance abuse, crime and violence.
Engaging with arts activity, including with creative writing and reading, is shown to be beneficial to people’s well-being, both physical and mental. In 2019, the largest ever evidence report on arts and health was published, covering the findings from over 3,500 published studies and gives a comprehensive overview of the role the arts play in supporting health globally. Specific evidence of the benefits of reading is equally compelling, including that produced by the Reading Agency (our primary partner in delivering Reading Friends in Wales). The National Literacy Trust’s research from 2018 into Mental well-being, reading and writing also found that children who enjoy reading and writing in their free time have significantly better mental well-being than their peers who don’t.
“This writing workshop was a unique way to express how we as young people view our struggles and the struggles of others with mental health. From start to finish we could be ourselves and we are grateful to have been given the chance and the voice” Participant in our Bridging the Gap project in partnership with Newport Mind.
We know that engaging with literature can help tackle some of these hugely challenging issues. While it can’t reduce poverty, it can help people cope better with stress, increase general well-being and reduce anxiety and loneliness. It can also make people happier, increase self-confidence and contribute to better connected and more cohesive communities. Impact evidence from many of our own community participation projects is strong.
82% of participants who took part in our Writers Residency Project felt ‘increased confidence in the power of their voice’
Much of our work in this area has reached some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society, including people in care homes, refugees and those living with mental and physical disabilities.
Now more than ever, literature should be deployed to treat a surge in long-term mental and physical illness and can be readily available across Wales in almost any setting. Literature is a powerful (and cheap) tool to improve well-being outcomes and can make a huge contribution to improving the lives of people in Wales. It can also help to build more resilient workforces and communities and be utilised alongside other preventative measures to mitigate against ill health (especially mental ill health).
“At this time, we all carry so much worry and for this hour we can escape into a lighter, better place. These workshops are a joy to be part of.” Chronic pain sufferer and participant in our Writer Commissions programme
We will expand and build on our strong partnerships in health and well-being, including with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales, the Reading Agency, local health boards and the Wales Arts Health & Well-being Network. We will explore ways of long-term collaboration to embed more literature activity in social prescribing programmes and work with partners on upscaling projects for Wales-wide roll-out.
Writer Development: Writer training, mentoring and shadowing opportunities
We will further upskill our writers, so they are confident and well-equipped to work in community settings and engagement projects. We will offer specialised mentoring and shadowing opportunities for writers who want to learn new skills and explore new ways of working in the community of participatory settings, such as hospitals, prisons, and care homes.
Wales’ Literary Culture: Writers in residence and joint ambassadorial roles
We will work with partners and national bodies to support themed Writers-in-Residence appointments (e.g., with Future Generations, Children’s and Older People’s Commissioners, environmental charities, health boards and other public bodies).