How art can help vulnerable adults

How art can help vulnerable adults

In March this year, Artlink West Yorkshire - the arts and health charity in Leeds where I work - had to close its offices and stop all delivery activity for the vulnerable groups with whom we work. It was a shocking and sad time for all, especially for the adults living with dementia and learning and physical disabilities, for whom we run arts workshops across Leeds.

Adult holding up a hand-made mask
One of the beneficiaries of the Artlink West Yorkshire arts programme Download 'Sylvie Fourcin_Blog.jpg'
"We have been overwhelmed by the demand for additional kits to be delivered to day centres." - Sylvie Fourcin, Fellow

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was huge for the people we work with. They were no longer able to go to the day centres and have essential contact with the people and staff there. There were no longer interesting activities and outings for them to take part in on a daily basis, and their mood and morale quickly plummeted.

The people we work with need simple, sensory and colourful activities to take part in. Many have barriers to communication and mobility issues, and over the years Artlink has developed ways of working with them through gentle and consistent engagement in a variety of creative activities in their day centres. These activities have included the creation of short animation pieces, exciting and colourful sound and sculptural installations, and sensory and creative workshops. We have also made many visits to cultural locations within travelling distance of the day centres, such as the Bradford Science and Media Museum, the Festival of the Moon in Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, to name but a few. This creative engagement, and the relationships that have been built, have been a vital contribution to the wellbeing and creativity of the people we work with.

Fast forward to May of 2020 and we were given the incredible news that we had been awarded a Covid Emergency Fund grant from the National Lottery Community Fund. This has allowed us to bring our Creative Toolkits project online and workshops that can be delivered to vulnerable people virtually. Within an unprecedented time-frame, Artlink recruited six artists (down from the usual pool of 12) to undertake a new way of working with over 200 people. It was a challenging and nail-biting time for all of us.

A man and woman standing at a door wearing PPE with bags filled with art supplies
One of the artists (right) delivering Creative Toolkits to a staff member at one the day centres Download 'Sylvie Fourcin_Blog2.jpg'

The artists were asked to produce two short instruction films a month, alongside instruction cards to go with them. They were also asked to deliver 400 creative toolkits to vulnerable adults across the city, so that they could take part in the activities online. Finally, they were to set up two Zoom sessions a month, to maintain the crucial contact and relationships that had been developed over the many years that we have worked with our beneficiaries, and incidentally to allow them to ‘see’ each other for the first time in many weeks.  So far, the beneficiaries have made kaleidoscopes, tunnel books, light catchers, peg bird puppets and much more. They have also explored themes such as dreaming, mystery, memories, landscapes and the work of artists such as Liz West, Olafur Eliasson and Alexander Calder.

On completion, there will be 60 films in our Creative Toolkits library. You can view a small selection of the films here:

  • Tunnel Books: a short film by artist Bryony Pritchard introducing a simple creative activity demonstrating how to make a tunnel book.
  • Dream Catchers: Musarat Raza explains the starter kits and how to make a dream catcher.
  • Peg Bird Puppets: a short film showing simple steps to creating a bird puppet with artist Rozi Fuller.
  • The City: Ellie Elliotson takes us on a journey of characterisation through a city landscape.

The success of the project has been unprecedented. We have been overwhelmed by the demand for additional kits to be delivered to day centres. Participants and support workers have described how the project is making an impact at such an uncertain time.  Becci, a support worker from Aspire CBS, has summed up their time on the project so far:

“We had a cracking morning at Holmsley.  We all created our backdrops and started creating our puppets and stories, we will continue next Wednesday.  They loved chatting to everyone on Zoom.  Thank you again for the activity pack!”

We are now in our fifth month and are delivering to additional groups of adults living with dementia in care homes. Relationships have consolidated between the people we work with, the artists and the support staff. Closed Facebook pages have been set up so that people can share their work online, and there has been interest from various media outlets including the Yorkshire Evening Post and BBC Radio Leeds.

Going forward, we very much hope that we can secure additional funding to continue this important work across these communities in Leeds, and reposition ourselves as an online provider of excellent artistic delivery.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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