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The impact of arts and music on health and wellbeing

I spend quite a lot of time outside work playing music: singing, writing songs, recordings songs, playing gigs. When I'm at home, I always pick up my guitar - whether it's for 10mins or an hour. Sometimes playing and singing can be really fun. Sometimes it can be really relaxing. But there is a bigger reason why I like it so much. More on that in a second.

The Arts Council England funds a lot of organisations that produce wonderful art exhibitions, plays and music concerts. It's definitely important that we fund things like the Royal Opera House or the National Theatre in order to maintain the UK’s reputation for world-class arts & drive tourism. But there are other benefits - to society, and to the individual - that come from investment in the arts. Participating in the arts can enrich our lives, and make life worth living.

Whether it's someone who's experienced homelessness singing with Streetwise Opera, or a young person who's been kicked out of school going to Soft Touch's youth arts club, or an older person suffering from dementia creating a memory box with Entelechy Arts - the process of creating something isn't just fun or therapeutic - it goes beyond that. It's life affirming.

There's a huge amount of joy to be gained from creating something from scratch, or learning a new skill, or meeting other people and being creative with them. And that applies to anyone: maestro or amateur. Everyone has the capacity to be creative, and that's the message behind the 64 million artists campaign, which encourages everyone to do something new. If you sign up to their mailing list you get a weekly challenge, and you can choose a level of difficulty according to how much spare time you have.

Last year I gave a speech on social prescribing, which is about providing non-clinical help to people with long-term health problems as a means of improving their wellbeing. So a GP might refer someone with depression to an art class, for example. That's not to say the arts should become a substitute for medication (although one of the objectives of social prescribing is to reduce the demand on the NHS). The theory behind social prescribing is that if you improve someone's wellbeing, you improve their health. Participating in the arts might impact on someone's self-esteem, for example, making them feel more confident, less anxious and perhaps more capable of managing their condition.

But the benefits go further than that. If someone is feeling well and happy, it's more likely that they will consider different life choices. They might be more likely to leave the house and join other groups, more likely to seek employment, less likely to offend/re-offend. Arts Council funds an organisation called Changing Tunes that brings music into prisons. Ex-prisoners who participate in Changing Tunes' programme have a reoffending rate of less than 15% compared to the national average of 61%.

A few months ago I went to visit Meet Me At The Albany in South London: an Arts Council funded arts club for isolated older people. The room was completely full (the club is now over-subscribed) and was a really vibrant space. I asked one woman why she enjoyed coming to the Albany. She looked at me directly: "darling, it completely changed my life."

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