Online arts and culture for health and wellbeing webinars

100% Digital Leeds have partnered with Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network to host a series of 3 free 30 minute lunchtime webinars this month showcasing the range of engaging and accessible online tools and resources available to those who would like to explore arts, culture, and creativity from their own home during lockdown.

Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network (LAHWN) was launched in 2019 to enable different sectors to work together, supporting Leeds residents to enjoy fulfilling lives. Our aim is for arts and creativity to support Leeds’ ambitions to be a healthy city, where people who are the poorest improve their health the fastest.

Over 2020 we have seen brilliant and innovative work across Leeds to work differently – arts organisations, like theatre Slung Low, have been involved in Leeds response to Covid-19, running foodbanks and supporting people with the essentials and across Leeds we have seen creativity everywhere from the rainbows in windows to exhibitions, groups and classes moving online. With many people in Leeds making more use of digital technology LAHWN and 100% Digital Leeds wanted to collaborate to share examples of what is on offer in Leeds and beyond – an opportunity to explore what is possible online, try something new or access something important.

Geraldine Montgomerie, Project Support Officer at Leeds Arts, Health and Wellbeing Network

Arts engagement can support improved mental health

Following the government’s Creative Health report in 2017, the World Health Organisation published a review of existing research on What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? in 2019 and new research has begun in 2020 on the role of arts in looking after our mental health. We know that arts and culture has many benefits from supporting a healthy routine to connecting with other people, from learning new skills to having a distraction during challenging times… and we are seeing a range of specific health benefits from arts engagement, music and dance in managing and recovering from health problems.

It’s widely known that the pandemic has had a negative effect on the nation’s mental health. According to Mind, more than half of adults and over two thirds of young people said that their mental health has gotten worse during the periods of lockdown restrictions. Restrictions on seeing people and being able to go outside, and worries about the health of family and friends, are the key factors driving poor mental health, with boredom and loneliness being further contributors.

We know that making and experiencing arts and culture can transform a person’s quality of life and research from Arts Council England shows that people who engage with ‘arts on prescription’ schemes’ experienced a 68% improvement in mental health symptoms as a result. 

With social distancing, travel bans, and the closure of most face-to-face arts, community, and leisure facilities for much of the previous year, it has never been more difficult to engage with arts and culture. For many people activities like going to the theatre or watching live music, taking part in drawing classes, or visiting galleries are enjoyable activities that are sorely missed. 

Geraldine Montgomerie, Project Support Officer at Leeds Arts, Health and Wellbeing Network

Engagement in the arts is more difficult without digital skills and access

The pandemic has pushed lots of people to look to digital means of entertainment to keep them busy.  TV streaming has surged during lockdown and loans of online e-books, e-magazines and audiobooks were up an average of 63% in March 2020 compared with the previous year. The arts and culture sector were quick to respond, with lots of big names making streamed content available online for free.

In Leeds we have seen a huge effort from community and arts organisations to work together to adapt to the pandemic, creating ways to engage in the arts from home. From musicians and poets performing outside care homes and DAZL Leeds’ Garden Groovers offering socially distant dancing, to online groups and activities, to arts by post; across the city we have tried to offer something for everyone. For some, including those who might have found the cost of travel prohibitive, these innovations have made things like West End Theatre more accessible.  

But new way of connecting isn’t open to the city’s more digitally excluded citizens. More than 20% of UK adults lack the basic digital skills necessary to make the most of the internet and 7% are completely offline. Digital skills can be a lifeline for people and are even more likely to be at this moment in time. Of those with good digital skills and access, 44% say it helps them to manage physical and mental well-being and 55% say it makes them feel more part of a community.

Arts and culture as motivators for digital inclusion

Although lack of equipment and skills are key factors, for many motivation is the key barrier to doing more online – over 30% of those offline say the internet ‘doesn’t interest me’. For these people, just knowing more about the kinds of things they can do online can make all the difference. When lack of digital skills and confidence is a factor, word of mouth awareness becomes an even bigger factor, alongside support and encouragement. 100% Digital Leeds have trained more than 200 Digital Champions, all of whom are encouraging and supporting the city’s residents to understand the relevance of digital to them and to build their digital skills and confidence to make the most of the online world. 

When it comes to motivating people 100% Digital Leeds encourages Digital Champions to help people discover something digital that they’re interested in, that’s less likely to cause stress, and that is hard to get wrong. Exploring arts and leisure digitally can also support people to have some normality, opening up opportunities through online resources and tools to experience some of the things enjoyable things they’ve not been able to do because of the pandemic and in the most recent third national lockdown, promoting independence, quality of life and supporting to combat social isolation.  

It’s about finding things that people feel able to ‘give a go’. Arts activities like drawing apps, accessing music on YouTube, or live streaming theatre can be accessible ways for people to do more with digital, developing their digital skills and confidence along the way. 

Amy Hearn, Digital Inclusion Coordinator, 100% Digital Leeds

Raising awareness of how to engage with the arts and be creative digitally 

With community centres, museums, galleries and other venues currently closed, the internet is now the place where we can still enjoy arts and culture, however the digital world develops at pace and can be overwhelming to navigate. This has been all the more apparent during the pandemic as organisations that have previously relied on face-to-face engagement have worked quickly to adapt their services to be delivered online. 

Online tools, classes, and services are popping up all the time and it can be difficult to keep up. Arts practitioners across the city have reported finding it difficult to make sure people know about their new online services. People that are more digitally excluded are less likely to be reached through social media advertising or sign up to email newsletters. It’s this problem that sparked 100% Digital Leeds and LAHWN to partner up to develop a series of free 30 minute lunchtime webinars, telling people about some of the easy, accessible, and fun ways for people to engage with arts and culture digitally, from home. 

A series of 3 lunchtime webinars

The webinars are aimed at anyone who would like to know more about what’s available for people looking to engage with the arts over the internet and are perfect for Digital Champions or anyone else looking to support people to access and do more with digital.

Each of the webinars will showcase a range of the websites, apps, and online events, focussing on tools that are accessible and suitable for a range of audiences, including older people, people with learning disabilities, those likely to be suffering from the effects of isolation, and those with low digital skills and confidence.   

All three webinars are free, via Zoom, and bookable at Eventbrite:

Wed 13th Jan, 12.30 – 1pm: Online arts and culture for health and wellbeing: tools for individuals

Focussing on online tools that people can use to explore the arts independently in their own homes. We will give practical hints and tips on how people can access free and affordable content from home including streamed performances, podcasts, eBooks, and creative courses.

Wed 20th Jan, 12.30 – 1pm: Online arts and culture for health and wellbeing: connecting with others 

Sharing engaging and accessible ways people can come together digitally to explore the arts socially and as part of an online community. We will highlight a range of online groups, classes, events, and other digital tools and spaces where people can engage with the arts communally and connect with like-minded people.

Wed 27th Jan, 12.30 – 1pm: Online arts and culture for health and wellbeing: tools for groups 

Showcasing the variety of engaging and accessible ways existing groups can explore digital arts and culture together. This session is ideal for anyone facilitating online groups and meet-ups who would like practical hints and tips on how to bring arts and culture into your meeting. Tools and resources recommended will be accessible and of interest to online social groups of all kinds, including those aimed at older people, people with memory issues, and people with learning disabilities.

All sessions will be recorded and shared on our website, along with links to the various tools and resources shared.

Becoming a Digital Champion

Digital Champions inspire others, improve people’s confidence and help raise awareness of the online world. It’s not about being a computer expert, it’s about being supportive, encouraging and patient. If you’re active in your local community – through your paid work, as a volunteer, or as a resident – and you understand the importance of everyone having the opportunity to be online, you’d make a perfect Digital Champion.

100% Digital Leeds offers free training to anyone looking to support Leeds residents to do more with digital. Sessions are delivered remotely via Zoom or your preferred platform. Sessions last around 90 minutes and work best in a group setting. Session content is tailored to reflect the support needs of your service users and your team. 

To organise free Digital Champion training for your team fill in our online form and someone from 100% Digital Leeds will be in touch to make arrangements.