I think in my generation creativity was mocked in so many ways. Having the opportunity just to be, and allow your creativity to come out and be valued – it’s just great!Jane Sonntag, Arts Gymnasium participant
There is increasing interest in the use of arts-based media to improve the health and wellbeing of the older
population in the city. Coventry’s diverse population suffers higher deprivation and poorer health outcomes than
regional and national averages. Coventry is a Marmot City, which means it is one of just seven UK councils working with
the international expertise of the Marmot Network to tackle health inequalities and raise life expectancy. Further,
Dementia is increasing nationally, and within Coventry. Around 3,600 people live with dementia in Coventry, and by
2016, this is set to rise to approximately 3,900 (Dementia Partnerships 2013). In response to the Living well with
Dementia: A National Dementia Strategy and the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia, Coventry’s Living Well with
Dementia Strategy has been developed alongside people with dementia and carers, statutory and third sector
organisations. Aims include supporting those with dementia and their partners to carry on with their hobbies and
interests, manage changes, try out new things and feel valued by their community, whose awareness will be enhanced.
In addition, the Arts Gymnasium will address key health issues, including lifestyle risks, and will aim to reduce
the burden on health services, addressing Recommendation E3, Health Inequalities Strategy for Coventry, (2011) in its
aim to: Support locally developed and evidence-based community regeneration programmes that remove barriers to
community participation and action, and reduce social isolation. (p.6)
Further, the Arts Gymnasium will engage with people and communities who typically tend not to access initiatives and
services, e.g. Kenyan and Chinese communities, (Coventry City Council, 2014), to support people and reduce health
inequalities as identified in Recommendation F1, Health Inequalities Strategy for Coventry (2011): Prioritise
investment in ill-health prevention and health promotion across government departments to reduce the social
We will explicitly shape the programme around identified health priorities and target people over-50 across
the city who are isolated, marginalised or otherwise socially excluded, especially men, and those from deprived and
underrepresented communities. We will also work with people aged 50+ to spread the benefits of participation in the
arts with their peers, including supporting people with early-onset dementia and their spouses. Further, we will make
funding applications to ensure continuation of the programme.
With research partners from Coventry University, we will build on the previous Arts programme evaluation (Savin-
Baden et al., 2013; Wimpenny & Savin-Baden, 2014) to analyse impact across the three programme strands. This arts-
related evaluation will evaluate in detail what theatre performance and art activities can specially do for a wide
range of people in the city. Researchers will use a range of validated tools as well as creative methods, developed
with the Belgrade team, to capture and examine participants’ responses from across the different strands of the
Further, arts-related evaluation reflects the principles of moral commitment, clarity and honesty, knowledge
generation, reflexivity, accessibility, celebration of diversity, interaction of work and research to ensure
authenticity and integrity (Savin-Baden and Major, 2013:292-293).
The Arts Gymnasium project sets new standards for asset-based working, explores new methods for engaging some
of the most vulnerable communities and tests theatre practice as a way of achieving health and wellbeing outcomes for
the 50+ community, with impact on the wider community. In the growing arts and health field, we have not been able to
find a project that combines these three elements.
What will be achieved if things go to plan?
Changes in people. On two levels – i) participants will be more confident and active within
their community, less isolated, with improved levels of mental and physical health and ii) the wider community will be
better informed of the issues facing older people and have more opportunities for positive interaction
Changes in professional practice – i) health professionals/residential home managers will
have a clearer understanding of the role of arts in health and wellbeing, regularly considering projects like this in
their referral practices, ii) arts professionals and providers will have a clearer understanding of working with older
people, designing appropriate interventions
Changes in policy – Arts provision is seen as key to Coventry’s development of its Age
Friendly Cities framework; becomes one of the services supported by GPs’ commissioning bodies; is commissioned on an
ongoing basis by Housing Associations and similar community organisations
Update on work
We are very pleased to have recruited five students from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities; 1 MA student
studying Communication, Culture & Media, 2x Year 1 Media Production students, and 2x level Year 2 Media Production
The students have been attending weekly sessions at the Belgrade over this last term to get to know the
By end of this term, (May, 2017) the students will produce a film and photography exhibition.
The focus for these creative outputs will be used to disseminate and promote the Arts Gymnasium project, particularly
from participants’ personal perspectives.
A paper sharing the project findings to date including how the Belgrade are making drama accessible to the
50+ community in Coventry has been accepted for presentation at the Culture, Health and Wellbeing International
Conference and Exchange, 19–23 Jun 2017, in Bristol.
Belgrade Square, Coventry, United Kingdom, CV1 1GS