With social prescribing proving a useful tool to combat isolation and loneliness, the Age of Creativity Festival offers a great chance to engage with the cultural and creative sector – whilst making friends along the way! Age UK’s Mervyn Kohler tells us more…
There is a happy and virtuous alignment underway, which holds out the prospect of improving the lives and opportunities of older people. First, there is an upsurge in the number and range of cultural and creative activities on offer to older people. Second, there is a growing recognition that participation in these is both satisfying and beneficial for one’s sense of wellbeing – probably much more so than scores of prescription drugs. Third, London provides the transport and mobility networks which can support and facilitate these developments – if work of this kind cannot flourish in London, the chances of it succeeding in Cornwall or Lincolnshire or elsewhere are remote.
It has also been encouraging to see the new(ish) health secretary throwing his weight behind this activity. In three high profile speeches when he has been discussing the changing shape of the NHS going forward, Matt Hancock has been keen to support the emergence of ‘social prescribing’, and the growing engagement of the NHS with non-medical treatment which can be shown to improve wellbeing and address the corrosive advance of loneliness and isolation. Building on and developing the NHS collaboration with the creative and cultural sector is a great opportunity to take that forward.
Age UK has come to this agenda relatively recently, but is totally committed to the concept and approach. The Age of Creativity Festival is a demonstration of that developing direction, as well as a serious attempt to create a new framework which can facilitate the evolution of that activity. Music and dance are a major component of shared creative activities, but the range and variety on offer is bewildering. We need to help people find information about the available activities which might interest them, and the services and support which could be provided to make their engagement more satisfying and simple. This is very much work in progress, but it is central to get it right if we are to succeed in opening up the opportunities for creative engagement and to release the benefits which can then more surely follow.
Finding out what is available and how to access it is obviously crucial – and obviously difficult given the sheer range of activities which could be considered to be ‘cultural or creative’. Picking up that challenge could be where Age UK can really make a difference – and where a where a compact entity with good communications structures such as Age UK London could make a particular difference. Book groups may be an attractive generic offer, but some people will fancy Russian novels and others Irish poetry, and we need to find ways to flag up these options and help people find the programme which interests them.
What is also striking is how much cultural and creative activity is actually going on – often driven by enthusiastic volunteers or wilful individuals. Making the first connection is generally the most difficult. After that networks open up and more opportunities come into view. And again the compact nature of London and the possession of a Freedom Pass makes London the obvious place in which to develop access to arts and creative opportunities – especially given its rich cultural capital and inheritance.
But beware of one cloud on the horizon. Seed-corn funding from local authorities is drying up sharply. Austerity has forced a focus on statutory responsibilities at the expense of discretionary funding, and while expenditure on adult social care fell by ‘only’ 3.3% between 2010/11 and 2016/17, spending on cultural and related services fell by 34.9% (or £1.2bn). Age UK might need to gear itself up for a lobbying and influencing campaign.
To learn more about the Age of Creativity Festival, including how to get involved, please head to www.ageofcreativity.co.uk