Museums Northumberland bait, evidencing the wellbeing impacts of our programme01 November 2018
Rachel Adam and Lisa Blaney work for Museums Northumberland, as Project Director and Arts for Well-being Manager of the bait programme.
bait is one of 21 Creative People and Places programmes in England and has a ten-year mission to ‘create long-term change in levels of arts participation, driven by the creativity and ambition of people living in South East Northumberland and having a demonstrable effect on the well-being of local people and levels of social energy and activism within communities’.
Since 2013, bait has worked with 225 partners to deliver 179 projects, creating opportunities for people to take part in projects lasting between 3 months and 3 years.
The programme is delivered with support from a consortium of organisations led by Museums Northumberland with Northumberland County Council Public Health and Culture, Northumberland College, Northumberland Community Voluntary Action and Queens Hall Arts. bait is delivered with investment from Arts Council England, Northumberland County Council Public Health, The Ballinger Trust and Garfield Weston Foundation.
How do you evidence the well-being impacts of your programme?
At the start of our programme in 2013, we took advice from our consortium partner, NCC Public Health about how to evidence the ‘demonstrable effect on the well-being of local people’ that is a key part of our 10-year vision. The guidance was to use the Warwick and Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS).
WEMWBS is a confidential, user-friendly tool which measures wellbeing of communities. The non-medical language makes it ideal for cultural sector projects. People are invited to complete a scored questionnaire at the start of a project and at the end, with at least a two-week gap between the first and second scores. We now have a sample of 360 fully completed WEMWBS and the findings show a 75% increase in sense of wellbeing.
This statistic helps communicate the impact of our programme, especially to partners outside the cultural sector. It still needs to be supported with rich qualitative evidence but having a rigorous quantitative methodology has proved invaluable in ‘making the case’ for the well-being outcomes of an arts programme.
It has however taken time and persistence to build a statistically reliable sample. For the 360 fully completed WEWMBS we have several hundred partially completed, as people taking part can miss sessions when data is being collected. There has also been resistance among some artists, who don’t feel immediately comfortable with the methodology, which they may not have used before.
Within the national Creative People and Places network, we are unique in having an ‘Arts for Well-being Manager’ (one post within a team of six) and this has really helped. Lisa’s background is as a systemic family therapist, so capturing evidence-based feedback is second nature.
Lisa has supported artists and has also encouraged project partners to embed WEMWBS into their work. Several voluntary sector partners have now seen the value of gathering reliable data when applying to trusts and foundations to commission cultural activities. As Sam Ruth, team leader at Northumberland Recovery Partnership has said, “The arts and WEMWBS enable a voice and inner feelings to be expressed – it’s also a great way to evaluate service provision.”
Image: Family taking part in ‘Frost of Forgetfulness’ at Woodhorn Museum credit: Jason Thompson