Creativity and culture can support mental health if funders...


  • Consider the implications of the power dynamics between funders, freelance practitioners, people with lived experience and small organisations – and work towards creating an open and equal space for collaboration.
  • Foster a culture of greater trust around shared goals, learning from positive experiences early in the pandemic.
  • A substantial proportion of creative and cultural work for mental health is led by people with their own experience of mental health challenges or the mental health system. This leadership by lived experience is hugely beneficial and should be supported at every level of funding, governance, strategy, design and delivery by providing additional support where it is needed, and ensuring institutional practice is founded on this knowledge.
  • Conduct meaningful consultation with the people delivering and benefitting from the work to codesign funds that meet need, and are manageable and appropriate.
  • Codesign language and terminology in your application processes that are meaningful and relevant to people who have been less likely to receive funding in the past, especially people of diverse ethnicities and identifying as Disabled, and/or people with their own experience of mental health challenges.
  • Ensure you can learn from your grantees’ projects and work and acknowledge how this learning is happening.
  • Build partnership between funders to develop joined-up approaches to (for example):
    • sector infrastructure, including local cross-disciplinary ecologies
    • accessibility: communicating and distributing funding
    • shared funding portals to minimize time spent on different applications
    • project evaluation – in particular considering how the pressure can be taken off individual projects to ‘prove’ their efficacy by better utilising existing research
    • practitioner support
    • rates of pay
    • honoraria and financial support in relation to lived experience.

Target investment

For example:

  • Funds specifically for the arts and (mental) health, as opposed to within broader health, arts, or social change funds
  • Funds for balanced, cross-sector partnership
  • Funds for practitioners and beneficiaries identifying with the protected characteristics as defined in the 2010 Equality Act – particularly people of diverse ethnicities, and people identifying as Disabled
  • For public sector funders: What funding can be made available to creative practitioners, and how does this match their capacity? Formal tender processes may not be accessible to small local organisations or freelancers, for example. Are there other ways to approach this?

Invest long-term

  • Invest in networks and infrastructure
  • Support organisations and freelancers’ running costs, governance and organisational development so that they can develop expertise and relationships and practise safely
  • Support organisations to develop paid internships, traineeships and mentorship; as well as recruitment drives with specialist organisations to build a more representative workforce
  • Additional long-term support will decrease pressure on practitioners, support trust between funders and practitioners, and allow the sector to learn and develop.

Fund beyond project delivery

The following elements of work are rarely accounted for. We recommend funders offer or provide support for these areas of work, and actively support applicants to include these elements in their planning:

  • research and planning
  • relationship-building (bear in mind that working in a co-productive, person-centred way takes considerable time, especially when people may distrust services, or have low confidence and self- esteem)
  • partnership-building across different sectors / professions
  • marketing (including marketing training)
  • support for practitioners’ wellbeing (see examples of good practice in CHWA's report, What can we learn from the Practising Well Awards?
  • staff training, including safeguarding, mental health first aid, equality & diversity training, and DBS checks
  • reflection and evaluation.

Demonstrate realistic expectations

  • Discourage over-promising in applications or tenders.
  • Consider what outcomes are realistic in relation to the length and breadth of investment.
  • Encourage appropriate remuneration, providing guidance where possible.

Encourage safe practice

  • Support practice that considers the wellbeing and safety of practitioners, partners and beneficiaries in its frameworks; this may require investment in (for example) support workers, additional facilitators, supervision, and training (at minimum we suggest practitioners should receive training in safeguarding, equality & diversity, and mental health first aid).

Adapt funding processes

  • Offer multiple means of submission, including video and audio.
  • Carefully consider your timelines – ensure practitioners have enough time to design work in response, and initiate any necessary partnerships.
  • Provide financial support to applicants for more in-depth applications.
  • Provide training and support for bid-writing and the language of funding.
  • Co-assess applications with people whose lived experience gives them relevant insight into the potential benefits of the work.
  • Ensure you have the resources in place to adequately assess applications.
  • Offer bespoke guidance for applicants before submission, and feedback for unsuccessful applicants.
  • Ensure caring responsibilities are included in Equal Opportunities forms.

Model good practice

  • Support a caring working culture in your own organisations, adhering to the principles of practitioner support outlined above, built on good communication, reasonable and flexible working hours and expectations, appropriate pay, and opportunities for skills development and peer support.

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