Submission to House of Lords covid-19 committee on “Life beyond Covid”

A young girl plays with coloured post-its on a window
Creative Learning Guild, Arts Drop

The Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance is a national membership organisation for everyone invested in the relationship between creativity, culture, health and wellbeing. Our vision is a healthy world powered by our creativity and imagination. We are an organisation driven by the collective power of our members. We connect, amplify and support their work to transform people's lives and communities through culture and creativity.

We have come together with a number of partner organisations to submit this response to the House of Lords covid-19 committee call (here).

Are there any positives that you would take from this pandemic?

  1. The value of the arts/culture/heritage/creative practice has been very clear during this time. Many of us have turned to creativity and culture to support our health and wellbeing, and/or facilitate communication and relationships.
  2. Lockdown has increased innovation in arts/cultural/heritage organisations and freelancers, and accelerated our thinking about digital practice and blended on- and offline work.[1]
  3. We have been travelling less, commuting less and consuming less, which has been of great benefit to the environment, as well as our health and wellbeing.
  4. Lockdown has allowed us to consider the importance of where we live, and what its culture and heritage offers. 
  5. There has been a rise in community activism, mutual aid and general local community thinking and support.    
  6. Smaller arts/cultural organisations have increased their reach, connections and partnerships. There is an openness to new alliances, and a positive shift in status as some hierarchies break down. Practitioners are closer to strategic decision-making; practitioners and participants are being brought closer together. The crisis has created a landscape of co-creation.
  7. The lockdown has forced us to reassess professional priorities – particularly in terms of inclusion and inequalities – and simplify or even cut out work that lacks impact.


What are the things that you are most worried about?

  1. Inequalities in the UK and especially England are becoming more entrenched.
  2. The lack of coordinated international action on climate change is of immense concern.
  3. Those who are already vulnerable to isolation whether through illness, disability, age or poverty, are becoming even more isolated; this isolation is further exacerbated by digital exclusion, which has created a two-tier system in the last few months; many brilliant and inclusive digital solutions have been developed during lockdown, but this is not a universal solution. 
  4. Older people have ‘disappeared’ and whilst resources are understandably being directed at younger people, there is a risk of splitting society into two groups. We need to change the narrative around older people to ensure we recognise our value as creative citizens across the life course.
  5. We are concerned that the general re-evaluation of creativity, culture and heritage may fall away as we go back to ‘business as usual’.
  6. There has been a lack of clarity from government around guidance for reopening, and a more entrenched lack of alignment across departments, e.g. DFE, DHSC and DCMS. We also note that government guidance for reopening initially prioritised the professional performing arts sector under the guidelines, with little acknowledgement of the important contribution made by the amateur sector to wellbeing and local economic activity. The pandemic has raised significant issues around social isolation and highlighted the important role of amateur performing arts groups in alleviating these problems must be recognised urgently.
  7. As arts and cultural organisations and practitioners, how can we sustain the complex and time-consuming blended approaches we have been developing to allow us to work on and offline? Especially given the additional challenges of delivering work with vulnerable groups in socially engaged practice. We are concerned about practitioner wellbeing. Our sector needs training to support the move to digital and all the implications for socially engaged practice, often with vulnerable groups. It also needs support to reach those for whom digital is not the solution, where physical or social contact is essential to achieving desired outcomes. 
  8. The arts and culture have fallen away from our education system but are even more necessary now to support resilience and adaptability in young people returning to school. 
  9. Artists are losing work and arts/cultural organisations are overworked.
  10. Freelancers are still falling through the cracks – how do we better support them so that they don’t leave the sector because they can’t pay the bills?[2] This is particularly important in terms of ensuring the sector is diverse and representative.
  11. Social prescribing presents a number of specific concerns for our Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance members: 
    1. Thus far there is a lack of systematic and strategic funding available for “providers” (in this case arts/cultural organisations providing services that support health and wellbeing). The health/culture/community sectors need to work together to devise a sustainable financial model.
    2. The language used by government in relation to the arts and culture has suggested this work is seen as “free” or “cheap”. In reality providers need infrastructure, training and support, as well as of course delivery costs – all of which must be included in the financial model.
    3. Co-production and real collaboration takes more time than providing a one-size-fits-all solution; a realistic, person-centred model (based on the NHS’s own concept of ‘universal personalised care’) is not yet driving the development of social prescribing.
    4. Small arts/cultural/heritage organisations and freelancers who may be experienced in supporting health and wellbeing have no visible means of accessing linkworkers or wider health systems as “providers”.
    5. As yet there are no clear common standards for evaluation frameworks that reflect the full the breadth of social prescribing's impact in society and/or how inequalities and wider determinants of health are affected.
    6. Those of us living with long-term health conditions have reported that linkworkers’ redeployment to supporting covid isolation has meant that their core role has been left behind and now needs to be rebuilt. 

What do you most hope changes for the better?

  1. Inequalities in relation to race, health, education and the economy are clearer to more people than ever before. We hope this will lead to real structural change.  
  2. We hope that we will be able to move beyond ranking priorities for social change and towards understanding that (for example) antiracism work, work to tackle health inequalities and climate change, and fostering a more creative society are all interwoven and must be achieved together.
  3. Creativity has been recognised as a valuable force in society. We hope that as a consequence, creativity, the arts and culture will be embedded in our social structures – in education, health, social care and local government.
  4. Significant progress was being made in terms of mainstreaming socially engaged arts/cultural work before the pandemic – we hope this will not be lost in a false idea of returning to ‘normal’.
  5. We hope that this palpable shift helps us to recognise that the value of the arts, culture and heritage cannot be measured in purely economic terms; the soft impact and iterative change they create is more valuable and harder to measure than cost. This recognition is essential to supporting the culture shift in local government and health and care systems that will allow arts/culture/heritage to be properly embedded. Real impact is often incremental; arts, culture and heritage are crucial to this incremental and sustained approach, rather than a quick-fix approach.
  6. We hope that the greater focus on wellbeing in schools’ ‘recovery’ curriculum will encourage government to re-embed the arts, culture and heritage into the curriculum, understanding the added value this delivers to individuals, families and communities - developing resilience, acting as a catalyst for social connection, “levelling up”, acting as a springboard for debate and new perspectives, and creating common ground.
  7. The precarity of freelance workers is being recognised more clearly. We hope that government, as well as organisations across the arts/culture/heritage, will increase the support they give to freelancers. In our sector this is a question of financial support but also professional development and affective support, particularly for those freelancers working with vulnerable people and groups.
  8. We hope that government realises the opportunities presented by this seismic upheaval – and our new understanding of people’s capacity to adapt to social change – to take firm action in relation to climate change.



Director, Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance

Director, Age & Culture

Director, London Arts & Health

Museums & Cultural Programme Director, Canterbury City Council

Chief Executive, Voluntary Arts

Director, Paintings in Hospitals

Executive Director, Live Music Now 

Director Music Programme, Britten Pears Arts

Co-chair, National Performance Advisory Group (NPAG) for Arts, Design and Heritage in Healthcare

Chief Executive, Creative Dementia Arts Network

Executive Director Kids in Museums

Programme Director, Music for Dementia

Head of Wellbeing and Inclusion Strategy, Historic England 

Director, Museums Association

Director & Chair, Arts & Health South West

Music in Hospitals & Care

Education and Youth Ensembles Consultant, Association of British Orchestras

Chief Executive Officer, British Association of Art Therapists

Head of Cultural Partnerships, Age UK/ Age of Creativity Festival Director

Director, TCCE (The Culture Capital Exchange) 

Founder & Director, Creative Minds

Chief Executive, Making Music

Executive Director, People Dancing

Director, National Museums Liverpool 

Chief Executive, QUAD

Outreach Officer, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Director, Wishing Well Music for Health CIC

Director, Thackray Museum of Medicine

Director Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University

Head of Audience Development, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery

Director, Ministry of Others

Arts, Wellbeing and Health Coordinator, Arts Derbyshire

Story Director, Lapidus

Founder, Hip Hop HEALERS

Director GEM Group for Education in Museums

Director, Happy Museum 

Co-Chairs, Social Prescribing Network 

Chief Executive & Founder and Norfolk Dance to Health Coordinator, Aesop

Director, National Rural Touring Forum



[1] See for example How creativity and culture are supporting shielding and vulnerable people at home during Covid-19, Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, July 2020.

[2] Freelance artists earn roughly half the average annual salary of a full-time arts employee. These low incomes (average £16,150) 'result in delay in starting families, continuing to work despite bouts of chronic or life-threatening illness and no savings for emergencies or old age.’