West of England initiative culminates in a toolkit to support young people’s wellbeing through creativity and cultural volunteering

5 people stand smiling in front of a light display, outside at night
Paul Blakemore

Arts & Health South West has released a toolkit on collaborative working between youth, artists, and cultural institutions to support programmes of creativity, wellbeing, and volunteering.

The 85-page guide is based on lessons learned from ‘Reach In Reach Out’ (RIRO), which brought together young people, artists, creative producers, and researchers across four sites and seven organisations in the West of England from 2022-2024. RIRO was supported by the Arts Council England Volunteering Futures Fund and The National Heritage Lottery Fund. 

The toolkit, and additional resources, is being hosted online by dissemination partner Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance at www.culturehealthandwellbeing.org.uk/riro. RIRO project staff are available to offer webinars and in-person training workshops. For more information, contact riroproject@gmail.com

The aim of RIRO was to co-create a programme with young people to support their creativity and wellbeing and offer pathways to community engagement and volunteering in the cultural sector. The project targeted young people in Bath, Bristol, Radstock, and Weston-super-Mare living with physical or psychosocial challenges, those at risk of social isolation and those transitioning to further education or employment. Through RIRO, the young people made extraordinary personal gains in creative skills, wellbeing and event management, and the project partner institutions strengthened their ability to engage with and co-create with youth.

RIRO is unique in offering a model for the co-production of a large and complex project involving multiple partners and sites, as well as demonstrating the many ways young people can co-create activities and lead community events with the support of cultural institutions and community partners.

This toolkit shares the voices, stories, and lessons learned from this work. Specific guidance and resources are offered on: 

  • Project co-production and co-creation with young people
  • Wellbeing in creative projects for young people
  • Youth-informed community engagement in arts, heritage and museum organisations 
  • Skills development for employment through cultural volunteering 
  • Participatory creative evaluation, including training young community researchers
  • Different ways of evidencing good practice

Both project partners and young people described the benefits of the RIRO programmes:

“The project has provided me with a supportive space to develop the skills to plan and run arts events and learn from people in the sector. Meetings with the group have made me feel excited about the potential museums hold to benefit people's wellbeing and has reconnected me with my own belief in the positive effects of being creative regularly.” (Young person lead)

“We’ve sort of taken it beyond the bounds of our original expectations and then really grown something that's not just been good for the young people that have been involved but has also transformed the institution and can potentially be embedded. I don't think you can ask for much more than that.” (Louise Campion, The Holburne Museum)

“I felt a sense of belonging and it is really special. I have got more confidence and I feel like I don’t need to wear a mask, and I feel like I can be myself! It also feels like a special art family that feels like a community.” (Young participant)

“We have learned to be more flexible and widen our vision of what volunteering, creativity, wellbeing, and community mean to young people. We have become aware of what it means to support vulnerable young people and to give them agency in decision making.” (Partner lead)