Wigan and Leigh XPRESS Arts and Health
XPRESS was a ‘Wellbeing on Prescription’ project for participants with mild to moderate depression. It was set up and run NHS Ashton, Leigh and Wigan with support from the staff of the Turnpike Gallery, Leigh and was the first social prescribing programme in the Wigan Borough aiming to use the arts as an intervention with service users with a specific mental health diagnosis.
The aim of this project was to undertake a qualitative evaluation of the XPRESS Well-Being on Prescription Project, with a particular focus on the benefits derived from participation. Process data were gathered by the UCLan research team using:
- Semi-structured participant focus groups and one-to-one interviews to discover the participants’ experiences of the projects (see Appendix 2).
- Semi-structured focus groups and one-to-one interviews with the artists and project co-ordinator, to explore the artists’ and organiser’s views on the effects of the arts projects on the participants.
- Documentary analysis drawing on attendance monitoring information, evaluation feedback from sessions, referral emails and individual communication from participants.
- Arts outputs and reflective material generated by participants in the sessions.
In addition, impact data were gathered by the project coordinator (and subsequently made available to the UCLan research team) using the WEMWBS scale with participants; and project evaluation forms.
The findings suggested that participants greatly valued their involvement in XPRESS and benefitted from their participation in a diversity of ways.
Whilst the impact data gathered through using the WEBWBS scale point to a marked improvement in participants’ perceived mental well-being, these findings were not generalisable due to the small sample size and could not in themselves be used as evidence that the perceived positive changes are due to participation in the initiative.
However, the process data provided rich qualitative information that sheds light on the mechanisms by which XPRESS is perceived to have achieved positive impacts for individuals – with the following interconnected themes emerging:
- Seeing differently
- Sense of connectedness to art
- Cultural capital
- Feelings of well-being
- New skills and confidence
- Recognition and pride
- Managing anxiety
- Increased range of emotional registers
- Change outside and beyond XPRESS.
Reflecting on the findings and looking to the future, the following recommendations were made:
There needs to be increased provision of a range of Arts on Prescription projects, adequately funded and appropriate to a diversity of needs.
Arts on Prescription projects need to build links with local voluntary arts groups so that participants can progress when their sessions have finished.
Such projects need to be evaluated in such a way that the process of participation is demonstrated as well as changes in wellbeing on traditional scales.
Referral pathways to Arts on Prescription projects need to be broadened to include all relevant agencies and an integrated system of referral is required.
There is an urgent need to provide increased information and training for GPs and medical students concerning the value of arts on prescription, thereby shifting perceptions and increasing willingness to refer.
There is a need to shift lay perceptions of arts and of Arts on Prescription in particular, with a greater level of sharing arts outputs for the benefit of local communities.