Constructing an understanding of the viability and value of creative industry provision for social prescribing

A research collaboration between Creative Wick and Dr Maria Turri, Centre for Psychiatry, Wolfson Institute for Population Health with Dr Francesca Cornaglia, School of Economics and Finance at QMUL will consider the viability and value of creative industry provision in east London for social prescribing with support from Network Centre.


There is increased recognition and research evidence that engagement with the arts is associated with lower levels of mental distress, better mental health functioning and increased wellbeing (Hamilton et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2020). Creative engagement in childhood has been associated with prevention of mental ill health (Fancourt and Steptoe, 2019). As a consequence of such evidence, the UK has implemented a social prescribing scheme whereby social, cultural and community activities are recognised as treatment options, especially for patients with mild-to-moderate mental illness or related social problems, for example loneliness (Fancourt et al., 2021). Such activities include arts-based interventions (Hamilton et al., 2015). Social prescribing is now a national scheme which aims at targeting about 1 million patients per year by 2023-24 (NHS England, 2019).

There are many arts organisations who provide arts interventions to groups who self-identify or are identified by others as having mental health difficulties. Many of these organisations existed before policies of social prescribing were implemented or even on the horizon. There is now an opportunity and a need to improve synergy between the social prescribing agenda and the capacity (both in terms of resources and skills) of arts organisations to fulfil their role towards such agenda. A recent report by the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance (Hume and Parikh, 2022) has put forth a series of recommendations towards developing a sustainable model for the provision of creative arts activities for mental health. Such recommendations highlight the need to embed co-production between all stakeholders, including arts practitioners, commissioners, funders and researchers. One of the main challenges in the field remains its fragmentation, with poor mutual understanding between the statutory services, who are in a position to ‘prescribe’ arts activities, and the organisations and practitioners who could act as providers.

The social prescribing agenda presents therefore a set of challenges as well as opportunities, with regards to improving its efficiency and sustainability. For what concerns more specifically the area of arts activities for mental health (Hume and Parikh, 2022), research within the sector has highlighted the need of resourcing arts activities with adequate funding, of valuing long-term partnerships, of considering the wider context, including the training and wellbeing of art practitioners providing the service. Moreover, given the intricate constellation of arts and other community-based organisations which are potential providers of social prescriptions, research that aims to improve evidence for the sector needs to address complex questions of impact, process, mode and infrastructure (Fancourt et al., 2021).

Project Aim

In this project, we aim to focus on the area of East London to create a network of arts organisations already involved or with the potential to be involved in providing activities for ‘arts on prescription’.

Research Questions

  1. to identify different models that characterise the relationship between prescribers and providers at a local level; for example: are providers individual artists or organisations? How big (or small) are such organisations? How do prescribers identify suitable providers? How are providers funded for their services? Is the funding adequate? Is it project-based or does it have a wider scope? How do the arts providers survive long term?
  2. to question the relationship between the existing models and the perceived impact of the activities on the wellbeing of the participants as well as on the wellbeing of the providers and the sustainability of their organisations. We will also compare these models with the proposed model framework recently published by the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance (Hume and Parikh, 2022)
  3. to identify and promote opportunities for fostering links, co-production and collaboration between local arts organisations interested in providing arts on prescription activities, and between these organisations and the prescribers. These opportunities will be mostly focussed at the local level, but also more widely at the level of the Greater London Authority, in particular seeking collaboration with the “2.8 million minds” project
  4. to identify arts organisations’ needs in terms of training and wellbeing of arts practitioners. This research question is linked to our vision of creating an educational tool for art practitioners interested in working as providers of “arts on prescription”.


  1. recruitment of x2 Research Assistants to be supervised by the Research Lead with a co-supervisor who is Dr. Francesca Cornaglia at QMUL.
  2. a project steering group to include representation from People’s Palace Projects, Creative Wick Living Lab, Network Centre, Richard Ings (Arts Council), the Research Lead, Dr. Francesca Cornaglia and the two assistant researchers.
  3. collection of information through databases
  4. questionnaires and interviews with local artists and art organisations identified through professional contacts and snowballing
  5. networking events to collect information towards our research questions (via group activities) as well as fostering collaboration
  6. at least one network event in collaboration with the “2.8 million minds” project

Expected outcomes

  1. a map of the arts organisations in Tower Hamlets which carry out “arts in mental health” interventions
  2. collection of data from such organisations concerning:
    1. funding pathways
    2. pathways of client referrals
    3. challenges and positive factors of the social prescribing agenda
    4. views on social prescribing design
  3. networking events at which to invite representative of such organisations. Scope of the networking meetings would be
    1. to foster links between organisations and with social prescribers – including supporting the setting up a database of organisations
    2. some of the collection of data in point 2 to be done at these meetings through workshop activities and discussion (e.g. points 2c and 2d)
    3. to foster further links with other projects, for example the 2,8 million mind project at GLA
  4. an initial scoping of existing databases from CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) or NHS trusts, containing data about social prescribing in Tower Hamlets with specific focus on mental health and art interventions – however if databases are wider, including data on other health conditions and other social prescribing activities, we can widen the scope of our data analysis

Fancourt, D., Bhui, K., Chatterjee, H., Crawford, P., Crossick, G., DeNora, T., & South, J. (2021). Social, cultural and community engagement and mental health: cross-disciplinary, co-produced research agenda. BJPsych open, 7(1).

Fancourt, D., & Steptoe, A. (2019). Effects of creativity on social and behavioral adjustment in 7‐to 11‐year‐old children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1438(1), 30-39.

Hamilton, K., Buchanan-Hughes A., Lim S., & Eddowes L. (2015). Evidence dossier: The value of arts on prescription programmes for the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. Cambridge: Arts and Minds.

Hume, V. & Parikh, M. (2022) From Surviving to Thriving: Building a model for sustainable practice in creativity and mental health. Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance

NHS England (2019). The NHS Long Term Plan. NHS England.

Wang, S., Mak, H. W., & Fancourt, D. (2020). Arts, mental distress, mental health functioning & life satisfaction: Fixed-effects analyses of a nationally-representative panel study. BMC Public Health, 20(1), 1-9.

Sign up for our newsletter

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking above to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.