As I launch this new venture I reflect on my time with Arts for Health Cornwall and Isles of Scilly which closed its doors in January 2016. I was privileged to have been Director there for over 11 years and it was, without doubt, the best job I had ever had. In my last few weeks I had the unenviable task of clearing the office and came across papers going back to my early days with the organisation, reminding me of how much was achieved. The first office we had was more a glorified cupboard, with a window that opened on to a grim fire escape, shared with pigeons who were banished there by virtue of the barbed wire and spikes on the roof.
Many of the artists whom I met in that tiny office are now working regularly in arts and health contexts; we have all come a long way since then and it is really rewarding to see so many people working in this field and the improved understanding and recognition of the arts for health movement.
I took so many memories away with me – interviews with artists where I got to write poems, sniff lemons and listen to the accordion – that never happened in the NHS! Marvellous moments such as the lady with dementia, who had not spoken for many years, suddenly bursting into song; a man who had been isolated by his social anxiety and depression standing proudly in front of his artwork having his picture taken; young children living in difficult circumstances expressing their joy and optimism through performance. And some illustrious occasions too – winning national awards with the King’s Fund and the Guardian; hosting an exhibition in Truro Cathedral raising awareness of homelessness in the county – one of the projects of which I am most proud; hearing people speak about the impact our work has had at our heart-warming AGMs and sharing our office with over 100 people from Penryn who took part in our Freespirits of Penryn project at the first joyous Penryn Arts Festival – just one of the many highlights in my years with Arts for Health Cornwall.
These memories have been instrumental in encouraging me to continue working in this field – whether this is through supporting the work of other organisations through advice, training or consultancy, or developing my own programmes and projects, collaborating with others, that address identified needs. Although the arts and health movement has come a long way, there is still much that needs to be done, especially in a time when our health and social care services are under such pressure, and I want to contribute my experience, knowledge and skills to benefit individuals, groups and communities in improving health and wellbeing.