At the heart of what we do at Spirit of 2012 is a belief that bringing people together in inclusive participatory activities can both increase wellbeing and reduce loneliness, and we’re committed to sharing learnings with the sector.
In 2019, we launched the Carers’ Music Fund, supporting ten projects around the UK to deliver music sessions for unpaid female carers, made possible through the DCMS Tampon Tax Fund. As these projects draw to a close, this blog looks at what we learned about participatory music making and wellbeing for this often-overlooked group.
There are at least 6.5 million carers in the UK, the majority of whom are women. Carers UK’s State of Caring 2018 report identified that 8 out of 10 carers faced social isolation, 72% had suffered mental ill health as a result of caring, and almost two-thirds of carers (64%) focused on the care needs of the person they care for over their own needs. Having seen some significant wellbeing outcomes in other Spirit-funded music programmes, we wanted to delve deeper into how participatory music making could increase wellbeing for female carers.
To really get under the skin of this question, we convened a learning partnership led by What Works Centre for Wellbeing joined by fund evaluators Apteligen, Carers UK and the Behavioural Insights Team. Together we adopted a ‘test, learn and act’ approach. This informed the design of the programme, with projects encouraged to deliver activities in four cohorts of 12 sessions, with reflection and adjustment points between these cohorts. These were supported by learning days that brought project leads together with the learning partnership to discuss experiences on the ground, explore challenges and successes, and discuss emerging learnings.
What we learned
Firstly, the results are promising. Participant surveys at the end of their involvement showed an average improvement across the ONS4 wellbeing measures, and taking part in the Carers’ Music Fund may have contributed to lower levels of loneliness. This is great news, but because we were interested in the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, we didn’t stop with simply measuring the impact.
The evaluation summarises the experiences of the ten projects to form the basis of what fund evaluators Apteligen call a ‘pathway to wellbeing’ – the prerequisites of music-making activities that drive enhanced wellbeing for this group. With the right building blocks and key ingredients in place, participants build a strong bond with one another, feel valued and appreciated, and have an enjoyable and creatively stimulating experience that builds confidence and social connections.
The building blocks include high-quality music leaders who take a genuine interest in participants, make the sessions accessible to all levels of ability, and focus on the creative process and having fun.
Key ingredients include a focus on developing new musical skills quickly – to encourage continued engagement and create a positive feedback loop – and opportunities to articulate how you feel through music. Which also created some very powerful songs!
Because Carers’ Music Fund projects were so diverse in audience and approach, the pathway to wellbeing is applicable to many different scenarios. We think it’s useful learning for anyone delivering music and other creative activities to increase wellbeing and reduce loneliness.
We’ll share the full pathway to wellbeing, as well as other learnings from the Carers’ Music Fund, when we publish our evaluation at an online summit on 23 June.
The event will be co-chaired by Spirit of 2012 and Carers UK, with keynote speeches from Baroness Diana Barran, Lord Gus O’Donnell, Simon Baynes MP and Nancy Hey, Executive Director at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing – our learning partner. We’ll also be joined on the day by fund evaluators Apteligen.
This event is open to all, but is particularly relevant to arts organisations, music practitioners, organisations who work with carers, researchers, funders, commissioners, and anyone with an interest in understanding how creative participation can improve wellbeing.
Sign up for the Carers' Music Fund Summit.
The event is free, but pre-registration is essential.