Dr Daisy Fancourt’s team at UCL was funded and commissioned by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing and the Economic and Social Research Council to explore the relationship between community engagement and wellbeing, as well as to understand the patterns of engagement in different activities and possible barriers and enablers to such participation.
Here we focus on some of the results they found around the role of neighbourhoods in facilitating community engagement in arts and culture…
Early evidence has consistently shown the different benefits for personal wellbeing of engaging in visual arts, music activities, physical activities, volunteering, among others.
Researchers have now found evidence of a small positive relationship between wellbeing and participation in culture and heritage activities that is independent of our residential location. In other words, community cultural engagement is good for everyone’s wellbeing, wherever they live.
This stresses the importance of social prescribing processes to improve personal wellbeing as demonstrated by earlier research, and that they can benefit even older populations if cultural and arts offers are well tailored to their needs.
Moreover, increased participation can have greater benefits for mental distress and good mental health for those living in worse off areas. Although the benefits on life satisfaction did not seem to change between worse off and better off areas, this could be of relevance for the levelling up mission which looks at other personal wellbeing measures like happiness, anxiety and sense of purpose.
Despite the extended benefits, there is however a geographical difference in the levels of engagement: in less well off places people engage less with culture, arts and heritage than similar people elsewhere. So there is something about the place that seems to matter in addition to individual-level characteristics.
For example, some of the geographical differences found in England are:
- People living in the country are more likely to participate in the arts compared to those in urban communities.
- Those in multicultural areas are less likely to engage in cultural activities.
- Those in wealthier countryside and cosmopolitan areas are more likely to engage in cultural activities.
- Those in the 10% most deprived areas are also less likely to engage in cultural activities.
More research is needed, though, to understand if unequal engagement is explained by one or a combination of geographical factors such as:
- Capability: accessibility of activities and assets in different places.
- Opportunity: availability of cultural offer in different places.
- Motivation: social norms and lifestyle of the people congregated in different places.
We still don’t know if people in the most deprived areas engage less because there is limited infrastructure in those places that influences participation behaviour, or because the preferences, values and characteristics of the people living in those areas influence our own behaviour.
That said, given the health benefits of arts and cultural engagement, it is reasonable to assume that improving capability, opportunities and motivation to participate in arts and cultural programmes, especially in deprived areas, may help reduce wellbeing inequalities.