How Creativity and Wellbeing Week 2014 can make Croydon a healthier place

By - Monday 2nd June, 2014

Are the arts really agents of well-being? Catherine Pestano thinks so, as she reports on how Croydon is joining in London Creativity and Wellbeing Week 2014

Feeling the joy of creativity: image by Catherine Pestano, used with permission

The London Arts in Health Forum (LAHF) has been running for eleven years. It’s a free-to-join organisation promoting the value of the arts in relation to health and has been promoting London’s third Creativity and Wellbeing Week (2nd-11th June 2014). Croydon, being the fabulous, creative place that it is, is playing a part. So here’s an invitation to come along, try some local activities during this exciting week and beyond, and see what you think about their possible effect on you.

Culture is created when the need to express something meets with imagination and effort. People have felt the need since the Stone Age to use their creativity to reflect their lived experience. In recent years, there has been a deepening of interest in the ways arts can prevent illness (for example through the work of community arts therapy groups), enhance recovery (for example, through Bedside Singing, Doctor Clowns and neo-natal intensive interaction), and improve life for people of all ages with long-term or terminal conditions (for example, through poetry, dance, singing and radio projects).

When we free our creativity, it helps us face life’s exigencies

A singing group gets in touch with creativity and well-being. Image by Catherine Pestano, used with permission

There are many other educational and therapeutic uses of arts to support well-being in individuals and communities. Croydon has a wide range of contributing initiatives including music therapy, singing, sound work, drama, dance and more.

Why are arts so powerful in enhancing wellbeing? There appears to be a crossover effect proceeding directly from expressing oneself – finding the authentic voice within that is allowed to arise. When we can free this, we seem to carry over a more creative approach to being with, and facing, life’s exigencies. In the words of the late great Maya Angelou: “Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realise that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art”.

Creativity and imagination are agents of wellness

In 2012, the National Alliance for the Arts, Health and Well-being (NAAHW) was formed, building a growing collection of clinical evidence to support these ideas. Membership comprises over 130 arts managers in hospitals. Working with more than a thousand people, it has delivered a Charter for Arts Health and Wellbeing. Here is just part of its mission:

“The arts, creativity and the imagination are agents of wellness. Theyhelp keep the individual resilient, aid recovery and foster a flourishing society…..we believe that keeping creativity alive, active and accessible to all will reduce the financial burden of illness, help people to be the best they can be, and foster a healthier, happier, more vibrant, thriving society”. A stirring call to arms – so I visited some projects in Croydon recently.

Nordoff Robbins runs an open group for community music therapy at the Brit School, Croydon, and is open for new members. We gathered in an annexe at the Brit School and chose from fabulous instruments. Supported by the therapist we began to improvise and listen to each others’ choices about different sounds and patterns. It is a relaxing way to connect with others without the need to talk. No musical experience is needed and the most unusual instruments are on offer to play with!

Singing in a group, when there is no judgement or pressure to perform, can be uplifting and fun. During Creativity and Wellness Week then continuing throughout June, Martina Habeck is running one such group for CreativeCroydon, upstairs in the Green Dragon pub on Monday evenings (6:30pm – 8:00 pm). We started with a few simple exercises to warm up, preparing our bodies for singing, breathing and making sounds. Then we sang simple rounds from diverse global sources and learnt a Romanian song. This small, friendly group is well worth a visit.

Other local events include Nordic walking with singing, presentations on a local Singing Hospitals initiative, circle dancing for dementia, singing for people with breathing problems and the launch of a new choir for carers. All of these activities will continue after London Week of Creativity and Wellbeing is over, and seek to act as launchpads for continuing, life-enhancing creative expression in Croydon.

So to close, and acknowledging that maybe each of us can perhaps benefit from some improvement to our wellbeing, I would like to echo the words of organiser Damian Hebron, Director of London Arts in Health Forum. I encourage you to “explore the impact that the arts can have on your health”.

For more information about activities in Croydon during London Creativity and Wellbeing Week, or to be redirected to any other networks or links, email .

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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