Angela Conlan is an arts co-ordinator at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and a staff governor for the Community Services directorate. Since 2018 she has been running the Creating with Care programme in the trust’s six community hospitals. The programme brings various creative activities for patients, staff and visitors to enjoy: music, art, dance, mosaics and more.

The initiative started as a temporary arts scheme at Witney Community Hospital, supported by West Oxfordshire District Council, and was then expanded to all community hospitals with the support from Oxford Health Charity – perhaps not least because Angela is passionate about the benefits of arts for health. In May 2019 Angela was elected as a governor for the trust.

“I have always been interested in the bigger picture,” she says. “When you are going around meeting people, you’ll come up with project ideas and ways of working that you may not have thought of before, and that helps with arts development.”

“Getting to know the organisation and its priorities has helped me to be more strategic in my work, and I can see how the arts fit the trust’s priorities” she says.

 “I want to make sure that arts are seen as essential – and the pandemic has proven that they are!” she says.

With the lockdown and Oxford Health’s no visitor policy, none of Creating with Care activities could take place. Angela was greatly concerned about patients’ wellbeing at the wards. But in no time she came up with the idea of putting together individual arts packs that were delivered to community hospitals. The work was supported by local businesses and Oxford Health Charity.

Angela notes that she is quite often asked “what’s the point of arts”.

“Even when I went to university to study dance, people saw it as a ‘soft subject’; as in why would anyone want a degree in dance. And now all the arts venues have been closed and people talk about opening pubs but not theatres or museums,” she says.

“People do realise the importance of arts when they see the difference in people’s mood and wellbeing. And I want to make a difference,” she says.

“The benefits of taking part in cultural activities are widely recognised now. There’s lot of evidence: just taking part in one cultural activity for five minutes can really help with mental health and lift someone’s mood. But there are also physical benefits. The most obvious is dance; improving strength and balance. With things like mosaics it’s about fine, dextrous skills, and generally just taking people’s mind off from the here and now. It helps with anxiety and stress. Of course we need clinical care but arts are a great addition to the offer,” she says.

She adds: “Also, at the community hospitals the focus is very much on physical health, so it is great to have something for the mental health, too. And we need more of it!”

If there’s anything positive about the Coronavirus pandemic, it has allowed Angela to get to know colleagues she might not have met otherwise.

“For me as a governor it is an advantage that I know a lot of staff, and I do let them know I am a governor and they can raise issues with me,” she says.

“Now many people in Community Services have been redeployed to the community hospitals. I have worked with people from the Falls Prevention Service, which is really interesting to me because of my dance background, and with speech and language therapists when we’ve been setting up video calls for patients with their relatives,” she tells.

Throughout the Coronavirus spring Angela has been mightily busy. She’s been working closely with Oxford Health Charity helping with care packs for staff; she worked with UK Crafters who made some 1,500 laundry bags for staff.

“I can’t even remember all the things,” she laughs.

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