The Southbank Centre brings ‘Art by Post’ to socially-isolated communities during COVID-19

The Southbank Centre brings ‘Art by Post’ to socially-isolated communities during COVID-19


The Southbank Centre has launched Art by Post, a new pilot scheme aiming to provide isolated people, who do not have digital access, with free creative activities packs. Inspired by the Southbank Centre’s visual art, literature, poetry and archive collections, the packs are designed to keep minds active, helping individuals feel connected to others and improving their mental health and wellbeing.

Art by Post aims to encourage artistic expression during lockdown and an opportunity for isolated people to share their work in a new exhibition when the Southbank Centre reopens.  Announced as part of the Southbank Centre’s Mental Health Awareness Week Programme, Art by Post, gives a platform and voice to a hidden community, inviting them to reflect on the experience of social isolation that many people will be continuing to live with. 

COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on a digital divide and the effects of digital exclusion leaving communities feeling isolated and forgotten about. Some 21% of adults in the UK live without access to a smartphone, with a high percentage of this group also living on their own. When COVID-19 hit, overnight, this community of socially isolated, ‘high risk’ adults was closed off from their wider community, further affecting their physical and mental health. 

Art by Post has been working closely with charities and care homes on the frontlines of health and social care to safeguard the wellbeing of this group. The Southbank Centre is one of the first multi-artform cultural organisations to engage with this group through art and hopes that the pilot scheme will demonstrate the unique power of arts and creativity to tackle social isolation and loneliness and ensure that their voices are heard. The activities are designed specifically for people living with dementia but the project is also open to those with other chronic health conditions. 

Since launching the project, Art By Post has so far reached 400 isolated people but the Southbank Centre aims to extend the scheme to reach even more socially isolated individuals. The project is being supported by the National Academy for Social Prescribing, Age UK Camden, Age UK Lambeth, Resonate Arts, Nightingale Hammerson and Coin Street Community Builders.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, it has been well documented (Age UK) that more than a million older people go at least 5 or 6 days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all, and that by 2025/26 the number of over 50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach 2 million – this is a 49% increase in 10 years. 

Art by Post is an initiative of the Southbank Centre’s Creative Learning Team and builds on the organisation’s commitment to the social prescribing movement. It follows an extensive artistic programme showcasing the importance of art and mental health, including the annual Creative Health Conference, which has had to be cancelled this year following government advice.

As part of its wider mission to harness the power of arts for social change, the Southbank Centre is also delighted to have joined the Jo Cox Connection Coalition as part of a network of organisations working to build meaningful connections and tackle loneliness during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Alexandra Brierley, Director of Creative Learning, Southbank Centre, says: 

“It’s clear that the COVID-19 crisis has affected the arts and culture sector in many more ways than we ever thought possible. While we’ve all taken to online platforms to get our ‘culture fix’, this has exposed a huge digital divide, with some of the country’s most isolated communities unable to access art at home. While we know we can’t replace direct human contact and believe passionately in the wellbeing benefits that interaction with live music and art can bring, we hope this brand-new scheme will go some way to supporting those most in need at this time of unprecedented human challenge. We look forward to being able to champion the creative responses from isolated people who have taken part in Art By Post and provide a platform for their voices via an exhibition when our doors re-open.”

Sassaka Amena, Services Manager at Age UK Camden, says:
“We are thrilled to be part of a trial for this wonderful initiative from the Southbank Centre which adds a fantastic creative dimension to our wellbeing support, particularly for those who don’t use the internet. It will provide important creative stimulation and meaningful activity to older people living in isolation.”

Art by Post can be accessed by self-referral or through a referral of a known person who is shielding or self-isolating for a long period of time, provided their consent has been obtained. 

Image: credit Peter Woodhead

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