Keeping connections alive in lockdown

14 April 2020

Here is a useful blog by Harriet Lowe from the Baring Foundation about organisations, including the Restoration Trust, who are trying to sustain creative connections with participants during lockdown. It is in the context also of their excellent report on arts and mental health, Creatively Minded.

Participatory arts in an age of physical distancing – responses from the Arts & Mental Health sector

Harriet Lowe

Five organisations told us how they are continuing to deliver creative sessions to participants, how they are trying to bridge the digital divide at short notice, and what they are learning from the COVID-19 experience.Arts

We asked five organisations from the Arts & Mental Health sector to share how they are continuing to provide creative activities to participants and engage with their communities when no one can attend the face to face sessions which are often a lifeline for people.

Contributing are: Creative AlternativesFallen Angels Dance TheatreRestoration TrustMagic Carpet Arts for Health and Shallal. And here are their responses.

We are keen to add to more examples from Arts & Mental Health organisations. If you’d like to send us a brief outline of what you’re doing – or write a blog for us with more detail, please do get in touch.

Delivering creative sessions to ALL participants

We are committed to continual provision for all our artists and not being in the same space together isn’t going to stop that!

Joanna Willis, Shallal

All the organisations we spoke to are continuing to run their creative workshops for their existing communities and participants using digital/online methods – but also trying to find ways to include those for whom this is harder.

Creative Alternatives are creating weekly videos that encourage creative play with materials that people can easily access from home, e.g. mandalas with natural materials and food stuff, paper cutting and collaging, wet media in the kitchen, as well as creative writing. Participants are being encouraged to upload their creations to their online platform. They are also planning to host live sessions and chats where artists are online, encouraging people to share their ideas and experiences and inspire each other.

Creative Alternatives have written a blog for us about their online provision here. Like Noise Solution who also got in touch and operate mostly digitally, they started delivering sessions online in 2017.

Fallen Angels are delivering five interactive creative movement sessions online each week (via zoom) so that participants can continue to develop their artistic & physical skills at home.

Magic Carpet have created a blog with work-from-home ideas and videos from artists who regularly work for Magic Carpet. Participants are encouraged to email images of their art to be shared on social media and featured in galleries on their ‘work-from-home’ blog. They are also putting ideas for creative activities out on their social media channels for the wider world.

Restoration Trust: one project run by the Trust is archaeology, creativity and wellbeing programme called Burgh Castle Almanac. It now has weekly hour-long Zoom meetings with up to 11 people. Art materials are posted to group members between meetings to form part of the conversation. Things made from the session are posted on a  private Facebook group by 6pm that evening to keep the energy flowing. Experts and creatives from previous sessions (archaeologists, writers, artists) may be invited to join the conversations as people get more relaxed with the new format.

Shallal are delivering the creative activities for its different creative groups (various art forms) through a variety of means, from post to Zoom and online streaming. The approach varies with both bespoke suggestions to suit particular individuals’ needs and ideas for whole groups sent out via emails and blogs to all. Joanna Willis, Shallal’s Creative Director, is sending out a weekly playlist of ideas and there is a section for others to give creative their suggestions and links.

Shallal also has an inclusive studio space in Redruth. Studio artists are painting at home with support and suggestions from staff. Staff artists are creating videos demonstrating activities – and they are looking to expand this through partnerships and commissioning artists (e.g. there will soon be a short film by artist Ruby Bateman of her approach to still life).

Dealing with the digital divide

A wide range of digital platforms are being deployed: Facebook groups, Zoom, Whatsapp, Instagram, as well as bespoke platforms. Organisations are trying to ensure that those who don’t have the same access – whether it’s no internet, limited data or lack of confidence in using digital tools – are not excluded:

  • Creative Alternatives are developing Creative Home packs that will be posted out with a range of arts and wellbeing focused activities doable from home.
  • Restoration Trust note that they are trying to be flexible about contact methods, but are also looking into how they can help people get the resources they need to join online (e.g. by providing hardware, software and friendly advice) and are exploring ways they could fund this.
  • Fallen Angels are inviting participants who can’t join live video sessions to share photos and videos with other members on a private Facebook group.

Supporting participants beyond workshops

Laura Drysdale of the Restoration Trust says that while they are not a mental health service:

Participants’ wellbeing is our first concern and if it comes to it, we will do all we can to help with peoples’ immediate needs.

Some practical actions include:

  • Restoration Trust are keeping in regular contact with participants, and also running their digital sessions at the same times as face-to-face sessions to maintain a sense of routine and continuity. Shallal are also trying to check in with participants at the same time as their normal sessions.
  • Fallen Angels have a Buddy Support system which will involve making sure participants have daily phone contact with another group members. Their staff are tracking ‘attendance’ and keeping alert to when people’s online engagement (or lack of) might suggest they are struggling and they will then call to check in. Shallal are brokering connections between participants and some have volunteered to support others.
  • Magic Carpet are posting letters to previous participants in their projects and Shallal have also sought to re-connect with previous participants and make sessions open to them too.

Health & safety and digital safeguarding

This crisis has thrown up new safety and safeguarding issues. Shallal note that they are getting advice on contamination risks associated with sending materials by post.

Digital safeguarding is another new area for some. Like many, Shallal are wondering about the security of video software. (The Cultural, Health and Wellbeing Alliance have some resources on their website and are intending to develop guidance on digital safeguarding for the arts & health sector.)

The wellbeing of staff is equally important. Shallal note the importance for artists/facilitators in maintaining healthy boundaries if they do choose to contact or support participants outside of the scheduled sessions.

Making the most of a difficult situation

This is a very hard time for many arts organisations – however these organisations are taking some positives from it. Creative Alternatives Director, Jessica Bockler, notes in her blog for the Foundation that feedback on their digital programme which they began in 2017 suggests that digital delivery can work better for some people who find it hard to attend a regular session.

Joanna Willis of Shallal says that they are looking at this as a very valuable research and development time that they don’t usually have, particularly around maintaining contact with people who are isolated and can’t always attend due to transport or ill health. Laura Drysdale of the Restoration Trust is hoping to use the lockdown time to develop a digital strategy drawing on this experience and ideas from others. And on a slightly different ‘note’, Magic Carpet have started a Zoom choir – something they hadn’t planned, but which they describe as “socially brilliant, if mixed results creatively!”.

About the contributors

Creative Alternatives in Merseyside is an arts on prescription service with a longstanding commitment to people with mental health problems.

Fallen Angels Dance Theatre is based in Chester and specialises in recovery from addiction with classes in safe spaces as well as public performances.

Magic Carpet Arts is an arts and health charity in Exeter which runs a variety of visual arts, singing and theatre sessions including around mental health.

The Restoration Trust in Norfolk is a heritage organisation providing ‘culture therapy’ in partnerships with NHS Trusts and universities.

Shallal is an inclusive arts charity based in Cornwall. Starting out as a dance company, it is now multi art form and also has the inclusive Shallal Studios.

How Music helps me

John Durrant’s blog offers helpful culture therapy tips on using music to keep destructive thoughts at bay. It is worth following his excellent posts on his blog, and you can catch him on twitter where his name is livingmentalhealth, @LWMHHelp.

Living With Mental Health

Hey everyone, how are you all? Hope you’re all in good mental health. Today, I’m going to talk to you about why music plays a big part in my journey of getting to grips with my mental health, how it helps me deal with hearing voices in my head, and how it helps me beat the negative thoughts I have.

So, when washing up, I see images of me cutting my fingers off and hear voices telling me to. At first this really started to freak me out, and I had to stop what I was doing and take a break from it because it was terrifying. I managed to get hold of an iPad, which then allowed me to listen to the radio or YouTube. This was the best thing I’ve done, because it kept my brain active and nothing negative or dangerous would happen. Then, I came across…

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Conservation for Wellbeing in lockdown

Some things going on in the meantime….

Conservation for wellbeing online

Thanks to emergency funding from marvellous City Bridge Trust, we are just about to get a programme of digital sessions underway. We will provide people with whatever they need to be able to access Zoom sessions at no cost to themselves – that means the hardware, software, training and support. Then we will start the sessions. We hope these will begin in May.

Ask a conservator

If you have any object that could do with a new lease of life, ask one of the conservators that are part of the Conservation for Wellbeing project. We can put you in touch with an expert based on whatever object you have that could do with restoration.

Send an email to either Tom Exley at SMART or Laura Drysdale at the Restoration Trust with your questions.

Art and design tutorials

Our mental health partners SMART are running weekly art and design tutorials on the website – here. The sessions include a conservation element.

London Metropolitan Archives

LMA have posted details of their online services on their website here. You can also look at the digitised archives of St Luke’s Hospital, which we are working on with the Conservation Team at LMA, here. 

Conservation resources online

Our conservation partner Icon is running a programme of Zoom webinars called Conservation Together at Home that you can sign up for. Interesting talks, including about paper and archives are featuring for the next few. Click here.The Rothko Conservation Project has a wonderful video on line There is also the conservation of the contents of Clandon House, a National Trust property that burned more or less to the ground. Here’s the State Bed being salvaged, photo credit National Trust

This oral history is by María Teresa Dávila Álvarez, who was a restorer at the Prado in Madrid and worked on Las Meninas when it was conserved in 1984. When she is going to restore a painting it says to her: ‘Dont touch me with despondency or brusqueness. I demand that you touch me with delicacy’.]

TV programmes

There are two unmissable conservation/restoration programmes on TV at the moment or on catch-up – The Repair Shop and Secrets of the Museum. You can apply to be on The Repair Shop here

Conservation for Wellbeing suspended

Suspending sessions until October 2020

We have suspended sessions, and plan to re-start in October, if we can;  thanks to our partners and our funder City Bridge Trust, we feel confident that we will be able to complete the project.

Coordinator Helen Lindsay and SMART Art Lead Tom Exley at the Steering Group

Our Steering Group on Friday 13th March at SMART was timely, so we had plans in place ready for the wider shutdown on Monday 16th March.

So far we’ve held 5 sessions, so we are half way through the core programme – though we have post-project sessions for people to maintain contact with each other and London Metropolitan Archives. If we have to pause, this isn’t a bad time to do it.

Meanwhile we are getting on with looking at wellbeing research information. Daisy Rubinstein and Dr Linda Thomson are reviewing the data from questionnaires, feedback from staff at reflective practice sessions, and from a focus group with participants.

Boxes made by SMART members inspired by archival boxes at London Metropolitan Archives

We are keeping communications going with regular tweets, and we are looking at ways to keep in touch with people online. More to come…..

Conservation for Wellbeing Session 5

LMA 6th March 2020

‘Historic Photographs’

Blog by Coordinator and Conservator Helen Lindsay

This week’s session began early for Caroline De Stefani and myself as we spoke to our researcher Daisy Rubinstein about our experience of the project. During this discussion a key reflection for me was how the physical characteristics of the collection items – the smell of old leather, texture of parchment and sounds of different papers – seem to be especially engaging for participants.

Everyone arrived in two taxis from SMART and we began lunch by washing hands following guidance from our Corvid 19 Virus risk assessment.

Once the workshop started our first task was to fold and wrap the boxes we had measured last week around the books. We were joined by LMAs Learning and Engagement Manager Aimee Taylor, and, as we grappled with getting the labels stuck down in the correct place and right way up, she remarked, “Conservation is so detailed…….”

Structure of a black & white photograph

We then discussed the materials that glass plate negatives and silver gelatin photographs are made from.

I mentioned that the era of the physical photograph is over, and we talked about how completely different digital data and prints are. We looked at some of the different supports used in photography (glass, paper, plastic), and at the image and emulsion layer – commonly silver particles that form an image in a gelatin layer.

“Gelatin, is that bones,” asked Julia (not her real name).

“Yes,” I answered, “that’s what the rag and bone man used to collect.”

“Photographs are made from bones? Human bones?”

After establishing that the bones were animal, probably horse, the conversation moved on, to grave robbing and autopsy, before we returned to historic photographs. The handout we provided also included a list of – dos and don’ts – such as wearing vinyl gloves, keeping prints and negatives on the table, etc.

Looking at the prints and deciding which size polyester sleeve to use

Following tea, Tom and Nana, who is a volunteer working with SMART, re-joined us after they also had been interviewed by Daisy. We spent the rest of the session re-housing black & white photographs of hospitals and asylums into polyester sleeves. The photographs varied in size and the correct polyester sleeve had to be chosen. This activity was quite hectic as everyone took part with enthusiasm and we re-housed four boxes in record speed!

Looking at photographs of a hospital sitting room for the live-in nurses

Next Friday the Project Steering Group is meeting on the same day as the SMART art group, and will take place at SMART. The Steering Group is made up of the partners, staff, researchers and participants, and it is the main vehicle for managing the project . There will also be a focus group meeting for participants with Daisy.




This week participants traveled from SMART to London Metropolitan Archives and back by taxi. This was easier than travelling by bus and everyone arrived in good spirits to have lunch with time to spare. Tom had made a huge number of sandwiches and after further biscuits and tea we moved into the Conservation Studio to start the workshop. As people headed towards the table around which we sit for the sessions it was clear that the studio is becoming a familiar space.

This session was called ‘Let Talk about Dirt’ and we did just that by discussing why dirt and dust is a problem and how it gets onto the registers.

Making trays of archival paper

Making trays out of archival paper

The most common way for dirt to get onto books and documents is by handling. When the asylum registers were consulted in the past by clinical and other staff, they will sometimes have turned the pages with greasy fingers, or left a book open so that dust fell onto it. Because of this we can look at a book now and see which pages were consulted most frequently – they are the ones with the most dirt or fingerprints on the corners of the page as it is turned.

Cutting and folding the paper for the trays

When stored on a book shelf, dust enters the volume from above, with dust falling deep within the book if the pages are loose. That is another reason why it’s good to put heritage volumes in a protective box.

And, in order to keep our work space clean, we made paper trays so that the dust and other particles that get moved by cleaning were contained and not spread over the table or floor.

Cleaning volumes using foam book wedges to support the bindings

People worked either in pairs or individually and, after a break and cup of tea, we started cleaning the registers using soft brushes and latex sponges. The covers, which are leather or parchment, were not cleaned, we just concentrated on the pages.

The books vary quite a lot, some are large while others are fairly small and slim but they all needed the support of a foam book wedge to ensure that the bindings were not squashed flat on the table. These wedges are particularly important during cleaning as pressure is put on the pages, but they would also be needed if the registers are consulted in the search room.

Some volumes needed quite a lot of cleaning

Once finished, each register was measured for a box. The boxes will be cut by Amy in the Boxing Room and by the next session they will be ready for folding and wrapping around their newly clean books.

Sessions suspended

From today we are cancelling gatherings planned for the next eight weeks in the following projects:

Culture Quest Suffolk, Burgh Castle Almanac, Like Minds Norfolk and Conservation for Wellbeing.

We will be keeping in regular contact with participants, staff, volunteers, partners and funders by all the usual means. We will be setting up virtual gatherings with participants on dates when we would have been meeting together.

We are also getting on with planning projects, publishing Almanacs, developing research and spreading the word about the benefits of culture therapy for people living with mental health challenges.

As the Corona Virus situation changes we will update our plans.

We hope to revive our friendly gatherings in fabulous places with excellent experts and artists in the not too distant future.

If you have any questions, or news you would like us to share, please get in touch with me, Laura Drysdale, by email, phone or social media.


phone 07740 844883

Twitter @RestoTrust

Facebook The Restoration Trust

Burgh Castle Almanac drawing John Carter, Elizabethan House Museum, 3.3.2020

Conservation for Wellbeing at London Metropolitan Archives

This blog is by C4W coordinator and paper conservator Helen Lindsay

Session 3, London Metropolitan Archives, 7th February 2020. Protection and looking

The session start time has been moved to 12,30, so the first thing we did was have lunch in the Huntley Room. Then we visited the boxing machine, located in its room high up in the building and full of light. We met Amy, who operated the machine, and watched it robotically crease and cut out the flat box shape. ‘Why is it called a Wrap Lock box? – because it wraps round the book and then locks shut with its tab.

Archive boxes, presents from the Box Machine Room.

It was fantastic to see people become increasing interested in different box shapes, and to share the pleasure of receiving a small archive box as a present. A box you have seen being made is fundamentally different from one purchased from a newsagent.

Travelling through LMAs back regions, we found ourselves in the Conservation Studio. There was an air of anticipation as people wrapped the boxes they had measured last week round the St Luke’s Hospital volumes. Then satisfaction all round as the books fitted snuggly into their new homes. We discussed how the boxes protected the books from handling, dust and even flood water.

Checking to see if the measurements made in Session 2 are accurate, before wrapping the newly made boxes around the books.

Wrapping the books in their bespoke boxes. One of the St Lukes Hospital volumes has a diagram of the brain slipped into the pages.

We were having a tea break in the Huntley Room, when the fire alarm sounded. It was not a drill, so we congregated outside for 25 minutes while the Fire Brigade checked the building.

London Fire Brigade in action -they checked the building and we were soon back in the Conservation Studio.

Back in the Conservation Studio, we moved on to the agents of deterioration, re-written in less technical language than used by professional conservators. At first the group looked a bit bored, maybe tired, maybe thinking they were going to get a lecture.

Agents of Deterioration. The others are bugs and pests; handling and accidents; theft and vandals; fire; water.

However, once we started chatting about bugs, pests, handling and fire the discussion livened up. People sat up in their chairs and started talking and looking. One person said, “do you really spend a whole day at a conference talking about pests, a whole day?” Somewhere between aghast and fascinated.

Fire has changed the chemistry of these parchment pages. One of the Agents of Deterioration.

It’s easy for those of us who work in archives and museums to forget how unfamiliar it is to be behind the scenes for most people.

As a conservator and collections care manager this project is taking me out of my comfort zone, but I am enjoying it. The sessions tend not go to exactly to plan and we have to be flexible – rather like jazz; structured improvisation. And I hope that as the weeks go by the experiences and nascent research emerging from the project will be the beginning of many more C4W workshops.

Helen Lindsay, ACR

Helen is a Collections Care professional and Paper Conservator, who is coordinating Conservation For Wellbeing.

Burgh Castle Almanac Evaluation, First Report by Jane Willis, Willis Newson

Burgh Castle Roman Fort January 2020 by Robert Fairclough

Jane Willis has produced a preliminary report evaluating the impact of Burgh Castle Almanac on participants’ wellbeing. Here are some excerpts from the document, which will be incorporated in a final report to be published in Autumn 2020.

In describing their experience of BCA, participants talked of feeling low at the start of the project. Several of them talked about the challenge and reward of trying something new, learning new things. History and landscape were key themes, with several people talking about the therapeutic impact of being in nature, being outdoors, walking, witnessing the changing seasons. Walking in nature seemed to provide both sanctuary and a safe place to talk and connect with others. Participants talked of both looking close-up, of being in the moment, being present; and of looking out, getting a fresh perspective on life. And across all of these themes was that of friendship: of new friendships formed that made them feel safe, cared for, supported and empowered.The key themes that arose from the narratives were:

Feeling Low “Before I started the project, I actually felt a bit like an injured lion and a bit like you know, really burdened by life” P1“When you are feeling really low you can feel that the world has become smaller and being part of this project is maybe that the world has become bigger.” P1

Worry about the world“What’s going on out there and I should be really worried about this because there is a lot of bad shit going on.” P3

Trying new things“Maybe this is helping me do things for the very first time again” P5

Learning“Discover more. The more you know the better things are for you, aren’t they? Learn.” P2

History“……. found a Roman Coin and I think that was one of the best things.” P4

Landscape“The important thing for me is that it runs all year, so you get to see the seasons change, going from summer into autumn into winter and that gives me a sense of the landscape and appreciating the nature.” P3“I think people talk more when they walk. I can talk better when I am walking along, I don’t know why.” P4

Sanctuary“I have always found calm by water and there’s a spot on the site that I take a little 5 or 10 second clip of, and if I am struggling, I play it to myself just to hear the sounds and stuff.” P5

Look / take notice“But up close here, really looking at life and really being in the moment, that is something I have gained a lot from this.” P3

Perspective“If you took us all up individually to the site, we would all show you something individually, from a different viewpoint. And I like that. We’d all have a different view of the site. And the view from here. When you get up there, the view is just great wherever you look. That is also why ESCAPE.” P6

Friendship“I have made new friends which I never thought I would.” P2

Safety“Joining a club when you can speak to anybody when we are walking round. It is not cliquey or anything like that, its lovely.” P7

Expression and sharing I have really enjoyed it because I am quite an introverted person really, and it’s just nice to be able to chat to people. It’s just very therapeutic. And you can just go up and talk, and you talk about things you don’t normally talk about.” P7

The impacts were then grouped according to theme. The themes arising in order of prominence (in terms of number of stars or number of mentions) were:Friendship / community (6 stars and 7 mentions)

  • Sense of part of a community **
  • Interaction – people *
  • Friendship *
  • Pulled me out of my shell more outgoing *
  • Meeting people
  • When one struggles someone’s there alongside
  • Sense of being a part of something

Wellbeing / change (6 stars / 3 mentions)

  • Changed life ***
  • You feel much better for coming ***
  • I get withdrawal symptoms if I haven’t been for a while

Confidence (1 star / 4 mentions)

  • Sense of satisfaction and achievement *
  • More confident
  • More willing to try new things
  • Sense of achievement

Change in perspective (1 star / 3 mentions)

  • Special things that open up your mind*
  • Opens your horizons
  • Valuing individual perspectives

Access (3 mentions)

  • Access to Museums, Culture
  • I have discovered I enjoy learning (e.g. watching programmes on BBC4 which I would not have done before)
  • Curious about the world around me

Purpose (1 mention)

  • Given me a new purpose for living

Critical Success Factors

Although not initially an aim of the focus group, participants commented on why they thought the project had been successful. They noted that the project felt safe, well managed and well-held, and a place where they did not feel judged. The fact that it was a two-year project also enabled them to feel safe, knowing that it was going to carry on. They appreciated the new experiences it gave them, but also felt that it enabled them to connect with a sense of history, culture and place leading to a greater sense of connection and belonging.Duration (6 stars / 2 mentions)

  • 2-year project – means long enough to forge friendships ******
    • Knowing it’s not going to shut down after a couple of months

New Experiences (5 stars / 4 mentions)

  • New experiences ***
    • Access to museums/galleries for free (low incomes) **
    • Learning
    • Access not just entrance fee – transport/food

Situated in place, history and culture (2 stars / 3 mentions)

  • Local history, place **
    • Learning about culture + place
    • Appreciate landscape/place/history

Safe Space (2 stars / 2 mentions)

  • Safe environment**
    • Non-judgemental’