Guest blog: Creative city, creative healthcare - Bristol’s Arts on Referral Alliance

Image Credit: 
Photo by Talis Photography CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
20 September, 2017


Bristol’s social prescribing ‘movement’ has gathered momentum over the past few years with a plan for a city-wide approach to be considered by the Health and Wellbeing Board at its next meeting in October.

Away from the world of strategy, the frontline work continues, with excellent results and increasing buy-in from GPs. We asked Julie Matthews, Programme Manager for Wellbeing Arts at Bristol Public Health, and Rhian Loughlin, Head of Services at Wellspring Healthy Living Centre, to update the sector on the work of the Bristol Arts on Referral Alliance (BARA). They have kindly written this guest blog:


Bristol has a long history of delivering ‘arts and health’ initiatives, especially in the city’s areas of greatest social need and health inequalities. Recently, Bristol has strengthened its offer of arts on prescription with key providers coming together and creating the Bristol Arts on Referral Alliance (BARA).

BARA is a partnership between Bristol City Council (Public Health), Knowle West Healthy Living Centre and Wellspring Healthy Living Centre. Together they share the vision that the arts should be widely used to promote and sustain positive mental health and wellbeing.

The current programme of BARA activities is funded by Bristol City Council, Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and charitable foundations.

BARA’s approach

Members of BARA use a client-centred, asset-based approach, helping develop people’s resilience through high-quality, follow-on and independent creative opportunities. We add value by signposting and referring to other positive activities as part of a wider social prescribing programme.
BARA members are currently working with health and community partners to build a stepped-care model* offering Arts on Referral interventions from acute care through to primary care and to community-based activities. 
The Bristol Arts on Referral (AoR) offer (from September 2017)
  • Fresh Arts offering AoR in acute care within Southmead Hospital; 
  • Artlight bringing AoR sessions to people in areas of greatest deprivation across the city; 
  • Wellbeing Arts and Art Ease offering longer courses in Southmead, St Paul’s, Horfield, Lockleaze, Lawrence Weston and Knowle; 
  • Artshine for clients in primary mental health care (IAPT), 
  • A shared group at Bristol’s Mshed; and, 
  • Self-run groups at Knowle West Health Park, The Hub Lockleaze and Wellspring Healthy Living Centre.
The future
Over the next 12 months BARA will be looking to develop a city-wide offer where every person in the city, who needs it, is able to access Arts on Referral.  
*Note, the stepped-care model can apply to physical as well as mental health.


Useful links

BARA's website

Wellbeing Arts website

Culture, health and wellbeing international conference and exchange


Blog written by:
Rhian Loughlin, Head of Services at Wellspring Healthy Living Centre Julie Matthews, Programme Manager for Wellbeing Arts at Bristol Public Health
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