One-year on with Ealing Arts and Health Alliance

Tanya and Naomi answer questions about what they learned from their action research work

29 April 2024

In 2022-2023 Ealing Arts and Health Alliance (EAHA) led an action research project, in which A New Direction invested through our Powerful Partnerships Research Programme.

The project asked: How can EAHA understand ways to address local young people’s health and well-being through arts activities that are co-created with them?

How did your action research work help define your next steps?

Once our Action Research project was completed, we held a strategy session with the members of the Ealing Arts and Health Alliance to determine how we would use the findings to shape next steps.

In a strange twist of fate, it just so happened that around the same time the Ealing Cultural Education Partnership (CEP) also found a new home in the Young Ealing Foundation. It became clear that arts and health was on the agenda for both partnerships so to avoid duplication and with funding already secured for the continuation of the CEP, it made sense for the two organisations to merge.

What have been the main outcomes since? How has it helped to develop your partnership?

Get Connected was a free creative event, produced as part of our research, for young people held on 16 January as an antidote to ‘Blue Monday’ the most depressing day of the year.

Co-produced by a group of young people called the Ealing Young Champions who were supported by local arts facilitator Prime Isaac, the event consisted of nine different activity stations based on things that the young champions do to support their own mental health, followed by a film screening, with the aim of gathering wider research on local young people’s mental health and how the arts can be used as a tool to understand this.

Since Get Connected, the Ealing Young Champions have created a zine to address some of the findings which came out of the event. Working with artist Lauren Veevers, they each created their own page with activities to support fellow local young people with their mental health, complete with illustrations as well as a page which signposts local support available to them. They have been distributed to local libraries and youth clubs.

Building on the success of co-production principles that our Action Research work illustrated, the Ealing Young Champions are now going to be trained up as Youth Voice Facilitators to go out and consult with local organisations on how to co-produce services with and for young people.

Our Action Research work has certainly strengthened our partnership and solidified the importance of ensuring that co-created arts activities are available locally. It’s a piece of research that the partnership is proud of, and other local stakeholders are excited about taking it forward, as well as using it as an example of best practice.

What do you now know about your subject area that you didn’t know before?

It feels like we know so much more about the impact that arts can have on the mental health and wellbeing of young people. Get Connected revealed that most young people were harnessing this power daily – from listening to music to creative writing in their journals.

We also learned that creativity is not just limited to the arts. Baking, boxing and Lego were all powerful tools when it came to the stations at our event, and young people responded overwhelmingly positively to all of them.

In addition, we’ve learned so much about co-production and the importance of both freedom and structure, as well as how open and honest young people can be when engaged through the arts.

Where are you heading with the work now?

Building on the findings of this research through the Ealing Cultural Education Partnership, we have been successful in receiving Public Health funding from Ealing Council for an arts and mental health project which will be kicking off next year called 121,000 Creative Minds (there are 121,000 children and young people in Ealing and the Mayor of London’s flagship mental health programme for children and young people is called 2.8 Million Minds.)

The programme will deliver three creative projects, each working with eight young people from Ealing aged 15-19 years, who are or have struggled with their mental health. Each creative project will consist of eight consecutive weekly sessions, with the core objective of exploring the arts as a positive outlet for improving our mental health and wellbeing.

Young people will be treated as artists through the project, no matter their experience to date. Through the creative process, they will have the opportunity to acquire tools to look after their mental health, whilst not having to talk about their own experiences or for these experiences to be the driver for what they create. Whilst we will encourage open conversations, it is essential that participants can use this space as an escape if they wish to and choose not to disclose personal circumstances that they do not want to share or relive possible traumas. It will be up to the participant as to how they approach their creative process and from what idea.

Each project will instead give a platform to cultivate creative freedom, escapism, and a safe and supportive environment to explore new skills and connect with a peer community.

Visit this page for updates on the CEP page once the project is live.

What are your top tips for anyone embarking on an action research project?

Our top tips for anyone embarking on an action research project would be:

  • Trust the process - it’s ok to be confused and unsure at the beginning (we certainly were) but Ben and Gerald kept telling us to ‘go with it’ and that ‘it will all make sense in the end’. And it did!
  • Co-create with young people if you can. We cannot recommend this enough.
  • Evaluate regularly along the way.
  • Have fun!

Where can people find out more about this project and your work?

As part of the process, we created a Milanote Board. 1 The Young Ealing Foundation is an independent charity set up in 2017 which supports youth organisations in the borough to thrive. It is currently the host organisation for the Ealing Cultural Education Partnership.

1. Milanotes are an online way of documenting and tracking progress with a creative or collaborative project)

A New Direction worked with B&G Partners as Lead Researcher on the Powerful Partnerships Action Research programme for place-based partnerships in London in 2022-2023. Through collaborations between four partnerships and matched researchers, partnerships involved local communities in tackling complex questions, building sustainability, and developing approaches to monitoring, evaluation and systems thinking.