Project empowers care home staff to get creative

Published: 28 September 2023 at 09:00

Art project in care home - photograph by Camilla Greenwell

Research project about arts in residential homes aims to leave legacy for residents

A major research project recommends empowering care home staff so they can provide regular creative activities for the benefit of residents.

The Dare to Imagine project, a partnership between Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), care home provider Excelcare, arts charity Magic Me, and four leading arts organisations, ran from October 2019 until March 2023 across four Excelcare residential homes in Essex.

Each of the homes, which offer residential, dementia, respite and end-of-life care, was matched with an arts organisation that then worked with them over the duration of the project. The project aimed to build relationships between artists, residents and staff through participation in creative arts, and to increase the understanding and potential of embedding creativity in care homes.

The arts companies, New Adventures, Fevered Sleep, curious directive, and Gecko, introduced residents and staff to activities ranging from dance and creating films inspired by stories told by residents, to weaving, soundscapes and 3D printing.

An ARU team consisting of Anna Dadswell (research fellow), Dr Ceri Wilson (senior research fellow) and Professor Hilary Bungay (principal investigator) explored best practice for developing partnerships between arts organisations and care homes to deliver more sustainable impacts for residents and staff in care homes. A report was launched during an event at ARU’s Chelmsford campus.

The report found that the arts activities were powerful in fostering engagement and meaningful moments with residents. Care home staff were proud of their involvement and artists realised the importance of their practice, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit shortly after the research project began.

Artists had to learn, adapt, and respond inclusively to the needs of the residents as well as care home staff who had faced trauma from the pandemic. The relationships between artists and care home staff were key in providing high quality, impactful arts activities in care homes but the report found building these relationships requires structure, support, and time. 

One member of staff said the arts projects played a crucial role in helping people return to some sort of normality after lockdowns. Speaking of the residents’ reaction, they said: “It was the first thing they had had through the whole pandemic. It was the first entertainment or people coming in. And you could see they were so excited just to have different people.”

One of the artists involved in the project said: “I think the music that they loved became such an important thing. Music is such an easy thing to talk to someone about. Even someone with dementia, it’s, ‘Do you like this music?’ or, ‘What songs do you like?’ It’s a conversation starter.”

Aspects of the project had to be paused or carried out remotely during lockdowns, with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation allowing the research and development phase to be extended by a year to allow the project to complete.

Recommendations by the ARU research team centred on the need for time, resources, leadership, and support for artists and care home staff to establish shared understandings and expectations, build trusting and collaborative relationships, build the confidence of care home staff in being creative, and for artists to adapt and develop their practice for care homes.

It is hoped that one of the legacies of the project will be that care home staff are able to embed creative activities into programmes for residents so they can benefit regularly.

Professor Bungay, Professor of Arts Health and Wellbeing at ARU, said:

“This project set out to find out how artists and care home staff could work together to make sure residents get as much out of creative activities as possible.

“Our evaluation found that the pandemic provided a unique challenge for the artists and staff, but meant that, when activities resumed, the sense of joy and worth were heightened not only among residents, but among staff and artists.

“Collaborative working between artists and care home staff involved embracing artists’ creative skills, human approach, and adaptability, as well as valuing the knowledge and expertise of care home staff and supporting them to take on creative roles.

“When committing to providing arts activities in residential homes, a legacy from the work should be considered from the start, including through artists spending time sharing skills with care home staff and building their confidence to lead creative activities in the future, leaving something tangible behind, and demonstrating the power of participatory arts.”

Sadie Munro, Director of Sales, Marketing & Wellbeing at Excelcare, said:

“This four-year partnership was part of a mission to engage residents with different art forms and encourage expression through music, movement, and other creative outlets. Despite being interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the partnership was a huge success and everyone who was involved said how enjoyable the process had been, from the initial workshops all the way through the creation of the final projects.” 

Susan Langford, Director of Magic Me, said:

“I passionately believe that because someone lives in a care home they don’t stop being entitled to extraordinary arts and culture, or to participating in creative experiences that are much more than something to pass the time. It has been a privilege to witness the amazing events, films and artworks made by Excelcare residents and staff with our arts partners over the past few years.”

The research report, “Dare to Imagine: Artists and care home staff working together to embed creativity in care homes”, can be read here.

A further Dare to Imagine showcase and report launch event will be held online on 3 October, from 10am-11.30am. Free tickets can be booked here:


Photograph by Camilla Greenwell