Kelly Donaldson: Get your group on the map – and boost wellbeing with creativity

Shetland Mandolin Band prove it's fun being part of a group
Shetland Mandolin Band prove it's fun being part of a group
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In this age of digital immediacy, the answer to most ­questions lies at the end of our fingertips. From takeaways to hotel rooms, most of us need look no further than our phones or tablets to purchase or book our way to contentment.

But what if we’re looking for something a little more permanent – a change in lifestyle that can do more than embellish a mealtime or ­weekend away?

Each week across Scotland, roughly 10,000 creative groups meet up in community centres, church halls, schools, pubs and around kitchen tables. They sing, dance, act, knit, draw, quilt, film, play and much more besides. They also chat, discuss, ­ponder, make friends, learn new skills, share thoughts and ­ideas – the stuff of life that holds people, and communities, together.

We know from countless studies, that being creative can have a positive impact on our physical wellbeing: singing increases lung capacity, learning choreography or playing a musical instrument can improve our cognitive functioning, the list goes on.

But we also know that being ­creative as part of a group can potentially bring additional benefits: aiding our mental well-being, decreasing ­loneliness and isolation and ­giving us a sense of belonging. Given the recent study indicating that young adults are more likely to feel lonely than older people, the need to ­connect is not confined to one age.

Knowing how to find a group, in order to take up (or rekindle) a ­creative activity, can be a challenge – especially if you’re new to an area. Equally, many groups would love to welcome new members, but ­finding ways to reach them can be hard. Which is why Voluntary Arts is in the process of creating an online map, detailing creative groups across the UK and Ireland.

Our Creativity Map will serve three main purposes: to give the public a one-stop-shop of creative groups and organisations in their local area; to give groups a way to set out their stall, let people know what they do and how to join; and to show local authorities, national government, funders – anyone in a position to help build the infrastructure for voluntary ­creative activity – that we have a vibrant, diverse population whose lives are made exponentially better by having opportunities to be ­creative on their doorstep.

Over the years, we have garnered much anecdotal evidence from ­people who cite being part of a group as a weekly highlight in their ­calendar. Quotes such as “Everybody always leaves on a high and we really enjoy getting to know one another – a lot of friendships have been formed through the choir” or “Despite our ­different backgrounds and ­difficulties we come together, once a week, with one voice, to make music together,” remind us daily why bringing people together to have express themselves and have fun is so important.

For some, the impact can be even more profound – as these testimonials, from a member of a choir, ­circus group and amateur drama company respectively, bear out: “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me because it’s given me a purpose in life again”, “It’s given me enthusiasm and a buzz for life that I’d lost for a long time” and “Many of the members of our group have suffered from depression and they fully admit to being helped by the group.”

Our remit at Voluntary Arts has always been to support these groups with free resources, advocacy and publicity – the Creativity Map is the latest venture to further that aim, and one we’re keen to shout about far and wide.

So if you’re part of a group, or know somebody who is, visit www.voluntaryarts.org/creativity-map and fill in the simple form to get ­yourself on the map and help it grow. Or, if you’re looking to get creative in your local area, check out the map to see what’s running nearby – a new skill, friendship, way to express yourself or sense of purpose could be just at the end of your fingertips.

Kelly Donaldson, communications manager, Voluntary Arts Scotland.