It’s what Robin Simpson, chief executive of Voluntary Arts, calls the ‘Wednesday night effect’: “However bad a week I am having, however depressing the news is, however dangerous the world seems to be getting, for two hours on a Wednesday evening my amateur music group takes all my attention, brings me together with my friends, reminds me of who I am and challenges me in a fun and rewarding way.”
UK Government research suggests that there are more than 60,000 volunteer-led creative arts groups active in the UK, involving more than 10 million participants each week – singing, acting, quilting, knitting, painting, dancing and much more. This enormous sector has a huge impact on our society but its informal structure means this importance is often overlooked.
To understand the impact that opportunities to get creative have on our lives and wellbeing, Voluntary Arts recently carried out The Big Conversation – a survey of more than 1000 people who take part in community-led activity across the UK and Ireland. Their stories showed that Robin is certainly not alone in his experience of the ‘Wednesday night effect’.
People who are part of volunteer-led creative groups told us about a wide range of benefits gained from participating. Strong themes that emerged included positive effects on mental health, a sense of personal achievement and opportunities to engage socially with people from different backgrounds who share common interests.
When asked why they take part in local creative groups, one survey respondent said: “It makes me happy – I feel more alive, I have something to look forward during the week. It helps my confidence, as I do something I’m good at and that I enjoy doing.”
Another told us that “I love being able to meet people from all walks of life through participating, people different from me but connected by our creative practice.”
Among those currently taking part in voluntary and amateur arts groups, there is overwhelming positivity about the future of their activities, despite some challenges.
People leading creative groups told us about challenges in finding suitable funding for which they are eligible and which have application processes that are proportionate to their volunteer capacity.The need for funding is often linked to venue hire and this has been affected by local authority cuts forcing increased fees and, sometimes, venues closing altogether.
Other issues that feature prominently are ‘gaining recognition and support’ – with many groups reporting that they find their amateur creative practice is not taken seriously by others – and also difficulties with attracting new members, particularly younger participants and those from more diverse backgrounds.
To help more people connect to creative groups and opportunities in their local area, we at Voluntary Arts Scotland are delighted to be partnering the BBC and other cultural organisations to champion the Get Creative Festival in March. Get Creative is a campaign to celebrate and support the everyday creativity happening in homes and public spaces, from guerrilla gardening to painting by numbers in the local library, via poetry slams, yarn bombing and singing in a choir.
From 17 to 25 March, the Get Creative Festival will demonstrate the range of incredible creative activities that take place across the country on a regular basis. We’ll be encouraging creative groups to hold open rehearsals, drop in events, pop up performances and ‘have a go’ sessions to help more people discover the joy of getting creative.
We’ll be encouraging everyone to go along, discover a new group and try something new.Meanwhile, you can visit the Get Creative website, at getcreativeuk.com, to add your own creative group to the festival, discover what’s happening in your area, and uncover the breadth of creative activity happening across Scotland and the UK.
Kathryn Welch, director, Voluntary Arts Scotland