Arts & Older People's Programme

£1m arts fund launched to tackle the issue of social exclusion of older people

An arts programme worth £1m was launched this week targeting an important government priority, the social exclusion of older people.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Public Health Agency’s Arts & Older People’s Programme uses the arts to tackle the important issues of isolation, loneliness and poverty affecting many older people across Northern Ireland today.

A mix of cross-government funding and philanthropic investment has helped provide the framework for a new Arts and Older People’s programme that will run for the next three years.

The programme aims to strengthen the voice of older people through the arts, and will enable organisations to employ artists to work with local groups across Northern Ireland in a creative setting.

'A key challenge for government, business and public and private sectors is how to enable and support older people to get more out of life for longer,' said Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA. 'This will have benefits for both individuals and society.

'Taking enjoyment from all facets of life is key to positive health and well-being at any age. I welcome this initiative, which demonstrates how government departments and agencies work in synergy and as a result make health improvement a realistic achievement for everyone in our community regardless of age.

'Together the Arts Community and Health and Social Care services can make a real difference to the well-being of older people and their families and carers through projects such as this.'

Chief executive of the Arts Council, Roisin McDonough, added: 'The Arts Council is delighted to take the lead role in delivering this important programme, which we hope will strengthen the voice of older people in our society. Involvement in the arts has proven benefits. It provides us with a sense of well-being and it promotes positive mental health, invaluable to some of the most vulnerable in our society, our older people.'

Permanent Secretary Peter May from the Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure also attended the launch, along with representatives of the main funding partners the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency and The Baring Foundation.

The new programme launch follows learning from two pioneering pilot programmes. Firstly an Arts Council, Big Lottery programme for Arts & Older People, which ran from 2010-2013, and funded more than 50 projects across Northern Ireland, involving some 4,100 participants building projects and activities that engaged with almost 16,000, including a week-long Celebration of Age event.

Examples of projects funded in the last programme include Life in a Box – Older Men’s Life Stories with the Reminiscence Network, In the Mood with the Oh Yeah Centre, Spring Chickens in Portstewart, The Sound and Vision of Castlederg Townlands and Time for Tea in the rural location of Ardtrea and Desertcreat.

The second project undertaken by the Public Health Agency together with Arts Care Northern Ireland delivered over 350 workshops on a wide range of arts and health activities to some 4,000 older people in health and social care settings. The project was aimed at creating positive, creative opportunities in which older people could meet with others, improve their mental well-being and reduce the risks of isolation and loneliness.

This new project will draw together the learning from both of these initiatives. It will offer a new Arts & Older People Programme (2013 – 2016) that will deliver more projects with an increase in scale, aiming to support a high number of community-based projects across Northern Ireland with grants between £10,000 – £30,000.

There will also be a focus on providing training for artists and health staff to increase their skills in essential areas such as working with people with dementia. The programme will link up with similar initiatives internationally with the aim of sharing best practise programmes. It will also offer a targeted project aimed at engaging with older people who may be more vulnerable due to illness, disability or changing circumstances.

Arts Care NI will deliver a rolling programme of arts and health activities in settings such as community centres, day centres, sheltered housing and residential care. These activities will culminate in an annual Festival of Ageing in each of the five health and social care trust areas.

Welcoming the project, Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive of the PHA, said: 'We live in a society which has witnessed great change in terms of technology, standards of living and expectation, and with an increasing aging population we need to look to innovation to come to terms with the growing needs of older people.

'The Public Health Agency has identified older people as a key priority within its corporate agenda and the focus of its approach with partners is to improve health and wellbeing into older age. This programme will help to achieve this by increasing the opportunities across the province for older people that will improve their mental health and wellbeing and reduce social isolation and loneliness.'

The Arts & Older People Programme (2013-2016) is now open for applications. Visit the Arts Council of Northern Ireland website for more information.