We are at an important moment in the story of Calderdale. There is a sense of vitality and possibility in the air. The leadership of the key organisations acting to improve health and care within Calderdale are responding to this, and have established new partnership arrangements based upon humanity, trust and a commitment to collaboration. One of the consequences of this is a new leadership narrative – a new story that we are telling about the strength of our vision and ambition for the place and the people we are here to serve. We are using five words which we believe represent the values and approach which will work. Those words are kindness, resilience, talented, enterprising and distinctive. We want these words and the values which lie behind them to be felt in all of the work that we do as a partnership.
Alongside that is the agreement of the leadership group to generate a meaningful response to the All Party Parliamentary Group report Creative Health; The Arts for Health and Wellbeing. The genesis of this report is itself rooted in a deeply felt view from its authors, that years of unrelenting political focus upon notions of economic growth, followed by years of austerity, has led to fracture and disconnection within society and a sense that ideas of humanity and community are devalued and not regarded as an asset.
Through this response we hope to demonstrate our commitment to this deeply human agenda, but we want to go further than that. Our support is a personal commitment from each of us to take responsibility for this work and to champion it within our organisations, within the wider partnership that each of us is acting within, and to celebrate and to nurture this important dimension of life in Calderdale.
As I talk about Calderdale and the growing confidence I feel about the place, the impact of the rejuvenated Piece Hall upon the experience of living in Calderdale feels more and more important. I know that the politics of actually delivering the result were complicated, and that at times the question was asked about whether it would be worth it. But to experience the place, to feel the life it has breathed into the town centre of Halifax, and to feel the sense of community which is palpable on the great days when it is full of people drawn from this place and beyond, is extraordinary. It teaches us again that with the right will and determination, it is possible to revitalise that which we already have but had forgotten we had, and to turn it into something beautiful, relevant and significant. It represents, in its architecture, its light, its history and its new purpose, a response to each of those five words. For me, it is a beacon of hope and it represents that sense of possibility that I feel. It says ‘if we can do this, then we can do anything’.
We have tremendous talent in Calderdale. We have people who are extraordinarily committed to this place and who express that commitment in myriad ways. We have energy and creativity in abundance. The relationship between arts and health is understood in our experience of the world, and for those of us who have spent years of our lives working with people in difficulty with their health and wellbeing, it has always been clear that whilst medicine and related disciplines can help to solve many problems, the fundamental issues which confront us at a human level are to do with to our relationship with ourselves, with those close to us and with the community of which we wish to be a part.
Happiness and love. Pain, longing and loss. Reconciliation and redemption. Our sense of self and our way of connecting to ourselves and to others at an emotional level. That is what art in all its forms can help us with.
I was asked to speak at a national launch event for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report recently and in preparing for that I reached out to colleagues who have been part of the Artworks Art for Wellbeing initiative, to ask if they might share with me some images that I could use to illustrate my talk. Their powerful images, shared so generously, helped me to bring to life a conversation about our ambition in Calderdale to do something important on this agenda. At that event I talked about my own personal relationship with music and books. How music has helped me to deal with some of the most difficult things I have faced in my life, and how books and reading have provided me with both inspiration and escape. I talked about the way in which art and working with artists has enabled us, in my part of the health world, to change the conversations that we have been having about the need for change, and how our use of art has helped us in our attempts to improve relationships and connect to the heart as well as to the head. I know by my witness that making this connection can unlock doors previously closed.
Art can heal us. Art can help us to tell new stories which will take us to new places, and art can help us to tell the old stories in a way that connect at a deeper level. I know this is true for me, and I know it to be true for those I love and for those with whom I work. The APPG report dutifully and meaningfully categorises the evidence, but we have always known it to be true, in our hearts.
For me, the most beautiful thing about art, music and performance are the spaces and silences before, during and after. It is in those spaces where the transformation happens. It is there in the spaces where something is created out of nothing. It is in those silences we feel most engaged, most present. There is a space between the worlds of health and art. It is not an empty space. It is one full of potential. I have thought a lot about the relationship between my job and my work lately. Whilst our jobs will continue to challenge us, our work as leaders now is to begin to create connections between those worlds, and in so doing we will remind ourselves of what we always had, but which we had forgotten was so important.
Just to conclude, and to acknowledge something that has happened since writing this piece, it was heartening to hear that Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in his conference speech this week say ‘we need to look after people as people, and not patients – whether it be through prescribing exercise, the arts, or nutritional advice……rather than yet more drugs and medical interventions’. You can find out more about the benefits to health and wellbeing from the arts across Calderdale in the work of Artworks, Creative Minds and Hope St for example.
Dr Matt Walsh
Chief Officer at NHS Calderdale CCG
Image: Paul White Photography