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Looking Beyond Lockdown: How UK Arts Organisations Can Continue to Support Young People’s Wellbeing During and Beyond Covid-19

Contact is proud to have participated in the Far Apart, Close at Heart UK research project ‘Looking Beyond Lockdown: How UK Arts Organisations Can Continue to Support Young People’s Wellbeing During COVID-19’ conducted by People’s Palace Projects and the Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry, Queen Mary University of London. Besides Contact, the following UK arts organisations have participated in the project Battersea Arts Centre, Dirty Protest, National Theatre Wales and Theatre Royal Stratford East. The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC, project reference: AH/V015613/1) with core funding by the Arts Council England. Previously the research was also conducted in Latin America.

It is widely known that young people’s participation in the arts has a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing. COVID-19 forced arts organisations to move their activities online, radically changing the ways in which they support young people. The project thus examined the impact of a shift to the digital on arts workers and young people. This research is critical as many stakeholders ask why we should go back to the physical when the digital space has been so successful in increasing reach and reducing costs.

In the research project, mixed methods were used, combining a survey, arts workshops and semi-structured interviews with young people (aged 16-29 years), staff and stakeholders. The final report presents an overview of the quantitative findings, gathered in an online survey conducted with young people (141 in total), and qualitative findings, derived from individual interviews (100 in total) conducted with staff, stakeholders and young people involved with all partnering arts organisations. The report can be accessed here.

At Contact, we conducted 10 interviews with young people over Zoom. In addition, we employed two young freelancers to help disseminate the online survey within our pool of young participants across all our programmes later that year. The arts workshops were facilitated in person by two young freelancers who worked with six young people to explore the themes of ritual and performance in relation to lockdown and what kept us going. Some of the results of that workshop series were presented in our dissemination event in Spring 2022 where three of the workshop participants shared their creative responses to the report, including spoken word. The event was facilitated by the workshop leaders of the Far Apart project, who engaged the audience in games exploring some of the findings in the report. Overall, the dissemination event was a collective reflection on the last two years and the impact of COVID-19 on young people engaging in the arts, arts workers and stakeholders and how to move forward; it felt like the beginning of a conversation that will continue.

Below you can watch a film by Modify Productions which captures the spirit of the event.


Head of Creative Development (former) and Project Lead: Suzie Henderson

Head of Creative Development (current) Laura Whitehurst

Arts Project Coordinator, Field Researcher and Producer: Markus Hetheier

Young Researchers/Ambassadors (online surveys): Joshua Wilkinson and Ailbhe Treacy

Arts Workshop Leaders and Artists: Ryan Gilmartin and Elena Brearley

Creative Workshop Participants: Alistair Lock, Anna Maria Almasan, Carmen Fyfe, Khizar Ali, Samreen Ali

Photography: Ailbhe Treacy and Markus Hetheier

Artistic Director: Keisha Thompson

Film Production: Modify Productions

a person talking into a microphone