Case Study

Using art and health initiatives to build confidence and resilience in service users: Wales

Providing vulnerable adults with a creative outlet online to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

27 January 2022


During the lockdown of 2020, Nesta and Y Lab (Cardiff University) supported a team of arts professionals to test and develop Rengarific, a service providing vulnerable adults with a creative outlet online, building both social and artistic links between people with similar experiences to build resilience and coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of the pandemic. The team had representatives from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Swansea Bay University Health Board and The VC Gallery in Pembrokeshire, and was formed as part of Nesta’s partnership innovation programme with the Arts Council of Wales, named Health, Arts, Research, People (‘HARP’).

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Participants were able to articulate themselves through their art
  • The discussions generated in the group sessions around the artworks increased the confidence and ability of participants to talk about their thoughts and feelings
  • New passions for writing, drawing and photography developed, all of which encouraged participants to get out of the house and observe their surroundings
  • The team created a safe platform for participants’ voices to be shared and supported by their peers, and for vulnerable people to remain connected to health professionals and peers via using platforms like Zoom for the first time

The challenge

Y Lab is a group of social scientists, academics and innovation experts who support public service innovators in Wales with funding, expertise and guidance to experiment and test their ideas. With the onset of lockdown, many vulnerable adults found themselves disconnected from their usual support networks and interaction mechanisms, and in need of a focus on a day-to-day basis. Healthcare teams were redeployed and unable to offer their regular face-toface, community or day clinic support roles, initially providing just basic support. Many community support venues were closed. Two groups identified were identified as needing support through this time:

  1. People with mental health lived experience living in the communities in South and West Wales
  2. Brain injury survivors who usually attend the Hafan Y Coed day centre in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

The solution

Y Lab considered arts interventions which could inspire participants and lead to increased social interaction, peer support and empowerment, and which could be delivered safely online. It developed Rengarific, based on a chain of related artistic responses, which could be peer led. It employed an artist to facilitate a ‘Renga’ creative practice with groups via online group video calls.

In total there were four facilitated weekly group sessions for each of the three groups taking part, at which participants shared their work and described the process/motivations behind them.

The artist gave participants freedom in which art form they wanted to use and which subjects, although most chose painting/drawing, photography or poetry/creative writing on the theme of the pandemic.

Rengarific cost around £2,000 to deliver, including artists’ facilitation fees (£1,400 for 12 sessions) and printing costs for an exhibition. Other costs, including staff time and Zoom licences, were met by Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

“The group got me out more and interacting with things more during lockdown which brought my mood up. So for me it was a great experience and a great way to get into art and what goes with it.” – Rengarific participant

Results and benefits

The opportunity to express the challenges participants have faced was invaluable to them, as was the shared experience of creatively reflecting the shared experience of lockdown. Participants often described feeling empowered through this process. The discussions and conversations generated around the artworks also increased the confidence and ability of participants to talk about their art and to articulate their thoughts and feelings.

Others have developed new passions for writing, drawing and photography, all of which encourage them to get out of the house and observe their surroundings – helping them to become more comfortable and productive within their situations. The project provided a safe platform for their voices to be shared, heard and supported by their peers.

“The project has provided a focus in a time where usual routines have been disrupted. Although challenging for some at first, the sessions allowed people to improve their technological skills…The project was so well received that once the 4 weeks came to an end, the group requested that the sessions continue.” – Feedback from Hafan Y Coed staff member

Rengarific is now being further developed as part of Swansea Bay University Health Board’s arts on prescription service, with online sessions running for people experiencing mental health challenges who are referred in by local authority and health board staff.

Overcoming obstacles

Y Lab found it hard to recruit people who weren’t already connected to them. The Hafan Y Coed (HYC) brain injury survivors group was unknown to Y Lab and contact with this vulnerable group of participants had to be managed carefully through the HYC team. Participants trusted the HYC team and the health board took on full responsibility for the programme within its own structures.

Y Lab was therefore highly reliant on the engagement of HYC staff members and their commitment to the project, as well as their ability to set up risk assessments for each individual, to write consent forms applicable to this vulnerable group, and to help set up new Zoom procedures for the adult mental health services.

In return, Y Lab was able to support them with regular meetings, art materials and online access to the display system to help the HYC team feel confident. Being able to overcome these challenges for this project meant that the HYC staff members could then use these processes for other sessions and projects to help more isolated service-users and staff, and sessions have continued in the same format.

Takeaway tips

  • Allowing participants to use any artform worked particularly well, it took the pressure off people to be good at a single art form and the choice was empowering for them.
  • The service strengthened links between group members; one participant might write a poem, then another might use the words from that poem to create a painting.
  • The artworks helped participants see the differences in perspective around lockdown, but also the similarities in experience which made them feel less alone.

Contact details

Steph Cross - project manager, The VC Gallery

Melanie Wotton – arts project manager, Cardiff and Vale Health Charity –

Johan Skre – arts on prescription manager, Swansea Bay University Health Board –

HARP - Health, Arts, Research, People - is an innovation and research partnership between Arts Council of Wales, Nesta and Y Lab (Cardiff University & Nesta), to explore how we can generate, grow and learn about impactful creative innovations that support the health and wellbeing of the people of Wales. Contact Rosie Dow – programme manager, HARP -

Since 2017 the Welsh NHS Confederation has had a MOU with the Arts Council of Wales to raise awareness of how the arts and being creative can support people’s health and wellbeing. To find out more contact Nesta Lloyd – Jones,

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