Guest blog: Errol Francis on the Culture Box project

Examples of culture box content
Culture Box

Promoting social interaction and public health through the arts

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, more commonly known as Covid-19, has affected all aspects of our lives and has had a particularly hard impact on our physical and mental health, our ability to communicate with each other and our human need for intimacy. This has been particularly so for people living in care homes, particularly for people living with dementia, who have suffered disproportionately high infection and mortality rates especially those from Black and Asian communities and social isolation and loneliness are major issues.

A new research study, Culture Box, is based at the University of Exeter, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by psychologist Professor Victoria Tischler. The study addresses two urgent challenges. Firstly, providing COVID-19 public health information for those with cognitive impairment, specifically people with dementia living in care homes. Secondly, alleviating social isolation and loneliness for those living with dementia in care homes, by providing them with creative activities that support wellbeing, especially in the context of long- term lockdowns and the associated restrictions.

This research project will produce, distribute and evaluate Covid-19 Culture Boxes incorporating pandemic guidance along with creative activities to support health and wellbeing and to alleviate social isolation and loneliness for people with dementia living in care homes. The aim is to support people who are living with dementia to express themselves creatively, regardless of ability or skill, to make a positive effect on their mood, memory and general wellbeing. As dementia can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to communicate, it is known that engaging with art or cultural activities can help them express their thoughts and feelings. Activities like dancing, singing and making art are innate human behaviours that help us to relate to each other and the world around us.

Culture Box

A priority for the research is to address the inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic, particularly the disproportionate infection and mortality rates for people from Black and Asian communities. Therefore the recruitment of participants has focused on care homes that have residents from a diverse range of backgrounds.

The research team is working with academics and stakeholders including people living with dementia, care home staff and family carers and allied professionals, including Black and Asian community representatives, to co-design the Culture Boxes with artists. The boxes are being delivered weekly for 12 months. Each delivery will contain multisensory materials (subject to health and safety guidance) suitable for diverse populations that provide information about Covid-19 transmission and prevention, with creative resources including music and art activities that are easy to implement and offer stimulation and enrichment. The deliveries aim to reinforce public health messaging and to enhance regular activities in care homes. All materials have been designed to be dementia-friendly and to promote interaction between people in different locations. We are working with artists from different disciplines to produce exclusive content for the project.

Culture Boxes are being sent to 40 care homes across England and contain a variety of creative activities and public health guidance on how to keep safe during the pandemic. As well as a monthly Culture Box that is posted to care homes, they also receive a variety of digital content that is accessible through the Culture Box website. The activities aim to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia through the use of art, music, dance and technology. The National Activity Providers Association (NAPA) are supporting the research via their network of 3000 members and the project will be evaluated using Participatory Action Research. All resources will be archived will be archived via the Culture Box and NAPA websites ensuring that they are widely available. Dissemination includes an art exhibition at the end of the project, conferences, educational presentations, and a peer-reviewed paper.

Culture Box is a multiphase project testing what are the most effective creative activities that can promote social interaction and the communication of public health information. We are working with a wide range of organisations, without whom this project would not be possible. Through the use of various artforms: music, visual art, dance and literature, we will be delivering creative resources to address the issues of loneliness and social isolation in care homes. The Culture Box team has a diverse range of experience including experts in the fields of dementia, education, music, psychology, and the visual arts.

Errol Francis

Culture Box Content Producer