The STAR Programme is an excellent example of collaborative working across health, culture and education sectors to improve the health and wellbeing of children in some of the lowest-income areas of the North East. The programme is run by the North East and North Cumbria Child Health and Wellbeing Network, an ICS-wide initiative which places an emphasis on creative health, with a dedicated Arts and Creativity Lead. The Network was established to respond collaboratively to system priorities, in particular mental health and poverty, and builds on learning from previous creative health work in the region. With some of the highest rates of child poverty in the country, a cross-sectoral approach was developed to address the need:
“We literally got into the room with public health, the creative arts, the CCG commissioners, Northern Ballet and our research partners and said ‘what can we do?’.” – Heather Corlett, Arts and Creativity Lead, NENC Child Health and Wellbeing Network
Based on evidence that dance can improve the health and wellbeing of children through facilitating self-expression, building self-awareness and identity and improving social and emotional learning skills, the programme consisted of facilitated weekly dance sessions for primary-age pupils in years 1-5. Dance facilitators from local dance organisation TIN Arts worked with the Northern Ballet to align with the themes of local performances, and families were also offered theatre experiences as part of the programme – in many cases the first time children had visited a theatre. Schools were identified using public health data, prioritising underserved areas. Family link workers were incorporated into the programme to ensure that benefits from the programme were taken out of schools and into homes.
The programme was fully evaluated with academic partners, and was found to have benefits for pupils, schools and families.
Children noted: contributed to our emotional and physical wellbeing: ‘Feeling more confident’, ‘More fit and well’ and ‘Full of energy’ . After participating in the programme children felt creative (74%), fit (73%), well (67%), happier (66%), confidence (64%).
Teachers noted: children more engaged in class, better listening, less disruptive behaviour, improved creativity, social & literacy skills
Parents noted: proud to celebrate the achievement of their children
Artists noted: activity contributes to children’s creative, social, cognitive and physical skills, as well as increasing their confidence
Link worker noted: support enabled improved behaviour in the home, increased social networks for families and families were better able to meet the children’s emotional needs.
Although only 30% of the children had taken part in dance before the programme, upon completion 60% felt they would like to continue. In Phase 2 of the programme, the network are developing a more replicable and scalable approach, incorporating digital technologies and shorter dance blocks, to reach more schools, and linking more extensively with existing community assets to ensure that the benefits are sustainable over the long term.
“With dance you get a break from reality, and you get to relax, and just let yourself be yourself” -STAR Participant