During Creativity and Wellbeing Week* last week, UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) released useful and surprising statistics showing that theatres generate an annual cost saving to the NHS of £102,234,585, by helping benefit the physical and mental health of those in their surrounding communities.
What more significant way could there be to highlight the importance of theatre and the arts in improving physical and mental wellbeing – something that is being increasingly recognised worldwide, including by the World Health Organisation and the UK Department of Health & Social Care.
Further evidence comes from an ongoing audience survey by The Old Vic, in which 93% of respondents so far have agreed -or strongly agreed- that theatre benefits their mental health and wellbeing.
Although theatre spaces have been closed throughout the pandemic, they have remained essential community hubs, providing online educational resources, interactive family events, digital productions, creative workshops and even programmes to help rehabilitate Covid sufferers – alongside the countless venues offering space, supplies and skilled volunteers to help the NHS. Further, the creative minds at work in these organisations have undergone numerous reinventions of their organisations to stay relevant and useful to their local communities- yet another example of the huge benefits of creativity to find solutions to community issues- whether practical or emotional.
Now, as lockdown eases and theatres begin the long road back, welcoming back in-person, socially distanced audiences, substantial evidence of the enormous power of theatre to enrich people’s lives physically and mentally – as well as culturally – will be a vital tool to help the government to understand that the UK’s world-leading theatre sector must be given the support it needs to survive.
The report says: “UK Theatre and SOLT calculated the figure using a 2015 report by DCMS and Simetrica, which quantifies the health benefits enjoyed by people attending a cultural or sporting activity. The report found that the NHS saves a yearly total of £11.91 for every person partaking in such an activity, from a reduction in GP visits and use of psychotherapy services.
This data was combined with UK Theatre and SOLT’s 2018 audience attendance figures (collected from nearly 300 venues nationwide), which show that over 34m people attended the theatre that year. Taking into account repeat attendance and attendance of other cultural or sporting events – and applying the DCMS and Simetrica benchmarking – the figure of £102,234,585 was reached.
This is a method previously used on a smaller scale by the leaders of HOME in Manchester, who last year calculated the theatre’s £26m economic impact on its local city from 2019 to 2020, including a £1m saving to NHS services.
Jon Gilchrist, Executive Director of HOME, said:
‘These findings show the difference the arts can make when working with their communities to support people’s health and wellbeing – highlighted by our own 2019/20 economic impact assessment, which measured the role of HOME in reducing GP visits and the use of mental health services to the effect of an incredible £1m cost saving to the NHS. Across the industry, the potential impact of this is huge, especially when theatres and cultural organisations forge partnerships to provide a range of opportunities to engage with arts and culture.’
Victoria Hume, Executive Director of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, said:
‘We know from a significant and growing body of international research that the arts, creativity and culture are critically important to sustaining our health, to tackling major social problems like loneliness and isolation, and to building our communities.
‘This startling statistic is yet another important piece in the puzzle, and drives home the message that we cannot dismiss the arts and culture as nice-to-haves. We know that our resilience is dramatically impacted by our ability to access our creativity and build the culture that surrounds us. This has kept many of us going through lockdown, although research also shows inequalities in cultural participation have been reinforced by Covid.
‘It will be essential to our safe recovery as a country that we invest to ensure greater equity and support the kind of forward-looking, partnership-based work this report describes.’ “
*Creativity & Wellbeing Week is an annual festival led by London Arts and Health and the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance and featuring cultural organisations and freelancers all around the UK, to celebrate the impact creativity has on our health and wellbeing.