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Southbank Centre: Art by Post

We hear from one of our creative neighbours, the Southbank Centre.

At the Southbank Centre, we believe that arts and creativity have a vital role to play in responding to the needs of our communities, from helping the socially isolated to feel more connected to others, to supporting those with dementia to keep their minds active, and offering people of all backgrounds positive ways to express themselves.

Now more than ever, when public resources are being drastically reduced, and social isolation is being greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, we believe that it’s crucial for organisations like ours to maximise the power of arts and creativity to improve people’s lives, both in our local community and beyond.

That’s why we’ve launched Art by Post, a free scheme which delivers creative booklets via post to anybody in the UK who is isolated and vulnerable. So far we’ve had 1,600 people signing up, from Lambeth to Dorset and Aberdeen, and aged between 14 to 103, many of whom are currently living alone and unable to leave their homes. The activities are designed by expert artists and tailored for people living with dementia, but the scheme is open to anyone who could benefit, and our network of partners including local Age UK branches and the National Academy of Social Prescribing are helping us to reach the people who are most cut off from their communities.

Importantly, whilst many creative and wellbeing initiatives which have evolved during lockdown have had a digital focus, you don’t need to have access to the internet to be able to take part in this scheme. You might choose to sign up yourself, or to refer someone you know, and we’re encouraging anyone who makes a referral to join in themselves and become a supporter - so far we’ve seen family members, friends, neighbours and carers all getting involved. If you’d like to refer someone you know, take part yourself, or become a supporter, you can sign up via our website or by phoning 0207 960 4206.

We hope that participants are finding that taking part in the poetry, drawing and craft activities boosts their mental health and wellbeing, and that creating artworks alongside others helps them to feel more connected to the outside world, as well as closer to each other and to us at the Southbank Centre.

We’re supplying freepost envelopes so that participants can share their artworks with us, and our Creative Learning team are regularly checking in with phone calls to hear about what people are creating. It’s a privilege to receive a phone call and hear newly written poetry performed live direct to our living rooms, from someone living hundreds of miles away, and we’re really valuing these moments of connection during isolation. The artworks that we receive back will form an exhibition when the Southbank Centre reopens, and participants will be invited to celebrate their amazing creations with us, as well as providing a poignant moment to reflect on the experience of social isolation that so many in society will be continuing to experience.

During lockdown, we’ve also worked hard to maintain our connections with the people who were taking part in our Arts and Wellbeing programmes before the pandemic hit, so our (B)old creative workshops for people with dementia are now going ahead remotely. The poetry workshops have been transformed into creative writing booklets sent through the post, alongside regular phone calls with our team, and participants in our singing workshops have been supplied with MP3 players and headphones, and are continuing to receive tutoring from their homes.

At the Southbank Centre, we are of course desperate to reopen our doors and welcome our communities back, but this time of crisis has reminded us that it’s possible to forge connections and share the joys of arts and creativity whilst we’re apart, too. Moving forward, we will be reimagining our programmes to make sure those who aren't able to visit our buildings in person are more included, and we’re determined to make sure that arts and creativity continues to play a central role in our lives as lockdown is lifted and our nation begins to recover.


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