Monday, February 27, 2012

New Thoughts in Public Health and Head for the Hills...

Last Friday 24th February the Centre for Public Health at MMU hosted a talk by Dr Ruth Hussey OBE, entitled Public Health England: A New Approach to 21st Century Public Health Challenges. It was a significant and interesting presentation as it is a critical time in public health development in the UK, and her work entails the smooth transition from the existing model to an emerging, and as yet, not fully formed vision.

Citing the work of mid Victorian physician, John Snow, and his emerging understanding of cholera, Dr Hussey illustrated how, over 100 years later, we are still learning from these experiences, as she explained the Fifth Wave in public health, where we adapt to societal and political changes that impact on population and individual health.

Expanding on the importance of telling the emerging public health story, and generating a shared vision through new relationships, it was clear that there was an emerging role in the public health lexicon for the arts. In the search for new ways of tackling old problems and engaging with communities in ways that are relevant to them, creative approaches should be central to our shared future. Describing her own experience of working with diverse communities, she hit the nail on the head when she reflected that one community member commented, ‘We’ve all got knowledge, but it’s different kinds of knowledge.’

In the drive to understand the impact and reach of public health interventions, the arts/health community is increasingly defining itself in similar language. Similarities can be drawn both in the need to have new ways of understanding our value and our impact through models like Social Return On Investment, and the understanding that focusing on assets over deficits, enables the co-design of practice. This is very much an arts/health model, and the move from illness to wellness is emphasised in the NHS Confederation publication of the same name, which illustrates the place of culture and the arts in the ‘wellness’ movement.

Significantly, Arts for Health at MMU featured explicitly a couple of times during her presentation, which she astutely described as a growing movement, and I would suggest that by engaging at a national and local level, and embedding thinking around the impact of creativity, culture and the arts alongside the scientific model, we will develop a robust approach to 21st Century public health that moves away from narrow reductivism and embraces a more genuinely holistic approach to health and well-being.

Professor John Ashton CBE is Joint Director of Public Health for Cumbria Primary Care Trust and Cumbria County Council. John is well known for his work on planned parenthood, Healthy Cities and for his personal advocacy of public health.  He was also a member of the British delegation to Macedonia during the Kosovo emergency and played a prominent role in resolving the fuel dispute. He has played an active part in developing government policies for public health and under his leadership, the North West became regarded as a centre for pioneering initiatives, including his consistent support of Arts for Health, and whilst he was Regional Director of Public Health, he was the Department of Health sponsor for the Invest to Save Arts in Health Project. He has been instrumental in the development of part one of the manifesto for arts and health.

Earlier this month, Prof John Ashton co-signed a letter in the Independent defending the Royal College of GPs' chair, who opposes reform in the NHS. NHS Cumbria said in a letter to Prof Ashton that he should not express his personal views and told him his actions were ‘inappropriate’’ asking him to attend a meeting planned for last Friday.

John featured prominently in the broadcast media and printed press last week, commenting, “As a public health director and as the advisor for public health to the county of Cumbria... I have the freedom to speak out on matters of interest...I am not acting politically, I am acting professionally, drawing on the evidence of what will happen if we go down the road to private health insurance.”

Whilst John wasn’t acting politically, this is a critical agenda for us all to be engaged in, and regardless of our political allegiances, our health is political and the arts are political too.

Please click on John's photograph to go to his article in the Lancet: The Art of Medicine, Defending Democracy and the National Health Service.

For the last couple of years I have had some engagement with the Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) and have actively worked with them on Scenario Planning around possible future pandemics. The work is gathering momentum and ASEF have produced a number of films to tell the story. They are also developing strategy for delivering this work. More information and short films can be found by clicking on the logo above.

And, purely for ironic entertainment...

Manchester Histories Festival 
Arts for Health’s Archive goes public for the first time this weekend with a small exhibition and a talk by Dr Langley Brown at the Manchester Histories Festival’s Celebration Day on Saturday, 3 March.

The Arts for Health exhibition is one of 80 displays on local histories that will take place in the Main Hall of Manchester’s magnificent Town Hall. It will introduce the Archive, and present ‘work-in-progress’ towards a larger exhibition that is to be a centrepiece of celebrations this April of the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, an event which helped pave the way towards the formation of the British National Parks and the steady growth of public access to wild countryside.  

This ‘work-in-progress’ previews Head for the Hills, a small-scale replica of a mosaic mural that was opened in 1986 by countryside access campaigner the late Benny Rothman. The mural was designed and made by users and staff of Manchester’s mental health services with artists of Hospital Arts (now Lime), but demolished in 2006 during rebuilding at Manchester Royal Infirmary. It was envisaged as celebration of and a lasting monument to the shared experiences, in wild landscapes, of a disparate group of people embodying a kaleidoscope of experience and skills who had only come together through the adverse circumstances of mental distress.

This project is not just the overdue resuscitation of a monument to a kaleidoscope of shared experiences from over a quarter of a century ago; it is also a potential catalyst for innovative approaches in art, wellbeing and ecology that will draw on lessons learnt from history.

The original Head for the Hills project ran during the time that the arts and mental health organisation START in Manchester evolved from Hospital Arts. START went on to inspire further developments including START in Salford, ARC in Stockport, and Connected in Oldham.

The completed replica, made by a group of Manchester Metropolitan University History of Art and Design students led by Langley Brown, will be accompanied by additional documentation on the original project and texts on topics arising concerning art, activism, environment, walking, wilderness and wellbeing, and will feature at the Edale Moorland Centre as part of the celebrations of the 80th Anniversary of the Kinder Trespass in April.

Events on Saturday 3 March:
Arts for Health Archive: Head for the Hills ‘work-in-progress’: 10am-5.30pm, Main Hall, Manchester Town Hall

Talk by Dr Langley Brown: 3.30pm, Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St, Manchester M2 5NS 
KInder Trespass 80th anniversary events 20-29 April 
Head for the Hills exhibition: Moorland Centre, Edale (exact dates/times to be announced)
For more information email:
Head for the Hills is supported by Derbyshire County Council.