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Combating loneliness through participatory arts

How do participatory arts projects, like those run by Made by Mortals, combat loneliness and isolation?

Our co-Director Paul Hine gives his take:

Fun should be a central element

Combating loneliness is a major focus for Made by Mortals projects and one of the main ways we do this is by ensuring that the projects themselves are engaging and fun to take part in. A real focus of our work is laughter and imaginative play and I think that really helps people to lose their inhibitions and just enjoy themselves for the period of time that they’re at our workshops, or at least a part of that time. That enjoyment and fun gives them a respite from the other problems they might have in their lives, including isolation and loneliness. What’s more, knowing that they have this weekly session helps them build resilience to some of the other issues that they face. It’s not the only solution but I think it’s certainly part of the picture.

Creativity and connection

The other thing I think that’s really important in relation to how we combat loneliness with our work is that we have a process of imagination, story-creation, lyric-writing and shared music that helps people create genuine connections with each other. That leads to forming friendships that they previously didn’t have through a shared goal and vision that they’re working towards. Those connections are an antidote to loneliness. When you have those genuine connections in your life, certainly multiple genuine connections, you start to feel like your not so alone. I think that’s really really important.

Social change and a sense of meaning

The other thing that I think helps us to combat loneliness is that we aim for our work to have a real social impact at it’s heart; it’s about social change. There’s an issue-based element to all the work we create. By allowing people to talk about issues that affect their community and really listening to them and allowing what they say to shape the work, I think it gives people a sense of meaning and responsibility. They start to have an understanding that their art, which they are actively creating, can have an impact and improve the world that they live in. Having that responsibility helps participants meaningfully connect with the world around them, empowering them and perhaps lifting them out some of the things that effect them on a more micro-personal level. Importantly, this creativity gives a sense of purpose, which is something that massively decreases the chance of you feeling lonely. The combination of purpose and responsibility gives people a reason to get up  in the morning, to talk and connect with other.

Audience watches 'Ears Against Loneliness' performance at Social Care Future conference.
Performing in front of an audience builds confidence to take out into the wider world.

Developing skills that translate into the everyday

A focus on developing “soft skills” such as team work, creativity, communication and problem solving is another way in which our work at Made by Mortals helps to tackle loneliness and isolation. These skills are developed naturally as part of devising a piece of theatre or writing a piece of music, but they transfer into life much more widely. Creating a safe space where these skills can be worked on and cultivated gives people tools for resilience in the wider world. As, of course, do performance skills. We work on building people’s confidence up to the point where they’ll perform in front of a room full of strangers. Once you’ve done that, overcoming nerves and other issues, what else can you do that you might not have thought possible? When else can you connect with others? What other times can you take a risk that allows you to become more connected to your community and less isolated?

All of these elements – enjoyment, connection and creativity – come  together to make people feel that they are more connected to the community at large and makes the world feel like a less scary place.