"By adopting the Third Sector as a key delivery partner, we can better engage people in local community services."

Creative Steps is a creative participation and peer support programme, working to promote positive wellbeing for individuals experiencing long term mental health issues and isolation. Our groups run from NHS outreach locations throughout the south of Glasgow and from our community base in Govan. We are part of Plantation Productions, a community arts and media charity.

When we first closed our groups last March, we aimed to respond as quickly as we could by offering different types of activities and ways of engaging. Our focus has been to provide structure and routine to the week, a place for connection and interaction with others and engaging activity for enjoyment and skills development.

Like many others, we looked at new digital ways of working. This included creating a temporary blog, where we can provide frequent updates and online tutorials, and a wide programme of regular online classes delivered by our tutor. We have been able to provide participants with the materials needed for the classes, as well as encourage the reuse and recycling of old household items.

Offline, we established a craft pack collection drop in, offering bags made up with the materials and a tutorial booklet to try creative activities at home. Additionally, we post out a weekly mini magazine – with wellbeing, health and creative tutorial sections and paper-based activities, such as mindful colouring pages and templates.

For our wider community, we have supplied our creative packs to 4 NHS locations, as well as running a stall throughout the summer months to distribute packs directly to the residents of our community.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing. We anticipate the demand for services like ours – which both focus on mental wellbeing and reconnecting people with their communities – will only continue to increase. We face challenges in both rebuilding engagement and confidence with participants who withdrew from society over the past year, and also being able to deliver services to more people in need.

Our planned development of the Creative Steps to Wellbeing programme has had to go on hold over the last year. It will be an ongoing challenge for community organisations to reestablish their in-person services, with so much uncertainty as to when this will be possible and how the pandemic has changed the way we work. Alongside this, the third sector continues to face long term insecurity with core funding, which makes it difficult to plan for the continued delivery and expansion of our work.

As we continue to run our extensive distance services, we monitor participation and assess if there is anything additional we can do to keep people engaged, connected and creative.

We have a full plan in place for restarting in person groups, which is regularly updated to comply with new guidance. As soon as it is safe to do so, we hope to restart groups on a smaller scale and to increase our referral pathway to support more people to getting involved.

The last year has been an ongoing learning experience. We have had to redesign what we do, and how we do it, many times.

A positive example of learning came from our reliance on digital activities over the past year. Having previously focused on providing face to face services, we have been surprised by the positive reaction and level of engagement in our online creative groups. For some, being able to take part in a group from the safety of their home encouraged them to take the first step to participating. This leaves the potential for a more blended and diverse delivery approach in the future.

Our sector has continued to provide vital services, adapting to suit need quickly and effectively – yet many of us are left with unsecure and unreliable funding, a lack of guidance and are often not included in consultations or planning.

By adopting the Third Sector as a key delivery partner, we can better engage people in local community services and achieve more together with statutory agencies, like our NHS.

Additionally, by supporting the sector with secure and longer-term funding, we can focus more of our time on delivering our services to the public and supporting our partners.

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