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The Arts Gymnasium

Lab Contact: Katherine Wimpenny

The Arts Gymnasium - Title GraphicOverview

This follow-on three-year project partnership, funded by Esmée Fairbairn, will build on the uniqueness of the Arts Gymnasium project (Wimpenny & Savin-Baden 2014) delivered as part of the theatre’s strong community and education programme at the Belgrade Theatre under the leadership of the Associate Director, and General Manager. Key stakeholders in the follow-on study include Coventry City Council (Public Health Team, the Dementia unit, Insight Team), Coventry University (Neighbourhood University project), Age UK Coventry, housing organisations, and associated networks. The theatre will also work closely with grassroots organisations and initiatives to engage the hardest-to-reach groups. The project will be evaluated by researchers at Coventry University, led by Dr Katherine Wimpenny, (DMLL) who will work with the partners and participants to design and implement an evaluation that is arts-based as well as the inquiry being user-guided.


The Challenge

There is increasing interest in the use of arts-based media to improve the health and wellbeing of the older population in the city. Coventry’s diverse population suffers higher deprivation and poorer health outcomes than regional and national averages. Coventry is a Marmot City, which means it is one of just seven UK councils working with the international expertise of the Marmot Network to tackle health inequalities and raise life expectancy. Further, Dementia is increasing nationally, and within Coventry. Around 3,600 people live with dementia in Coventry, and by 2016, this is set to rise to approximately 3,900 (Dementia Partnerships 2013). In response to the Living well with Dementia: A National Dementia Strategy and the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia, Coventry’s Living Well with Dementia Strategy has been developed alongside people with dementia and carers, statutory and third sector organisations. Aims include supporting those with dementia and their partners to carry on with their hobbies and interests, manage changes, try out new things and feel valued by their community, whose awareness will be enhanced.


Performing Arts Image


In addition, the Arts Gymnasium will address key health issues, including lifestyle risks, and will aim to reduce the burden on health services, addressing Recommendation E3, Health Inequalities Strategy for Coventry, (2011) in its aim to: Support locally developed and evidence-based community regeneration programmes that remove barriers to community participation and action, and reduce social isolation. (p.6)

Further, the Arts Gymnasium will engage with people and communities who typically tend not to access initiatives and services, e.g. Kenyan and Chinese communities, (Coventry City Council, 2014), to support people and reduce health inequalities as identified in Recommendation F1, Health Inequalities Strategy for Coventry (2011): Prioritise investment in ill-health prevention and health promotion across government departments to reduce the social gradient. (p.6)


The Plan

We will explicitly shape the programme around identified health priorities and target people over-50 across the city who are isolated, marginalised or otherwise socially excluded, especially men, and those from deprived and underrepresented communities. We will also work with people aged 50+ to spread the benefits of participation in the arts with their peers, including supporting people with early-onset dementia and their spouses. Further, we will make funding applications to ensure continuation of the programme.

With research partners from Coventry University, we will build on the previous Arts programme evaluation (Savin-Baden et al., 2013; Wimpenny & Savin-Baden, 2014) to analyse impact across the three programme strands. This arts-related evaluation will evaluate in detail what theatre performance and art activities can specially do for a wide range of people in the city. Researchers will use a range of validated tools as well as creative methods, developed with the Belgrade team, to capture and examine participants’ responses from across the different strands of the project. Further, arts-related evaluation reflects the principles of moral commitment, clarity and honesty, knowledge generation, reflexivity, accessibility, celebration of diversity, interaction of work and research to ensure authenticity and integrity (Savin-Baden and Major, 2013:292-293).


Arts Gymnasium Project Overview Flow Diagram

The Arts Gymnasium project sets new standards for asset-based working, explores new methods for engaging some of the most vulnerable communities and tests theatre practice as a way of achieving health and wellbeing outcomes for the 50+ community, with impact on the wider community. In the growing arts and health field, we have not been able to find a project that combines these three elements.


What will be achieved if things go to plan?

  • Changes in people. On two levels – i) participants will be more confident and active within their community, less isolated, with improved levels of mental and physical health and ii) the wider community will be better informed of the issues facing older people and have more opportunities for positive interaction
  • Changes in professional practice – i) health professionals/residential home managers will have a clearer understanding of the role of arts in health and wellbeing, regularly considering projects like this in their referral practices, ii) arts professionals and providers will have a clearer understanding of working with older people, designing appropriate interventions
  • Changes in policy – Arts provision is seen as key to Coventry’s development of its Age Friendly Cities framework; becomes one of the services supported by GPs’ commissioning bodies; is commissioned on an ongoing basis by Housing Associations and similar community organisations


Research Findings


link-icon-pdf-smallEvaluation Report
Using theatre and performance for promoting health and wellbeing
amongst the 50+ community: an arts-informed evaluation

Source: Coventry University Open Collections


Update on work

March 2017

We are very pleased to have recruited five students from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities; 1 master’s student in Photography, 2 x level I Media Communication students, and 2 x level II Media Communication students.

The students have been attending weekly sessions at the Belgrade over this last term to get to know the project participants.

By end of this term, (May, 2017) the students will produce a film and photography exhibition.

The focus for these creative outputs will be used to disseminate and promote the Arts Gymnasium project, particularly from participants’ personal perspectives.

A paper sharing the project findings to date including how the Belgrade are making drama accessible to the 50+ community in Coventry has been accepted for presentation at the Culture, Health and Wellbeing International Conference and Exchange, 19–23 Jun 2017, in Bristol.

To find out more about how to join the Arts Gymnasium project please visit:

A blog about a visit to a local radio station to promote the project can also be found here

Project Timeline:

Start date

January 2016

End date

June 2018





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