Wakefield Council – Art in Mind

Shortlisted for the Best Local Authority Arts Initiative in the Hearts for the Arts Awards 2019


Need: A highly innovative approach to weight management (WM) which helps people negotiate hurdles preventing them from starting positive behaviour change.

  • Nationally, 30% adults overweight (almost 75,000 people in Wakefield), with greater risk of diabetes, cancer, heart-disease and stroke
  • Mainstream WM is offered, but some find this challenging due to social isolation, low-mood and anxiety. These individuals, identified through WM, are encouraged to attend.   

Innovation: Wakefield Council designed WM offer with whole-systems approach supporting behaviour change, offering AiM for those in contemplation phase unable to progress into mainstream services.

  • Health and weight loss sessions using ‘health by stealth’ principles.
  • Informal atmosphere encourages peer support; builds confidence and signposts services to further improve weight/wellbeing.
  • Sessions offer ‘next steps’, supporting participants to discover options available at programme completion.  The programme utilises museum objects and quality art activities delivering a series of workshops supporting participants through first steps of weight loss journey.
  • One session uses museum collection to show increases in dinner plate size from 1700s to modern-day and highlights changes in portion size. Participants design and paint their own plate.
  • See:

Partnership:  AiM is a repeating 12-week programme created and developed through a working partnership between WC Museums and Health Improvement departments and a specialist facilitator.

  • Facilitator provides all project design, materials delivery and evaluation, funded by the WM programme.
  • Council support (room hire, after-hours staffing, referral support etc.) absorbed within base-budgets.
  • Facilitator attends clinical WM multidisciplinary meetings; AiM recognised by lead clinician as important component of the programme.

Impacts:  Programme attracts many first-time museum visitors and those vulnerable to varied wellbeing issues including social isolation, low-mood and anxiety. Participants reported improving isolation, mood and self-efficacy, some achieving weight management goal whilst on the programme.

Each 12 week programme works with a maximum of 10 participants. To date, 38 participants have completed the programme. Session evaluations used Wellbeing Indicator and Generic Learning Outcomes. The facilitator is experienced in observational evaluation and recording changes in attitude and mood, using “5 Ways to Wellbeing”.  The majority of participants found increases in wellbeing, contributing to:

  • Opportunities to discuss healthy eating, lifestyle, home-life and the chance to find support from one another. e.g. practicalities of going swimming such as what to wear and the distance from pool to changing-room.
  • Several participants joining other museum-run activities as a result of attending sessions showing increased confidence
  • One participant described the sessions as… “a much needed safe space”
  • Through attendance, one participant saw noteworthy weight loss of 22.2kg finding they can now do more challenging exercise.
  • A participant said that AiM and other WM programmes made them realise “there is more to healthy lifestyle than weight loss and exercise.

The cost per person is higher than mainstream WM, but participants find it very hard to access these services; a vulnerable group needing more specific support. Many participants avoided traditional WM programmes, and even their GP for fear of being ‘told-off’ about their weight. Therefore, changes affected long-term makes the group worth the investment.

What the judges had to say:

“By bringing people together to talk about shared issues, using art to show how we’re all connected through our experiences, this project is a great example of how the arts can make a huge difference to our health and wellbeing.”

“Excellent demonstration of how culture can be brought to bear on a complex issue that mainstream interventions couldn’t reach.”