Niche is a Community Health Project, established in 1998, serving the Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill area of Cork city, which has a population of around 8000 people. Community Arts for Health is an integral aspect of Niche’s work.
The aim of Niche’s Community Arts for Health Programme (NCAfHP) is to promote and enhance the health and wellbeing of the local community through access to and participation in the arts.
The focus of Niche is on improving both community and individual health and well-being using a community development approach. Niche has been innovative in the Irish context in developing a community health model, an essential element of which is the Community Health Worker (CHW) role. The project currently employs five CHWs as well as a manager, administrator, and a ‘Food Focus’ development worker. From time to time Niche also contracts – on a sessional basis – therapists, group facilitators artists and activity trainers in the implementation of some project work.
Niche employed artist Charlotte Donovan in June 2008 – initially for a 6 month period – in order to discover and demonstrate the potential for arts for health practice in a community setting. This was extended for a further 12 months, and in December 2009 the post was made permanent.
The key arts practice strands within the programme are:
Arts participation – sessions and projects, accessible to all adults from the local community, which focus on active engagement with the arts.
- Art Groups
- Open Studio visual art sessions
- Arts on Prescription
- Art projects/workshops designed to focus on, raise awareness of, or address a specific health issue
- Creative approaches to the design of leaflets, posters, booklets and publications for local health programmes and initiatives.
- Artwork (created as part of the programme) is used to personalise and humanise, as well as to decorate, local community and healthcare buildings
- Site specific (temporary and permanent) artwork designed by and/or executed by participants – internal & external
Access and Opportunities
- Promoting and enabling access to city cultural resources and opportunities
Showcasing the artwork created by participants in the NCAfHP to celebrate their achievements and to share them with the wider community
- Training workshops for local community workers and for artists
- Student & graduate placements and mentoring
- Continuing professional development and involvement in national and international networks
The key factors which are integral to the Niche approach are:
- Integration– the artist is integrated into the Niche team of community health workers and into the local network of community and health workers, organisations and community groups
- Sustainability– rather than short term sessional projects, the ongoing nature of the work allows for sensitive, patient development of relationships with participants and nurturing and support of their individual interests and creativity. Employing the artist on a permanent basis represents value for money.
- Responsive – designing a programme that is realistic and relevant to need. Responding to requests and suggestions the local community and from other agencies; allowing planned projects to change in response to feedback from participants.
- Collaboration– working with other workers to bring a creative approach to issue based and group focussed projects. Working with participants to help realise their creative goals.
- Open access policy – allowing participants the freedom and flexibility to ‘drop in’ rather than sign up or commit to attendance.
- Local partnerships – enabling referrals to the arts programme from, and development of specific programmes for, other organisations and groups in the community.
- Information and support resource – for the local and wider community and also for the city’s artistic community.
The NCAfHP makes Niche truly unique. As far as we are aware, there are no other community health organisations in Ireland which have taken the step of incorporating the arts so wholeheartedly into their core practice.
The project has worked in partnership with the following organisations:
- Camden Community Arts Centre (Camden Palace Hotel)
- Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Dept, City General Hospital
- Cork City Council
- Crawford Art Gallery
- Crawford College of Art (CIT)
- Food Focus
- HAZ (Health Action Zone) Knocknaheeny and Churchfield/Gurranabraher
- Hollyhill GP Surgery
- HSE South
- Knocknaheeny Hollyhill Justice Project
- Knocknaheeny Community Café
- Knocknaheeny Family Centre
- National Cancer Screening Programme
- North Lee Mental Health Services
- Ogra Chorcai Youthlinks
- Terence McSwiney School/Community College (art department)
- Triskel Arts Centre
- ‘We the People’ Community Development Project
- Youthwork Ireland (Gurranabraher)
Project progress is recorded by the artist and written reports are submitted regularly to the manager and the board. Copies of the Niche annual report, containing details of the NCAfHP are available for download from the Niche website.
In 2010 funding was provided by Cork City Council to undertake a substantial review and analysis of the programme and to write a 3 year strategic development plan. An external Arts and Health consultant, Ann O’Connor, was employed to assist and direct the process.
Review and analysis of NCAfHP 2008 – 2010 shows that it has successfully integrated into the core work of the organisation. The partnership model allows the programme to reach out into the community and other organisations to access its resources.
It is this aspect which allows the NCAfHP to deliver benefits way beyond those experienced by short term arts projects. Partnerships and relationships take time to develop truly effectively. This long-term commitment to the programme allows for strategic development into the future.
Niche staff members, board members, partnership organisations and participants have gained a clearer understanding of what benefits the arts bring to the community and to health and wellbeing. This has been demonstrated by the ever-increasing demand for participation in the programme, special projects, collaborations, training, advice and development.
There are numerous individual, group and community benefits that have been made evident through participation in the programme. A few examples include:
- The Men’s Health Group – meeting weekly for many years. Art has become the focus of the group’s activities and has enabled the members to find a new means of individual expression and communication, a creative way to interact with each other, and enhanced self-confidence and esteem. A few of the members have also chosen attend other art sessions. This has been a significant development as uptake of both other Niche activities and health services is often dominated by women.
- Parent & Family Groups – short art projects, open studio and individual sessions have attracted parents who have not participated in other programmes, allowed them to discover and celebrate new possibilities and hidden talents and to share their creativity with their children, enhancing family relationships and bonds.
- Breastcheck Health Promotion Project – Working with Niche Women’s Health group in collaboration with National Cancer Screening service and HAZ. The group created a collection of bras designed to promote breast health awareness. Not only was the making process great fun, but the project was designed to raise issues. The project culminated in an exhibition held in the Breastcheck clinic and an accompanying series of 15 postcards featuring the bras along with a breast health message. Both will travel with the mobile clinic. The project received great media coverage and the women reported great satisfaction in the role that they had played in helping to highlight an important health issue for their own community.
What the NCAfHP has shown is that it is not an ‘add-on’, a satellite programme, but rather works from within. This model not only provides support and structure for the artist but also allows her to support the other CHWs in their own programmes where relevant. This close collaboration across disciplines has led to the development of innovative projects and programmes including Feast – a project about food, life and art – and Activate – a personal health and well-being development programme.
Documentation and Dissemination
The programme has been documented in Niche annual reports, available for download from the Niche website.
There have been numerous temporary and permanent exhibitions of artwork created as part of the programme displayed throughout the community.
Niche has been operational since 1998, the Community Arts for Health Programme began in 2008.
HSE, Local Authority
Children, Health Promotion, Mental Health, Older People, Primary Care/ Community Health, Training & Education
Nature of project
Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition, Training/ Continuous Professional Development