Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Amelia's 'Go & See' Outreach Trip Around the Highlands & Islands

'Art in Healthcare Reach Out' on the sands of Morar beach

In the middle of June I set off as Outreach Manager for Art in Healthcare (AiH) to journey around some of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Kindly funded by the ‘Go & See’ fund, which is administered by Engage Scotland and supported by Creative Scotland, I would be away for nearly two weeks as AiH’s Ambassador on the road. My brief? To find out what is going on around some of the more remote areas of Scotland in the field of arts outreach, to learn from these organisations and share with them about AiH, and to investigate any potential new partnerships for future joint project-working.

So where did I go and what did I see 
(alongside the images I snapped here and there..)?

Well, I spent 12 days driving around covering 1,210 miles, including 4 different islands and 6 ferry crossings! I also visited a wide range of services that run different arts outreach programmes from Hospitals and Drop-in/Community Centres to Museums and Galleries, meeting key people involved from Artists and an Art Therapist to Project Coordinators, Arts Officers and a Trustee.

Highland Coos bathing by GlenGorm Castle on Mull
Without exception every person I met was responsive to my mission to learn from them and to hear about AiH and, interestingly, no one had previously heard of AiH nor the range of services we now provide. For me the latter meant my trip was particularly worthwhile. 

I have always valued face-to-face meetings and contact but, for me as Outreach Manager, this was what my role is about, getting out there, meeting people, explaining who we are and what we do at AiH, all with a view to building new relationships, developing new ideas and seeing our role in the bigger picture of arts and health around Scotland, above and beyond the close vicinity of Edinburgh and the 'central belt'. I was certainly rewarded for this and my trip was welcomed by people appreciating that AiH were taking the time to, quite literally, 'go and see' further afield.
Beach Pebble Art on a beach by Ness, Lewis
Along the way I learnt a LOT; this included the valuable artist residency programmes at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gallic College on Skye, and about the range of support that Atlas Arts provide to the artists of Skye and Lochalsh. I experienced the community draw of Taigh Chearsabagh as an Arts Centre on North Uist (and the cosy cafĂ©), likewise the An Lanntair Arts Centre in Stornoway on Lewis with a cinema and exhibition space as well as outreach programmes for the elderly. I heard about the multiple creative opportunities provided at the Catch 23 Drop-in Centre in Stornoway and about the valuable work of a Lewis-based Art Therapist, working in schools with children who have emotional and behavioural issues. 

I experienced the buzz of Ullapool’s art scene at An Talla Solais Arts Centre - connecting people with art and the Rhue Art Gallery - supporting emerging artists, likewise the active McPhail Community Centre that rolls out numerous arts projects to the local community. I went to the Kyle Centre in Tongue and the Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill, both fulfilling impressive roles in bringing together the local community through various services and art projects. I called in at the Timespan Museum & Art Centre in Helmsdale where I heard about their interesting range of outreach work, closely based on the local heritage and I met with a freelance Arts Officer involved with Groam House Museum in Cromarty who shared her extensive knowledge and experience as an arts officer both locally and further afield. I met with Play Pieces in Inverness, a new theatre group looking to explore theatre projects in healthcare settings and then...I ran out of time. This list is just a selection (and if you are interested in names of just who I met then please get in touch on the email address below)!
Loch Choire, Sutherland
Inevitably, I quickly realized as I went around that while I thought I was managing to fit in all the relevant people and organisations to see and meet, these people and organisations were invariably providing me with a helpful other list of essential people and organisations to meet! I reassured myself, however, with the knowledge that I was building up an extensive map in my head, not just a database of names and email addresses but a map of friendly faces and real stories that correlated to arts outreach around the country. Furthermore, I had been struck early on in the planning of my trip that once I started to ‘spread the word’ that I was going, people were contacting me about meeting up, as if once I’d committed to going, I was already starting to draw attention to AiH.

Essentially, the trip did achieve my aims insofar as gaining an insight into arts outreach around the Highlands & Islands of Scotland while raising awareness of AiH and our interest to expand our outreach remit beyond the comfort of Edinburgh. As I went from meeting to meeting, I really found myself closely examining the potential role of AiH in the wider context of Scotland. For example:

  • What could we offer to small communities on the remote coasts and Islands of Scotland as an arts organisation based in Edinburgh? 
  • What might be our role in the years to come in the national context of arts and health? 
  • And how could I, as Outreach Manager at AiH, play a role in setting the appropriate ‘wheels in motion’?

These questions may take a while to properly answer but I’m confident that with the help of those I’ve recently met and of those I’m yet to meet, I’m getting closer to the answer all the time..

Oyster catchers over the Machair, North Uist
A big thank you to those of you that met with me who generously shared your thoughts and ideas, more often than not with a cup of tea and a friendly welcome!

Do get in touch if you have any comments or thoughts about my trip on outreachmanager@artinhealthcare.org.uk or 0131 555 7638.  

You can also follow us on Facebook at Art-in Healthcare and sign up to our quarterly newsletter by emailing David on admin@artinhealthcare.org.uk. Finally, you can look at our website on www.artinhealthcare.org.uk for full details of the range of services we provide to healthcare settings around Scotland.


  1. What an excellent and worthwile trip Amelia. Thanks for writing about it for us all. Leo

  2. Thanks Leo, that's kind of you to say. Very interesting and hopefully will be very useful going forward. Amelia :-)