Arts and Culture: an antidote to growing concerns over young people’s wellbeing

The Better Lives Through Culture programme launched in 2021, aiming to create better lives for children and young people through culture.  

At the time, children‚Äôs mental health was worsening. Confidence was low and inequalities were widening. We knew arts and culture could help. The need to widen access to cultural education felt urgent so, as a Cultural Education Partnership, we embraced that mission. 

Two years on, as concerns over wellbeing continue to grow, the evaluation and film of Better Lives Through Culture offer hope.

Better Lives through Culture Film by City Eye

Better Lives through Culture

Better Lives Through Culture aimed to enable children and young people, who weren’t participating in arts and culture, to access cultural education.  

It consisted of a Creative Curriculum project and a Creative Mentors project, both co-designed with young people. The two projects involved 325 children and young people, 40 teachers, 4 artists and 6 early career creatives.  

The programme, delivered in partnership with Artswork with Bridge Investment funding from Arts Council England, has delivered ‚Äúlife-changing‚ÄĚ results. 

‚ÄúMy whole life has changed. I went from working one day a week in an art gallery. Now I‚Äôm working full time in a school that specialises in autism.‚ÄĚ

Creative Mentor

Cultural Curriculum

Students worked with local artists to develop Creative Curriculums, offering new ways to learn different subjects.  

Banister Primary School explored Geography and Science curriculum through dance and movement. Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill collaborated with a writer to address literacy and oracy within Art and Design. Cantell School added music to the English curriculum, while Woodlands Community College introduced a multi-artform approach to History. 

“There has been a turnaround in the children’s confidence in wanting to have a go and be involved and to share.”

Banister School SLT Teacher

Teachers reported increased confidence, engagement and teamwork for all pupils. Learning benefits included improved retrieval for Primary pupils and access to learning for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). 

“Linking movements to vocabulary is really helping them to secure that language.”

Banister School SLT Teacher

Teachers have learnt new ways to work with their pupils that improve access for students with SEND. Primary age SEND students who normally cannot demonstrate the vocabulary they know through writing have been able to show their knowledge through movement. When studying butterflies, students could flutter like a butterfly or act out a life cycle when they could not write the terms. Teachers reflected it gave them a different way to support the students to be successful.‚ÄĮ‚ÄĮ 

“Most importantly, the children are enjoying the sessions. They are excited to be having an input in the planning process and those who are usually reluctant to answer and share are more willing to since these sessions, which is fantastic!”

Banister School Teacher

Creative Mentors

As part of the programme, Early Career Creatives also took part in mentoring training. Equipped with new skills they then mentored young people from Cantell School.  

The project nurtured creative talent across the city and helped shape career pathways for mentors and mentees. The young people who were mentored described how the process had helped them improve their knowledge of careers in the arts. 

The future

With the number of young people affected by poor mental health predicted to continue rising, galvanising cross-sector expertise to address wellbeing is vital.  

Better Lives Through Culture has shown the important role arts and culture can play in building confidence and enjoyment, enhancing learning, and equipping young people with skills for the future.  

Southampton Cultural Education Partnership is passionate about continuing to nurture creative and cultural education for all children and young people in the city. We are proud to have worked with so many Southampton students and artists. 135 have achieved Arts Awards in the process.  

With your help, there is so much more we can do to achieve better lives through culture.  

Thank you to

Our partners and funders: Artswork, Arts Council England, Artsmark, Arts Award, University of Southampton 

Artists and Organisations: Abi Thommes and Arts2Educate, Louis Duarte and SoCoMusic Project, Natalie Watson, Susmita Bhattacharya and ArtfulScribe 

Schools and Colleges: Banister Primary School, Cantell School, Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill and Woodlands Community College 

Creative Mentors: Issa Loyaan Farrah-Kelly, JJ Gale, Jilly Evans, Ellen Gillett, Aidan and Amy Spencer 

And all the brilliant young people who took part in Better Lives Through Culture. 

Watching the magic happen

Creative Mentor Amy Spencer describes exploring creative ideas in the ‘safe place’ of the art department with her mentee.

Amy Spencer, visual artist, SCEP Creative Mentor

Hello, my name is Amy and I am a visual artist and mentor for SCEP. Since starting my training for the Creative Mentoring Programme back in November last year, I have been trying to imagine how it might play out in real life.

Continue reading Watching the magic happen

Working in partnership to achieve priorities for children and young people

Place-based partnership with cultural and child-focused organisations is key to achieving Southampton City Council’s priorities for children, Councillor Darren Paffey told SCEP (Southampton Cultural Education Partnership) members at a recent meeting.

Cllr Darren Paffey and Child Friendly Southampton logo

With partnership working at our heart, the SCEP was delighted to welcome Southampton’s Cabinet Member for Children and Learning and ward councillor for Bargate as a guest speaker at our last Members meeting:

There’s a lot of belief out there that councils are the sole organisation that can solve all problems in cities. It won’t be a surprise to know that’s not true. Everything that we do depends on the partnerships that we have built up with cultural organisations, with businesses, with our schools, with our early years settings and with the universities,’ said Cllr Darren Paffey.

Continue reading Working in partnership to achieve priorities for children and young people

The pleasure of offering support

Issa Loyaan Farrah-Kelly shares his first experiences as a Creative Mentor and how he is working with his mentee, a fellow poet.

Issa Loyaan Farrah-Kelly, poet, SCEP Creative Mentor

I applied to be a Creative Mentor with a sense of quiet trust, and enthusiasm…that I would be accepted, and was quietly overjoyed to be brought on board.

I found the training to essentially be a series of digestible, yet explicitly thorough, masterclasses in various elements of good practice of Creative Mentorship…delivered in a somewhat informal, yet explicitly professional manner. In a nutshell, I call my experience of the Creative Mentorship training practical philosophy.

I think there was a mutual/collective sense of excitement shared between myself and my Creative Mentor peers in training, all of us artists in various disciplines. My discipline is poetry.

This sense of excitement was, in my mind…practically, professionally and justifiably kindled by our mentors/coaches/trainers…Matt, Craig, Anna…and Jodie.

When I received word that I had been matched with a young poet, who wished to develop…it was as if abstract excitement, enthusiasm at being invited to share…insofar as I can….so much as I may understand about poetry etc…became solidified/crystallized…the Creative Mentorship role became real, and happily so.

Question Time,
by Issa Loyaan Farrah-Kelly
Question Time, a poem by Issa Loyaan Farrah-Kelly

My role is to support my mentee, which is an absolute pleasure…in developing poems over the course of 8 sessions, each session 1 hour long…held every fortnight after school.

My mentee wishes to write about their experiences of racism, which is unfortunately…a relevant, valid and important thing to be heard.

My mentee already has a sense of themselves as a poet, in a sense I consider myself jammy to have been matched with such a mentee.

Our sessions are basically conversational workshops, wherein we discuss poetry and work on pieces…under my mentee’s impetus, and I generally consider my role as being a sounding board/ideas person…making suggestions…never dictations.

I have a line of contact, via my mentee’s teacher, whereby I can ping ideas/developments etc, and receive them in turn.

I think it works quite nicely


The Southampton Cultural Education Partnership’s (SCEP) objective is to develop a cohort of Creative Mentors as local role models in Southampton, who will work directly with and inspire Children and Young People, including those from at risk, marginalised backgrounds or NEET (not in employment education or training).

Continue reading The pleasure of offering support

Enjoying the little wins

Creative Mentor JJ gives an insight into the first few weeks working with his mentee.

JJ, actor, theatre maker and young creative, SCEP Creative Mentor Scheme
JJ, actor, theatre maker and young creative, SCEP Creative Mentor

My name is JJ Gale and I am an actor, theatre maker/facilitator and professional wrestler. I have been a part of SCEP‚Äôs creative mentoring programme since November 2022. 

After months of insightful training last year, I am now working 1-1 with my mentee. It has been an interesting journey so far. I was paired with a young person who has no experience in the arts. However, they have expressed an interest in drama and performing arts. 

My first few meetings made it clear that there was going to be some work needed to forge a positive and trusting professional relationship with my young person. They were reserved and cautious. Not wanting to open up or share much information about themselves with me. Initially even having a conversation was a struggle. 

This being said as the weeks have gone on, I have found common ground and began work on creating this relationship. I have found the best approach is to always come to sessions with an enthusiastic and positive attitude. Also, I am trying my best to offer as many opportunities to experience and explore performing arts. 

We have recently been to see their first ever theatre show. This was a fantastic night. Although anxious and pessimistic before the show. Following the play my mentee highly rated the performance and had a beaming smile across his face. This was extremely rewarding.

My goal throughout this process is to open the door into the possibilities for involvement and interaction with Performing Arts in Southampton for my young person. I believe it’s important to take the time to care enough and support you in the first steps in trying and exploring something new. I hope this develops into more of an interest and passion for the performing arts. However, if this is not the case then at least I have facilitated some new life experiences. I believe that already they are learning new transferable skills. Also, I think it’s great to have a safe space to push yourself out of your comfort zone and I am grateful for the chance to help facilitate that in a small way.

I am learning that I have to be in tune with the young person and where they are in life and this process and allow that to inform my goals and plans going forward in regards to the mentoring programme. I am enjoying the little wins. 


The Southampton Cultural Education Partnership’s (SCEP) objective is to develop a cohort of Creative Mentors as local role models in Southampton, who will work directly with and inspire Children and Young People, including those from at risk, marginalised backgrounds or NEET (not in employment education or training).

Continue reading Enjoying the little wins