Cultural Assets & Social Value

The Cultural Assets and Social Value research theme (2014-19) used innovative methodologies to understand cultural value at a community level, including the impact of participating in arts and culture on mental health and wellbeing. This research strand was led by former ICC Research Fellow Gayle Whelan, who is continuing to work independently in communities across the North West to identify where cultural assets exist and what social value is generated by them.

After joining the ICC in March 2014 from LJMU’s Public Health Institute (PHI), Gayle was commissioned to undertake a range of evaluation and social return on investment (SROI) studies, including arts and health programmes in St Helens and Blackpool; a medical heritage programme for school children in Chester; and a community-based fitness scheme delivered across Cheshire.

Alongside leading her own research commissions, Gayle also completed SROI analysis on behalf of an award-winning dementia awareness training programme led by National Museums Liverpool, as an integral member of the ICC’s Crossing Boundaries research team. She continues to work in close collaboration with the PHI and from December 2016, led on a significant study of devolution and health governance in the Liverpool City Region, in collaboration with the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice, University of Liverpool.

At the heart of Gayle’s work are communities themselves. Marmot’s review of health inequalities identified that communities have a key role to play in the reduction of health inequalities. Deprived areas are often characterised by risk factors such as poor housing, poorer air quality, higher crime rates, less green spaces and more traffic. Health inequalities are also borne out of uneven distribution of education, parenting skills, social capital and family and community networks. While reducing inequalities is one of the functions of England’s new public health system which came into force in April 2013, a lot of good, positive work already exists within communities at grassroots level, which Gayle is charting as part of her research.

The process of asset mapping identifies the assets that already exist in communities, such as individuals, their friends and family, and community networks; opportunities for employment, volunteering and life-long learning; and safe and pleasant housing. Resilience within communities is formed through positive and strong networks and connections of people, with motivations to improve their own, and others’ lives and wellbeing. Only by understanding what already exists and how this works well, can commissioners, and the communities themselves, value their assets.

The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 legally requires public bodies to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. Understanding the social value created by public and voluntary services helps to ensure that services are delivering not only value for money, but that the impact of this work is far greater than just the activity or programme being delivered.

There is a growing interest and demand in social value research, including SROI, within arts and cultural sectors and the ICC was keen upon its inception to advance this methodological approach in the cultural value research field. The value of Gayle’s research was acknowledged by LJMU in 2014 via an Early Career Researcher Fellowship award.

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