Mental Health & Wellbeing

Our arts and cultural venues may be closed but that doesn’t mean that the activities we offer have stopped. Quite the opposite. At this difficult time, taking part in arts and culture feels more important than ever.

Reading, drawing, singing or playing music can have a remarkable ability to help us feel happier and healthier. Through expressing our feelings, connecting with others, building new skills or simply just taking our mind of things for a while, being involved in creative activity can have powerful and lasting effects on health and wellbeing

Over the past year, we’ve collated together a selection of creative ideas, stories, videos and workshops from artists and organisations from across the city that focus on the impact of arts on our health and well-being. We hope you enjoy x


If you feel like talking and need a listening ear, there are organisations to help if you aren’t comfortable speaking to those close to you. Samaritans can be reached 24 hours a day every day by calling 116 123, or by email, [email protected].

Childline is available to support children and young people under the age of 19 with anything they’re going through and can be reached by calling 0800 1111 or via confidential email through their website.

Children, young people and adults can also access support for a range of issues by contacting Shout via text to 85258.



  • Blog: Creativity, Mental Health and Wellbeing

    We know that creativity is really useful for thinking through difficult ideas, and can help us to cope and manage during harder times.

    Read the latest blog from two of our team members Katie Mitchell and Posy Jowett, as they share their tips on some of the ways in which you can look after yourself and your loved ones – exploring ideas around navigating the unfamiliar, working through change and uncertainty, and expressing our feelings.

    Read the blog here: https://sunderlandculture.org.uk/about-us/blog/24904/



  • Children's workbook: Exploring arts, health and wellbeing

    It’s fair to say, life is a bit upside-down at the moment. Lockdown, for most of us, means that our normal routines have almost disappeared and we’re not quite sure what ‘normal’ looks like! Maybe you’re feeling bored, fed up or a bit worried? Maybe you’re missing your friends and the people you can’t visit,
    or maybe, you’re actually loving lockdown and don’t want to go back to go back to ‘life before lockdown.’ Whatever your feelings, they are all important and they’re ok. Everyone is experiencing lockdown in different ways and there’s no right or wrong as to how you should feel right now. Some days might be good, some bad, some awful and some brilliant.

    We’ve created a workbook full of creative ways that you can take care of yourself during this time. You can use it as a schools resource or simply at home.

    Download the work book here: Exploring arts, health & wellbeing




  • Hetton Carnival 2019

    One of our four Great Place projects, Unleash, explores how arts and culture can improve health and wellbeing for individuals and communities. For two years, we have delivered a health and wellbeing culture village at the wonderful Hetton Carnival, testing new and innovative ways to engage the community in the Coalfields area of the City.

    From nursing baby vegetables, to hugging hens and swinging on a trapeze, the community have embraced this project and we are now successfully developing a social prescribing programme in the area.

    Watch our short video to hear about the project, as we look back to the Carnival from June 2019!

  • Activity: Blackout Poetry


    Ever fancied trying out some poetry but not sure where to begin?

    Writing can do wonders for our mental health. Watch our short video below for ideas and inspiration from artist Kirsten Luckins in her introduction to ‘blackout poetry’:

  • Activity: Collage Hearts

    Did you know that busy hands can alter the brain’s chemistry and can boost mental health? 

    Today’s ‘give it a go’ challenge, is brought to you by artist Kirsten Luckins. Follow along with our video and try your hand at making a beautiful collage heart! 

  • Usworth Primary School: Why are arts and culture important to you?

    As part of our Uncover programme, Sunderland Culture has been working with Usworth Colliery Primary School, Columbia Grange School and Biddick Adademy, to brings arts and culture opportunities to pupils, staff and families.

    Headteacher at Usworth Colliery Primary, Gary Wright, said: “We prioritise mental wellbeing in our school. Working in partnership with Sunderland Culture has allowed our pupils to learn skills such as resilience, expression, and positive mental attitude – skills that they new now, more than ever.”

    Watch our short video of pupils and staff at Usworth primary school describing why arts and culture are important to them.




  • Celebrate Different

    Last November, Sunderland Culture’s Young Ambassador Team took over Arts Centre Washington for a very special event called Celebrate Different.

    Called the Celebrate Different Collective, Sunderland Culture’s Young Ambassadors are a team of young people aged 13-25 years old from across Sunderland who are united on a mission to get their voices heard and to inspire other young people across Sunderland.

    Having taken part in Helix Art’s Make Art Happen scheme, the Young Ambassadors went on to design, programme and then run the event – focusing on the themes of  body positivity and identity through specially commissioned artworks made by professional artists, performances, music and an exhibition.

    The event was all about learning to be proud of who YOU are as a young person, embracing your differences like super powers and celebrating those differences with other young people.

    Take a look at some of the great images from the night, below!

    This project has been developed thanks to the support of Hays Travel Foundation and Culture Bridge North East Partnership Investment Fund and in partnership with Helix Arts.

  • Mindful Mowbray Colouring Sheets

    Sometimes we all need a bit of time out and mindful colouring is a great way to stay in the moment and forget our worries for a while. Enjoy these colouring sheets and find out some fascinating facts about the statues, sculptures and buildings in Mowbray Park!

    Each one has a reminder of simple ways we can care for each other and nourish our own wellbeing…

    Download your Mindful Mowbray Colouring Sheets

  • Junk mail daisy

    A fun bit of collage is great for keeping your mind occupied and your spirits positive. Watch our short video from artist Kirsten Luckins to make a junk mail daisy. Minimal materials required and a lovely way to use up all that junk mail!


  • Blog: Lucy Garnett
    Washington Mind’s Young People’s Project offer 1-1 counselling and groupwork for 11-25 year olds who live within the City of Sunderland. You can contact them on 01914178043 if you need to talk. Find out about their work at www.washingtonmind.org.uk
  • Arts Council Collection - Health and Wellbeing picks

    As part of our Mental Health & Wellbeing programme, our intern, Rory, has selected three works from the Arts Council Collection which explore health and wellbeing.

    The Arts Council Collection is the most widely circulated national loan collection of modern and contemporary British art. Throughout 2019-2022, Sunderland Culture has been selected to present exhibitions, projects and creative learning opportunities drawn from Arts Council Collection.

    1. Becky Beasley, Hide, 2004, Gloss fibre-based gelatin silver print 

    Becky Beasley (b.1975) is a Hastings-based artist who works in sculpture, installation and photography. Her work explores the human condition often alluding to her own battles with depression. Rather than allowing depression to dictate the way she lives, she uses these experiences to inspire her work and promote the importance of wellbeing. 

    “...mental health difficulties have been my greatest adversary and my greatest strength.” – Becky Beasley  

    The artwork Hide addresses anxiety from a place of understanding and could be said to resemble someone hiding foetal position underneath a tablecloth. The artist channels anxiety and achitecture into a show of creativity over struggle. 

    Image: Becky Beasley, Hide, 2004. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist 


    2. Caroline Achaintre ,Todo Custo, 2015 Hand-tufted wool 

    Todo Custo is a large textile artwork measuring over 3 metres high by London-based artist Caroline Achaintre (b.1969). Achaintre creates work in ‘the uncomfortable middle ground, the in-between’, blurring the boundaries of what we see and what we think we see. 

    This work in particular takes the bare minimum features to create a face, something we as humans are designed to recognise. The piece draws attention to the mistrust created by subjective perception and the way an individual’s viewpoint can seem to distort or recontextualise an image. 

    Image: Caroline AchaintreTodo Custo, 2015. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist 


    3.Charlotte Prodger, BRIDGIT, 2016, Single-channel HD video 

    Understanding yourself is a challenge, but in doing so can lead to greater wellbeing. BRIDGIT is a 32-minute video work composed of a series of short 4 minute clips filmed on an iPhone by Glasgow based artist Charlotte Prodger (b.1974).

    Prodger’s film offers us a personal account of the artist’s life experiences as she seeks to find herself, addressing themes including human connectivity to technology, place and it’s relation to time, and queer and gender identities. Filmed over the course of a year and limited by the short filming capacity of her iphone, Prodger creates a highly engaging and personal dialogue through spoken narrative, shedding light on her own journey 

    Image: Charlotte Prodger, BRIDGIT (film still), 2016. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist  


  • Blog: Frank Styles

    Hi my name is Frank Styles and I am a spray painter/mural artist.

    Where do you live?

    I have lived and worked in Sunderland since 2003. Most of my murals can be found dotted about Sunderland from the East End to Silksworth, North Hylton to Hetton. I do branch out from Sunderland, though as a lot of my work is through word of mouth its been mostly around the North East. With this latest project in London I’m looking forward to doing more things further afield.

    Tell us what creativity means to you:

    Creativity is a very human thing, its what sets us apart from most other animals. How can I improve something? How can I make something more beautiful, more functional? Creativity for me simply does not stop. Even when I am not painting I am cooking, inventing new recipes, trying out new techniques or learning new DIY skills often using reclaimed materials. When painting I am always trying out new techniques and effects in creating imagery, learning new photography or filming techniques, 3D image manipulation etc.

    Tell us about your recent mental health project: 

    Mind (the mental health charity) got in touch a while back when I was commissioned to paint Sunderland’s best ever goal scored by Carlos Edwards. This was a one day commission and it was painted on the side of ALS near the Stadium. It was part of a project featuring 6 different clubs in the EFL and a photo of the work was exhibited in London. I went down and met Carlos himself, a real nice guy who gave his time to come and support the event. Anyway, this put me in touch with Mind and when they had an opportunity to provide the artwork for the Spanish Steps at Wembley, they added me to the list of artists invited to tender for artwork.

    I jumped at the chance as not only is it a great place to showcase my work, try something new (its a vinyl artwork not a painting), it’s also a cause close to my heart as my brother passed away a few years ago. He had suffered with severe mental health issues. So, I wrote out a tender and really did my homework and spelled out my ideas for the artwork. Then, they picked me! So off to London I went.

    Image: Carlos Edwards project

    I had many ideas for the steps but the one that really stuck was using the 1 in 4 statistic, that approx 1 in 4 people have had experience with mental health problems. There are 12 flights of stairs in 4 rows of 3. So my idea was to take portraits of football fans and have 1 in 4 of them viewed at a different perspective, the 3 are best viewed from the adjacent steps.

    Photographing portraits was a new thing for me, I invested in a fold up green screen budget soft box, bought a second hand camera body, borrowed a lens (Thanks Mud!), and set off taking some snaps. I knew what I was looking for as I know how I liked to light a painting subject but actually photographing people and looking like I knew what I was doing was a little nerve racking.

    I listened to a lot of peoples experiences with mental health and would say that more than 1 in 4 of the people I spoke to had something to say on the matter. It’s interesting listening to peoples stories and different methods of copying with it. Some of the best advice to come out was that it’s OK not to be OK and chances are there’re people who are going through something similar to what you are going through and you can find someone to talk to it about and realise that you are not alone.

    I wanted this artwork to be thought provoking but also positive and I just had to get some painting in there so I painted 2 abstracts on wood using acrylic and spray paint, I used these images as backgrounds and had the colours running through the faces.

    How do you maintain good mental health?

    Personally I do suffered with mild depression from time to time. Its nothing like some people go through but sometimes its bad enough to keep from from going out or starting painting. Its like a voice in my head that says “you are not good enough”, “you’re wasting your time” etc. It is very hard to work creatively through these times. I have found that for me, getting exercise really makes a difference. It’s doubly hard to get out there when feeling depressed, that’s the hardest step. BUT after getting home from a 15 mile bike ride or a 10 min dip in the North Sea, the endorphins kick in and really help me to naturally relax.

    A positive phrase that you love:

    This written on a wooden wall hanging at my Grandmas when I was a kid:

    Smile a while, and when you smile, another smiles.
    And life is worthwhile, when you smile!

  • Blog: Susanne Burns

  • Still Looking: How do you get started with modern art?

    Art can sometimes deem daunting, it can often feel hard to understand or appreciate. In our venues, with so many works on display, trying to see everything can also maybe seem overwhelming. Studies have found that visitors to art galleries spend an average of eight seconds looking at each work on display.

    But what happens when we spend five minutes, fifteen minutes, an hour or an afternoon really looking in detail at an artwork? This is ‘slow looking’. It is an approach based on the idea that, if we really want to get to know a work of art, we need to spend time with it.

    Slow looking is not about curators, historians or even artists telling you how you should look at art. It’s about you and the artwork, allowing yourself time to make your own discoveries and form a more personal connection with it.

    Some great resources for slow looking include:

    BBC Arts & Ideas Episode

    Tate – The Art of Slow Looking : a podcast and webpage with discussion about slow looking as well as a wellbeing guide through the Tate’s galleries

    The Slowdown – a podcast with daily episodes of 5min poems, read aloud to slow down the mind.

    The National Gallery

    Slow TV :including everything from 10 hour train rides, to underwater scenes and other great things to help with anxiety by putting on in the background.

    To celebrate our first year as part of the National Partners Programme, we brought together a fantastic group of people from Sunderland to introduce them to the vast and extraordinary Arts Council Collection of modern and contemporary art.

    Our Art Champions have travelled across the country to Yorkshire and London, had exclusive tours around the stores where over 8000 artworks are kept safe, and have been introduced to some of the most exciting modern and contemporary British art in the country. Our Champions found strategies for exploring artworks, for overcoming the pressure to like or understand an artwork, allowing themselves space and time to look and think.

    Listen below to our Art Champions reflecting on their experience of getting started with Modern Art.


  • Sunflower Day: Make your own sunflower

    As part of Sunflower Day 2020, we have a fun activity for you to make your own sunflowers!

    Download the whole activity here: Make your own sunflower 

    Pretty pasta sunflowers:

    What you will need: pasta, yellow and brown paint, green pipe cleaners, glue.

    What to do:
    Start by pouring some pasta onto a paper plate and paint pasta yellow.

    While those dry, dip your finger into brown paint and make a circle for the middle of the sunflower. Once all are dry, glue the pasta around the flower. Add some pipe cleaners for the stem/leaf and you’re done!

    Paper Sunflower Party Banner:

    What you will need: Paper doilies, Brown paper, glue stick, string.

    What to do:

    Paint your doilies yellow and set aside to dry.

    When dried, cut out some brown circles and glue one each to the centre a doily.

    Use string and glue to connect your doily sunflowers to make a pretty party banner


  • The Little Book of Wellbeing Wisdom


    As part of our Mental Health & Wellbeing Month, we’re sharing The Little Book of Wellbeing Wisdom – a fantastic book created in the second of our ‘Who do you want to meet?’ projects which brought together community groups from across Sunderland, to explore a creative project in a style and theme of their choice.

    The Little Book of Wellbeing Wisdom was made by watercolour artists from Grindon Community Church Project and writers from the tea & talk group members from Impact NE ( a mental health charity) in Sunderland.

    Looking at things that helped them look after their own mental health, and with the support of local artist Stephanie Smith and writer James Whitman, they created stories, poems, and paintings and brought them together in this beautiful booklet.

    We hope you enjoy it and find it a useful resource for your own mental health and wellbeing.

    Read the Little Book of Wellbeing Wisdom here: Little Book of Wellbeing Wisdom

  • Film: 50/50 by Amelia Turner
    50/50 by Amelia Turner 

    Lost in her mind, found in her home.

    Though the world is in isolation, it is from the confines of her bed that Turner’s Grandma, Millie,
    fights on… off, on, off, on, off. This constant flick of the switch is also known to their family as
    Cyclothymia; the lesser known strand of bipolar.

    As a Granddaughter, this project has been a way for the photographer to communicate with her
    Grandma. The tradition of a physical diary has transformed into a digital one containing CBT records,
    phone call conversations, video clips and little acts of encouragement to help lift the duvet.

    Projection onto a bed sheet alludes to a place of safety for Millie in her darkest moments.
    Suspension onto a washing line relates to her instability with slight movements of the sheet
    combined with clips fading reflecting the alteration of her mood.

    About Amelia:

    Amelia Turner is a recent graduate from the University of Sunderland having studied ‘Photography, Video and Digital Imaging’. 50/50 is Amelia’s  final University assignment.

    Amelia is a Sunderland Culture volunteer and regularly volunteers with our Creative Age groups. She has also volunteered at Hetton Carnival 2019 and Celebrate Different 2019 and is looking to develop her own practice as a community artist.

    You can also see the final video projected, as the artwork intended, here:


  • Blog: How is creativity shaping Sunderland’s mental health services?

    “Being creative gives us a chance to express our feelings & reflect on them”

    A photograph focusing on a table covered with art materials and refreshments, with the hands of the people sitting around the table doing craft activities

    In our latest blog post, Jenny Carter of Washington Mind’s Young Peoples Project talks about creativity as self-care & how that idea informs her work with young people to shape mental health services in Sunderland.

    Read Jenny’s blog post

  • Blog: How can creativity and community help you to thrive?

    ReseAbstracted, heavily patterned pen and ink drawings of trees laid out on a tablearch has shown that regular creative activity is linked to positive psychological functioning, while engagement with arts and heritage is associated with improved life satisfaction. This can have a number of dimensions, from the stress-reducing meditative quality of creative activities, to the social support derived from being part of a creative group.

    Julia Wysocka of the International Community Organisation of Sunderland (ICOS) shares with us some of the approaches she uses to stimulate her own mindful creativity, and also tells us about the Eastern European Women’s Group whose programme of health and wellbeing activities includes creative workshops.

    Read her blog post