Totally Touchable

Spaghetti Weston (www.spaghettiweston.com)

Title - Evaluation of the Totally Touchable arts intervention project for sight impaired adults.

Aim – to explore the impact on health and wellbeing of a person-centred tactile arts project for sight impaired adults.

Objectives – to investigate the experiences of the participants, specifically the impact of the intervention on individual health and wellbeing; explore how the project raised awareness of sight impairments; to seek the views of facilitators and others involved in the project to ascertain their views and experiences; and to make recommendations as to the continued delivery of such projects in this and similar settings.

Funding sources – Arts Council England, Gravesham Borough Council, Kent County Council.

Timescale and delivery dates – the evaluation took place alongside the project, which incorporated 14 artist-led sessions over an eight week period in September and October 2015.

Location – Gravesend, Kent.

Context and Setting – sessions took place once a week in a community room at the local library.

Description of the arts activity

The Totally Touchable project was authored and delivered by artist Wendy Daws who has specialist experience in working with blind and sight impaired participants, supported by a project coordinator at Gravesham Borough Council and staff and volunteers at Kent Association for the Blind (‘KAB’).  

The artist established the needs, skills and abilities of individual participants by introducing various art making techniques and exploring 2D and 3D art forms in a gentle manner to alleviate any apprehensions.  This informed subsequent art sessions which were tailored to suit individual needs. The final output was predominantly sculptural with additional tactile 2D pictograms and mixed media canvas work, which were created with the intention to invite the viewer to touch the exhibited artwork.  

Participants were fully engaged in the project for the duration of the sessions, as well as in activities related to the three week exhibition of their work at a public gallery following the end of the project.

Details of the project participants

The target population for the project was adults with sight impairments.  Participants were recruited to the evaluation study through their involvement in the Totally Touchable project.  Participants were originally referred to the project via the KAB.

Project management

Sharon Manship (CCCU) was responsible for the conduct of the evaluation, including obtaining ethical clearance, devising data collection tools, conducting research fieldwork, and writing up the final evaluation report.  Professor Eleni Hatzidimitriadou (CCCU) oversaw the work of the evaluation and provided guidance and expertise where necessary.

Wendy Daws (freelance artist) designed, delivered and managed the arts intervention, was responsible for quality assurance and organised the post-project exhibition.   Wendy was supported by Lyndsey Thompson (Arts & Heritage Officer, Communities, Gravesham Borough Council).  The KAB provided additional support as well as staff to attend sessions as and when necessary.

Participants contributed £5 each per week to attend the Totally Touchable sessions.  Funds were used to feed back into the project, pay for refreshments and contribute towards material costs.  

The proposal for the evaluation of the project was submitted under the Canterbury Christ Church University protocol for proportionate ethical review and fully complied with the University's research governance requirements.  An information sheet was prepared for participants about the evaluation and methods to enable them the opportunity to consider their involvement and ask questions before providing their written consent, which included giving permission to digitally record the interviews.  All quotations from written comments on the questionnaires and comments made during interviews were anonymised in the final evaluation report.

Evaluation methods and findings

Questionnaires incorporating the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (‘WEMWBS’) were administered to participants at three time points during the project – beginning, mid-point and end.  Total scores were collated and statistically analysed.  Interviews were also conducted with participants, facilitators and volunteers involved to elicit key themes regarding their experiences of the project in terms of its impact on health and wellbeing.

Findings from the evaluation indicate that WEMWBS (wellbeing) scores of participants increased during the life of the programme, and that clear psychological and social benefits were experienced, including social bonding, broadening horizons, enhanced mental health, increased empowerment and confidence, and raised awareness of individuals with sight impairments.

Recommendations made included the development and dissemination of a toolkit to assist those introducing similar interventions and exhibitions to ensure accessibility for sight impaired people and guidance on attracting and inspiring people to take part in arts activities; ensuring the venues for such projects are fit for purpose and that sessions are of an appropriate length; ensuring that the level of staffing/resources is adequate, to include support for the artist facilitator including practical assistance and potentially an additional practitioner to support both the group members and facilitator.  In addition, further research and evaluation is required in the area of the impact on the facilitator as well as on participants, and encouragement of commissioners is required to consider supporting arts for health projects for people who are sight impaired, and these projects should be longer-term, delivered to a wider population and incorporate comprehensive evaluations.

Final report: Manship, S. and Hatzidimitriadou, E. (2015) Evaluation of the Totally Touchable arts intervention project for sight impaired adults. Canterbury: Canterbury Christ Church University. ISBN: 978-1-909067-55-4

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England