What an irony it is that at a time when we are turning to nature more and more to boost wellbeing, nature’s own predicament is itself contributing to many people’s anxiety and depression. It’s an irony which mirrors this year’s World Environment Day theme.

World Environment Day falls on 5 June each year, run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to build awareness and spur action. And the theme this year, Generation Restoration, is a striking one. It encourages us all to “get active, not anxious”, to remember that while there are many environmental threats, there are also many practical ways we can respond, from planting a tree to letting a patch of garden go wild.

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These last few years have seen far wider awareness of pollution, species loss and urbanisation. Climate emergency has become a buzzword. With this awareness comes reaction: fear, uncertainty, sadness and even despair.

Experiencing nature has such power to improve mood and to calm us. But for some people now, simple enjoyment of nature is overshadowed by feelings of doom. If absence and scarcity are what we notice most in nature, then the positive impacts can be lost. This can be particularly true for older people, who remember a time when places were different, when there were more insects, more birds. Even where nature still seems abundant, people might feel its time is running out.

Eco grief, as it is called, may have different triggers. For some, these will be images or news of melting ice sheets, of floods and droughts aross the globe. For others, these will be closer to home, maybe seeing local open space built on or a stream polluted.

Some people liken eco grief to a form of bereavement. They cite the different stages bereavement can follow, maybe from disbelief to anger, fear and some form of acceptance. But it is too early here for acceptance. To some degree nature’s future is still in the balance. There remains a window of opportunity to make a difference, to slow or halt decline, to turn the tide. That can make it all the more distressing for people to see time drifting by and that opportunity squandered.

Maybe it is this which has inspired World Environment Day 2021’s theme, with its focus on getting “active not anxious”. It seems like a call to do what we can even while the scale of need overwhelms us. It seems like a call to harness our anxiety or sadness for action, to draw on these feelings themselves to encourage us to act.

Supppressing or denying feelings of fear or depression can erode mwental wellbeing and only defer the time when those feelings will come to a head – although everyone’s experience is different. So recognizing that there’s still a place for action could be helpful. And while the theme Generation Restoration might seem to highlight the role of the next generation, of younger people, restoring nature depends on all of us.

Maybe, as we find even small and simple ways to try to restore nature, we will feel nature’s power to restore us in turn renewed all the more.

Do you have reactions or ideas you might like to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Strike A Chord

Different music genres’ own unique contributions to wellbeing have been the focus of recent Medley blog posts on music, from musicals to folk to ballet – and I hope to return to this theme to explore other genres. But this time I want to look at music for wellbeing from another angle, by concentrating on a particular situation where music can make a proven difference.

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28th May is Stroke Awareness Day, an opportunity to act and to share but also an opportunity to reflect how arts and creativity can have a positive impact on people following a stroke. I want particularly here to focus on music and singing, which are widely known to help. They’re even highlighted by a Stroke Association fundraising campaign at the moment featuring soprano Laura Wright, who says how she has seen music help stroke survivors. The Stroke Association is drawing attention to the way research funds hav edeclined during the pandemic, limiting their progress.

Music and singing can be specific tools for use in stroke rehabilitation, or they can simply be a haven for people to enjoy themselves as they adjust to life following a stroke. A lot will depend on the severity of the stroke, the pace of the person’s recovery, and aso what opportunities they come across to try music therapy.

The Stroke Association is one of many organisations which demonstrate the power of music. The American Stroke Association says that music therapy can improve movement, balance and memory as well as speech. It is these wider impacts which have been more unexpected. Scientists have long seen clear links betweem speech, language and music, which all involve one part of the brain. Impacts on motor functioning and movement have only come to light more recently. For example, a report in Neurology Times in 2018 quoted studies of music’s impact on motor recovery, such as a 2016 review of research entitled “Improvement in Stroke-Induced Motor Dysfunction By Music-Supported Therapy”. All this underlines the importance of music.

Research focuses more on specific music therapy, but many people recovering from a stroke find other experiences of music and singing helpful as well. Choirs and other singing groups set up and run for, with or by stroke survivors may or may not involve actual music therapy, but have a very positive impact, particularly on people whose strokes have left them with aphasia (speech issues).

Singing can simply be liberating. It may free people to respond as they are drawn in by the music instead of focusing on the difficulties of forming words. Also, as vocabulary can be an issue in aphasia, singing may be easier than talking as you sing the lyrics rather than having to find your own words. Moreover, some people lose confidence or become more isolated following a stroke, particularly if they are not able to work or to continue with hobbies they previously enjoyed. Communication issues like aphasia only add to this, as it can seem easier just to be alone. This is where choirs and other music groups can come into play and open life up again in a new way.

In raising awareness of stroke, then, it’s really important to be aware of the causes, yes, and treatments – but also of the great and growing need for stroke survivors to have opportunities to share music and song.

Common Ground

Hearing the theme of Creativity And Wellbeing Week 2021 reminded me of the striking Banksy artwork which was first seen in Southampton last year. It shows a boy casting aside his superhero dolls for a doll dressed as a nurse: the true superheroes of the pandemic. Creativity recognizing the importance of care. So what then is the Creativity And Wellbeing Week this year, running from 17-23 May? Care: Care For Each Other, Care For The Environment and Caring Economies. Still so timely as vaccines and variants dominate the news and as we emerge from more than a year of lockdowns and adjust to the new and to the familiar.

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And creativity has obviously gone on being a way to Care For Each Other (the first thread of the CWW theme) throughout the pandemic, just as it was before. Sharing songs and music, dance, arts and crafts remotely has connected many people so they have felt less alone. All the different ways we use creativity to care for each other are as diverse as the art forms themselves. By their very nature and name, the performing arts look outwards to other people, although they also impact on the performers’ own wellbeing. But all creativity can feed and become care for others. I’ve come to see arts and crafts more and more as common ground connecting people in positive ways, as well as a tool for self-expression. As we respond to others’ creativity in any art form, and as we share our own, we connect with someone else, maybe only fleetingly, maybe in a more lasting way.

Then there’s Care For The Environment. Climate emergency and biodiversity loss leave a lot of people feeling powerless, but creativity is a new focus. It becomes an opportunity to rekindle out imaginations, to think differently and to tell new stories. It can also be a tool for sharing environmental awareness with others. Organisations like the charity Julie’s Bicycle and its Season For Change creativity and climate initiative are acting on all this. Extinction Rebellion has its own art group. Nature has inspired so much creativity through the ages that it is no wonder that people respond creatively now as they see nature threatened. Creativity will not solve these issues, but it is a way to respond and to draw attention. And the more people connect with nature through creativity, the more they will care what becomes of nature.

And the third thread of Creativity And Wellbeing week’s theme is Caring Economies: an opportunity to remember all the people employed within the health, social care and not-for-profit sectors whose jobs focus on sharing arts for health and wellbeing. It’s also about the huge part played by volunteers and people who simply share creativity informally in community groups or with their neighbours. It sets me wondering how the immense scope for arts in health and wellbeing could be more fully realized through the long-delayed review of social care. It also sets me wondering what part arts in health could play in possible future economic trends, away from infinite growth and the focus on GDP, towards more sustainable, steady-state models. These models tend to reprioritise care – not only the formal care sector but also informal care roles within the home – and could open up new opportunities and freedoms.

Do you have reactions or ideas you might like to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Free To Connect

By opening people’s eyes to nature and the great outdoors, lockdown’s new perspective throws up questions about how and why people respond to nature so strongly and why it can have such a positive impact on our mental health. So it is no wonder that the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) is Connect With Nature.

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For there’s more to people’s new motivation to spend time outdoors than simply exercising or escaping their own four walls for a while. Nature is known to calm us, to reduce stress hormones and to slow heart rates. Nature moves at such a different pace, following a set cycle, patterns of growth, gradual change as the year moves on. So it can calm us by slowing us down, as a counterbalance to the pressured pace of life, and can instil in us patience and new priorities.

Mental Health Awareness Week is run each year by the Mental Health Foundation, and this year the Foundation has two goals for its Nature theme. One is promoting new ways of connecting with nature. The other? Lobbying politicians and other authorities to consider access to nature not just an environmental issue but also an issue of mental health and social justice.

This set me thinking about access. In the UK we’ve come a long way from the mass trespasses of the 1930s, held by citydwellers opposed to landowners’ refusal to allow access to their moors. Their actions led to an opening up of the countryside and the creation of far more footpaths and bridleways. But other, more insidious barriers have emerged. Urbanisation is one, as urban sprawl creeps on, sometimes even over greenbelt. Then there’s crime, with many urban green spaces in particular unsafe. With little public transport in rural areas, getting to the countryside is difficult for non-drivers. Accessing nature can be impossible for disabled people. Age also limits people’s freedom to experience nature for themselves. Not all care homes have accessible gardens, but even in those which do many residents rarely or never go outside, particularly those who have dementia.

One solution is for people to enjoy nature virtually. The Mental Health Foundation found that webcam live streams of wildlife and wild places proved very popular during lockdowns. I’ve just heard that Swansea Botanic Garden has started running virtual walks. And technology could be a way to engage more younger people with nature to improve their mental health too.

So the virtual has a great part to play, but experiencing nature directly is irreplaceable. The surge of enthusiasm for nature must partly be a reaction to the virtual, to all the time people have to spend online. At some point nature needs to become real and actual, even if only in simple encounters people might overlook: growing indoor houseplants or watching a spider’s web. And don’t forget the sky. Light pollution deprives many people of a clear sight of the night sky, but in daytime watching the sky as clouds form and move across is a simple but striking way to experience nature, and one which is possible for most people.

Maybe you would like to share nature’s impact on your mental health, or how you think barriers to access might be overcome, in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

Eyes And Ears

While Medley highlights how art, music and nature can improve wellbeing for anyone and everyone, I also want to focus on specific ways they can help people in particular circumstances, like hearing loss. We’re now in the middle of Deaf Awareness Week (4-9 May), which is run every year across all different organisations involved with hearing loss. While these organisations all mark the Week in different ways, there’s always a common theme, which this year is Coming Through It Together: recognising how people have pulled together throughout this last year. So the Week seemed an opportunity to explore how art in particular can help people living with hearing loss, either lifelong or acquired.

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Art’s visual focus can level the playing field for people with hearing loss, so that when they stand at an easel or experiment with printing, their hearing isues become irrelevant: which must be truly liberating.

Art could become another language for people with hearing loss who might struggle to communicate or depend on sign language or Makaton. In paint, clay and pencil, people can all express themselves with no need for speech or hearing. People might turn to art as a tool to express their experience of hearing loss or their emotional response to it: to rage, to lament, or to celebrate. Or they might simply enjoy art as anyone would, maybe to calm down and relax, to clear their minds, to play around with colour and line.

Art’s impact could depend on age as well. Children with hearing loss have been found to benefit particularly from sensory activities to develop and draw out their other senses. Many people with acquired hearing loss will be older, and might find art reconnects them with other people and eases isolation. Of course, hearing loss can isolate people of any age, as easy everyday interaction can seem impossible and people can become withdrawn. Art can be one way for people to share common ground with others.

Living with hearing loss may even strengthen some people’s creative flair, as their focus on the visual will be more absolute.

Another way art can help is by raising awareness and as an opportunity to share experiences of being deaf. US-based artist Priscila Soares ( is someone who uses her art to do just that. She herself has lived with hearing loss since her teens and now also has a son with a different form of hearing loss. Her artwork is bold, striking and varied. Not only has she painted a series of portraits called Stories Of Hearing Loss Through Painting, but she has also illustrated two children’s books about hearing loss, and produces sculptures, puppets and comics. I particularly like her paintings of musicians wearing hearing aids.Being positive about living with hearing loss is one of Priscila’s goals for her art.

Creativity could also be a way for people who have hearing loss to respond to nature, with all its own proven impacts on wellbeing. People might be unable to hear outdoor sounds, but time spent in nature is known to be a beneficial sensory experience for hearing and non-hearing people alike, and art can make all of us more observant.

It would be great if you would like to share your own or others’ experiences of art and hearing loss on Medley’s Facebook group, Thank you!

Crafting Away

Fuelled by the times we live in, craft is booming. With Covid-19 lockdowns, many have turned to craft to occupy themselves or to make scrubs and masks. And as awareness grows of the climate emergency, people are reducing, reusing and recycling more, and upcycling as well. TV programmes like Sewing Bee and The Repair Shop tap into, and bolster, these trends. So how might craft – as distinct from art – improve wellbeing?

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Craft can help people in myriad ways. As with art, it concentrates the mind: if people are absorbed by sewing, measuring or cutting, craft may allow them time away from dwelling on the darker side of life. Craft can also create a feeling of independence and capability, which boosts confidence. And time spent making or sewing is probably time spent with colourful fabrics or patterns, with beautiful objects which themselves could lift the spirits. Craft is literally constructive and positive.

So how is crafting most beneficial? Is it the creating or the creation which helps? Is it the modelling, the sewing, the time actually spent making? Or are the end products the main reward, seeing and using what you make? It will depend on the craft and on the individual maker. With so many different crafts, it seems impossible to compare their impacts. It seems too simplistic to say that knitting is calming or wood-carving is expressive.

Making from new might have a different impact from upcycling. If people feel depressed or overwhelmed by pollution and planetary decline, then upcycling could become a positive way to regain some control and to reduce their carbon footprint ( as well as easing any money worries). Many crafts build patience or improve concentration. Crafting might be a way to get to know other people and share common ground, easing loneliness. Crafts have become important in many care homes, where residents enjoy participating in crafts they find practicable – as illness and older age do limit creativity if people lose the dexterity they migh tneed or if their eyesight deteriorates. The sheer range and diversity of crafts helps immensely, as peop;le can all respond or take part in different ways. And craft is a multi-sensory experience, which is known to boost wellbeing on different levels. Just think of the different materials you might use: clay, wood, glass, felt, silk, ribbon, wool, paper…People who have autism respond positively to multi-sensory stimulus like this, and it’s also helpful for people with sight or hearing loss, by opening up other senses.

Every craft’s impact differes then, depends on the individual taking part: and this is why it is so difficult to assess and monitor their use in wellbeing. Countless people have stories to share of how they find craft helpful, but funders and practitioners need metrics too. Slowly, cncrete research is growing. What Works Wellbeing’s 2018 evidence review on Visual Arts And Mental Health was the first review of its kind, and covered crafts as well as fine art. It cited evidence, for example, that modelling could help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and presented case studies like a design studio working with people referred there by mental health practitioners over three years at a time.

So craft can be a way people find to calm themselves or to feel more positive, or can actually become part of wellbeing interventions led by others. Lockdown may come to an end, but crafting only looks set to go on growing. It would be great if you would like to share how craft helps you or other people you know in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

And talking about art and craft, would you like to take part in an art for wellbeing project – on a plants theme – from home this May? Each week I will email activity ideas to participants: different ways of painting, drawing or crafting plants, with step-by-step instructions and examples. There will also be ideas of music to listen to and ways to enjoy plants in nature. The project will be flexible and informal, no experience needed. Please book using Eventbrite by going to Thank you!

A Step In Time

Ballet might seem to be more about movement than music, but music is clearly integral to ballet’s impact: so it’s the latest music genre I’m exploring in my occasional series on why different styles of music might boost wellbeing in different ways.

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One genre I recently focused a blog post on was musicals, songs from the shows. Ballet might strike you as very different from musicals, but there is common ground. Like musicals, ballet is a multi-faceted art form. So, woven in with the music there’s a story to follow, a narrative, as well as a strong visual element (sets, lighting and costumes). Obviously ballet has a primary focus on movement, a further stimulus. Not only is it inspiring watching dancers’ sheer athleticism, even acrobatics, but seeing how music and movement work together draws out a specific response to the score. It highlights the music’s particular moods through performance.

But the music can also stand alone. Famous ballet scores like Sleeping Beauty and Coppelia have become familiar to many of us who have never seen those ballets performed onstage.

Ballet seems enchanting and other-worldly. Many ballets draw on fantasy to create an imaginary drama: so they can prove a refuge and an escape from the everyday. Ballet music also covers so many different moods and emotions. Traditional, classical ballet may have more impact on some people, while others might respond more to recent or experimental ballets.

Two years ago two important institutions began to collaborate on a dance project. One was King’s College London, a major university, the other was English National Ballet, one of the UK’s foremost dance companies. Their focus was how ballet could boost wellbeing for people who have Parkinson’s Disease. The project combined live ballet music with dance, rhythm and voice. And this is far from the only initiative looking at dance’s impacts on Parkinson’s: research at the University of Hertfordshire for one has highlighted how dance can build people’s physical confidence as well as their mood, making them feel more positive as they live with Parkinson’s.

There’s also evidence that ballet can even have a beneficial impact in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. A 2019 research study stated that dancing regularly could reduce risk by over 75%. Key to this impact is thought to be the way dance provides mental as well as physical stimulus and exertion, as a mental workout is known to be helpful in preventing dementia.

Many people find that dancing boosts their mood, while dance specifically for wellbeing or therapy grows and grows, mainly for mental health and self-expression. Ballet is only one of many dance forms used for this – and dance does not have to be limited by mobility or fitness issues either. I recently heard about seated rock ‘n’ roll dance sessions taking place in some care homes. Dance’s strong communal element can also contribute to its impact on wellbeing by drawing people together, even if that has to be online for now.

All in all, maybe ballet reveals how movement added to music enhances music’s power: and how music added to movement enhances movement’s power as well. Have you found this to be true? It would be great if you would like to share how you respond to ballet music in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

Nature’s Remedy

At last spring is here, and as I’ve just heard that April is National Stress Awareness Month, this seems an opportunity to highlight how nature can ease the stresses which have become so common in everyday life. No, nature won’t remove these stresses, but it might help rein them in or create a sense of proportion, and become a space for us to let off steam.

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Nature eases stress most of all, I think, by freeing us from ourselves and by opening a door to a different perspective, to a different experience of what it is to live. Overthinking can be our downfall when it comes to stress, particularly overthinking the future. While we can’t enter into a bird or a dragonfly’s mind, as far as we can tell they live in the moment more than we do. So maybe as we spend time in nature, we overthink less. Maybe we too live more in the moment, as we focus on the here and now. It might last only as long as we connect with nature, but that alone can be a counterbalance, limiting stress’s power to overshadow all we think and do.

Different encounters with nature might help different people. Maybe the elemental liberates some people most – seeing an immense sky or sea. Maybe others respond more to the specific: to a known local tree, to birdsong, to watching marching ants or a spider’s web. Or it might just depend where we are and what nature we can experience. As wilderness shrinks in so many places and parts of the world, there’s less “otherness” to counterbalance our own perspective, there are fewer havens for us.

When I go for my regular walks I have mainly just spent time online, and I find walking then s helpful in clearing my mind. Some days, when my mind is whirling with what I need to do, getting outside slowly sets it all in perspective as the screen’s importance recedes. Of the three areas Medley focuses on, music boosts my mood, art absorbs and energises me, but I think on balance it is nature which calms me most.

Nature too is in an endless battle to survive. It has to feed, it needs space and shelter, it needs to be alert to threats from predators. But from our perspective, nature seems simpler. So many of the causes of our stress just don’t exist in nature. So it is that connecting with nature is an opportunity to forget, and to recharge. That might be by focusing on the local and familiar, on a species like the house sparrow which spends its life within just one kilometre. Or it might be by opening our eyes to the wider world, to species like migratory birds which cross the globe every year. It might be through walking or cycling, or it might be virtually, encountering nature through podcasts or slow radio, like the BBC’s new Soundscapes for Wellbeing on BBC Sounds. I also recently heard about the Virtual Nature Experiment, which is exploring the impact these virtual encounters have on wellbeing by asking questions about how you respond to different video clips. You might like to take part at

It would be great if you would like to share how nature helps reduce stress for you in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

Creativity And Autism

To mark World Autism Awareness Day on 2nd April, I’m focusing this blog post on how and why art – and music and nature too – can help people who have autism. World Autism Day was founded by the UN and is held every year on 2nd April, as an opportunity to rais eawareness of autism and its impacts – so it also seems an opportunity to explore the part creativity can play here, in boosting wellbeing.

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At the moment, particular research priorities for autism are mental health, communication and anxiety issues, specifically in adults (as although autism is lifelong, much autism research focuses on children). Creativity and nature connection are in a strong position to contribute to these priorities. Enabling people to express themselves is integral to so much art, music and nature for wellbeing and this could liberate people with autism who find communicating with others difficult. By fostering new ways of thinking, experimenting with art or improvising music could help people who have autism, who may commonly think in a more logical and literal way than many people. And drawing, painting, crafting, music and nature connection can all be calming, easing anxiety.

Art, music and nature are flexible too. People can be free to enjoy them alone, but they can also create common ground to draw people together, which may be useful if interacting with others is a struggle for people with autism.

I’ve recently learned about the charity Aspens’ work with children, young people and adults. Art is one focus of their work, and World Autism Awareness Day is seeing them run a My AuSome Art competition, as well as sharing videos on how art helps the young people involved. On 2nd April their Instagram feed will showcase the young people’s artwork. It really sounds as if art and creativity make an immense difference to these young people, during lockdown more than ever.

It was also great to learn that Aspens is linking art and creativity up with nature and sensory spaces too. As you may know, Medley is committed to connecting different art forms (like music and art) and nature. Their benefits feed off each other. That’s why Medley’s regular Creative Ideas cover all three areas, and why my recent art for wellbeing project has featured music & nature ideas as well.

I believe that a multi-sensory experience is likely to have a greater impact on most people. Art can have many benefits on its own, yes, but when music and art are brought in too, there’s a wider perspective and different stimulus. This may be all the more important for people living with autism. I have heard that young people living with autism in particular respond more to multi-sensory ideas, maybe art therapy outdoors with a musical element as well.

Back in December my blog post Through New Eyes highlighted the work of abstract artist Mahlia Amatina, who has Asperger’s syndrome (an autism variant) Mahlia is now marking World Autism Awareness Day and Month by creating a new artwork each day in April, and I’ll be following that journey.

If you have any thoughts, experiences or reactions on creativity, nature and autism, it would be great if you would like to share them in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you!

One Year On

Last Tuesday’s national Day Of Reflection set me thinking again about this last crazy year and how I for one have seen positives emerge in amidst all the darkness. Positives like people turning to nature, to music and to creativity in their droves, painting, drawing and crafting.

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Sometimes this has helped distract us, liberated us from over-thinking, to look instead at colour and line and no more than that. I’ve written before how art makes me more observant, as I focus more closely on what I see, while on a walk maybe: on shape & form, light, shade and colour. Maybe as people become absorbed by artwork and creativity, there’s less space for the darkness. And lately I’ve found that using different colours while painting has lifted my mood, literally brightening what might have been gloomy winter days.

Music too has helped many people through lockdown. Particular musical styles have stood out. Feel-good songs and anthems have become the most streamed, while classical music has gained new listeners. The impossibility of most live group music-making or singing has only highlighted how important gathering to sing in choirs or other groups is to many people’s mood and wellbeing.

Someone I know was writing about seeing the last year go by in her garden: as spring bulbs gave way to roses, to dahlias, eventually to bare trees – and now the bulbs flower again, and still we are in lockdown. I’ve thought this on my walks, as still, regardless, nature has gone on growing. Still the birds fly, still the cycle of the year moves on as if there were no pandemic, and that can make nature a refuge and a haven. As lockdown is eased and some people may struggle to adjust to freedoms restored amidst the continuing threat of Covid-19, that haven could be more important than ever.

It is absolutely true that there are many times when neither art nor music nor nature help. I know that it can be impossible to focus or concentrate. Art might seem impractical, music too emotional, nature too elemental when it is contact with other people, crowds, events that you miss. But there are many times when they do.

With so many virtual gallery tours, Zoom art classes or choirs and online music performances, lockdown’s move online has only accelerated the issue of digital exclusion. Significant percentages of older people and of lower-income households do not have broadband, and for them many doors have closed altogether. The loss of face-to-face gatherings and support groups has been all the more severe for these people, who are left with few or no alternatives. This is an issue where “levelling up” is hugely needed.

Maybe at a time when our opportunities to explore different places or to take part in different events are limited, we’ve become more open to the stimuli we do encounter. Maybe we’ve learned not only to look but to see, not only to hear but to listen. Art alone is so diverse and so rich in styles and media that it opens up new ways of seeing. It enhances the everyday, as do music and nature. And they will go on as lockdown recedes: and maybe evolve in new ways?