Bishop of Chichester on how the arts contribute to the wellbeing of society


On December 19th 2018 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Moynihan, “That this House takes note of how sport, recreation, and the arts contribute to wellbeing of society.” The Bishop of Chichester, Rt Revd Martin Warner, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for introducing the debate and for his magnificent speech, which covered so many areas which indicate how transformative sport can be—in ways that I think the arts can mirror.

This Christmas very large numbers will attend carol services in churches across the country. Church of England statistics for 2017 indicate that nearly 8 million people attended a Christmas service of some kind, drawn by a combination of music, architectural environment and the drama of liturgy—a topical example of the arts and social well-being in the bringing together of practising Christians and others who find that this celebration of Christmas breaches barriers and creates community and a deep sense of belonging and well-being. Of course, this experience is not only for those who are privileged but happens in our churches that serve the outer estates and areas of deprivation in our nation.

Our cathedrals, Anglican and Roman Catholic alike, invariably maintain professional or semi-professional choirs. In order to do so, many of them offer choristers a free education from eight to 13. It would be a mistake to think that all successful choristers started life with social advantages. I owe my education and vocation to gaining a choral scholarship at a time when my mother was a struggling single parent. Many former choristers who are professional musicians and leaders in sport, drama and other important parts of national life today could tell a similar story.

The experience of music and training in that area is not the only way in which abilities can be unlocked. I recently met a senior academic who had struggled at school at a time when dyslexia was not recognised. It seemed that her intellect was not going to be developed—until she discovered a fascination with and love of art. That led her to study Chinese because of the different way in which the language is presented, through characters. As a result, her gifts were unlocked and she became an internationally recognised scholar.

The significance of the arts is evident in a number of ways, for all of them, as with early musical training, have something immersive that releases these gifts. The experience of endlessly rehearsing and performing, while constantly developing skills, is a vital factor in the functioning of the arts and sports. When we in this country sponsor major events of national celebration, such as the Queen’s jubilee or a royal wedding, we rightly believe that we have at our disposal a kaleidoscope of performance skills that are world class. Those skills make great events because they are practised week in, week out. In this respect, music and the arts are so similar to sport and our remarkable achievements in the Olympics. International achievement is based on largely hidden but routine commitment. Let us not forget that this commitment so often depends on funding and on massive levels of encouragement, which are increasingly important in securing the social mobility that will enable gifted children to develop their gifts.

My second and final point is about the recuperative quality of the arts, which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, also touched on powerfully. The remarkable arts charity Outside In was established in 2006 at Pallant House ​Gallery in Chichester. It supports artists facing significant barriers to the arts world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation. It has worked with over 5,000 artists—half that number are now on its website—and sponsors live exhibitions. Artist support days, one of its primary activities, are held throughout the United Kingdom in locations of low arts engagement and social deprivation. Its open art exhibition, started in 2006, is now an international event from which award winners have gone on to develop a career in art. One artist whose work was exhibited by Outside In said of that opportunity, “If my life hadn’t changed at the point it did, I would have been found dead”. The astonishing achievements of Outside In demonstrate the social value of investment in the use of gifts that enrich us materially, emotionally and spiritually. They are for life, not just for Christmas.

Our future political uncertainty is already causing significant reputational and economic damage to our arts and their place internationally. Our creative industries, sport and tourism also suffer. Can the Minister give any commitment or indication from government that will help make a difference to that damage?


Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)...The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester was right to highlight the importance to communities of choirs, the benefits of choral scholarships, focusing on all backgrounds, and the uplifting of the soul through great music, including carols. In this context, my noble friend the Earl of Arran used the phrase “wings of a dove”, which was really quite poetic. As the right reverend Prelate said, the skills engendered fuel the production of many of our great events, including royal weddings…

…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester asked a wide-ranging question on the EU, and whether we could give a commitment, and an indication, on how the Government will repair our reputational and economic damage from the current political uncertainty. That is a big question. I will answer it by saying that the Government recognise the importance of cultural collaboration, and the UK wants to build on our long history of working with the EU to continue to produce and promote excellent culture. That is why, in the July White Paper, the Government proposed a wide-reaching agreement on culture and education with the EU that is broader and more collaborative than anything the EU has agreed before.

The political declaration and agreement with the EU on the terms of our future relationships delivers on this proposal. The proposed agreement on culture and education covers a number of key areas of mutual benefit. I would like to mention the work undertaken by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, co-chaired, as he said himself, by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, to whom I pay tribute for bringing together expert voices from across both sectors, not only to recognise the great work going on across the country but to continue to shape the direction of arts and health going forward. I was interested to hear his remarks about the benefit of painting linked to mental health. I reflect on Winston Churchill’s experience; he was known to suffer from what he called the “black dog”, and painting was clearly a cathartic hobby for him.

%d bloggers like this: