The Catalyst programme – A midpoint review. October 2023

The Catalyst Programme. An executive summary

October 2023 sees us reach mid-point in the delivery phase of the Catalyst, a two year arts and creativity based intervention, designed to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people in East Sussex. Being halfway through our journey, programme leads, stakeholders and partners, thought this to be an opportune moment to take stock and review the activity of the past year, recognise the achievements and progress made so far, identify best practice, and use the lessons learned to revise and improve on programme delivery.

The Catalyst programme stands as a passionate advocate for the use of creativity as a pathway to better health and wellbeing. Through the establishment of a vibrant creative community, the provision of a series of diverse and interactive creative workshops, and a system of professional and pastoral one-to-one mentoring and support, the project aims to increase young people’s personal optimism, self-confidence, and self-esteem, reduce loneliness and isolation, and contribute to the building of employment skills and increase career pathways.

The Catalyst has so far delivered ten professionally led creative workshops to over sixty young people. Participants have experienced dance, drama and performance workshops led by professional companies such as the world celebrated STOMP, and London based theatre company Dragon Drama.  Young people have also worked with leading artists such as Brighton based ‘Pinky Vision’, to produce individual graffiti art, and collaborated with visual artists and filmmakers to produce their own photography pieces, and a short film called ‘The Choice’.

The programme’s pastoral and careers mentoring strand has so far assisted fifteen young people, responding to needs ranging from help and support around emotional wellbeing and sex and relationships, to career advice and educational options. Mentoring outcomes have been extremely positive, and can be evidenced through increased levels of confidence and participation, the development of creative abilities and practical and transferable skills, and improved behaviour.

The programme has so far held two evaluation panels using the Most Significant Change (MSC) technique. Often referred to as ‘monitoring without indicators’, MSC allows for the identification of change through the analysis of participants ‘stories’, which relate their experiences of the programme in their own words. Through story analysis, panel members have identified evidence of participants increased feelings or sense of personal self-efficacy, increased levels of self-confidence and personal positivity, powerful and impactful change and increased levels of knowledge and personal growth.

Four project areas have been identified as requiring change, revision, or adaptation. The Mentoring processes and remit will be revised, particularly to allow for greater involvement by parents and guardians, with the hope of building stronger and deeper relationships to bolster the support of young people. Evaluation methods will be overhauled to enhance data capture and to enrich the data we collect. Collaborative working between programme leads and delivery partners will be increased, and a review of the workshop structures will be carried out to improve Engagement and Participation. Finally,  there will be a widening of stakeholder engagement with both internal and external stakeholders, to facilitate the exploration of options for programme sustainability in the future.

Teresa Salami-Oru FFPH RN

Consultant in Public Health – Recovery & Renewal 

Public Health, East Sussex County Council.

The role of arts and creativity in health

Creativity has long been associated with better health and wellbeing. In the ancient world, many societies believed that the connection between individual expression through dance, music, and the written word, brought greater harmony between the individual and their environment, and consequently better health and wellbeing. Today, we know that those who actively participate in the arts are more likely to live longer, experience lower levels of loneliness and isolation, and have a slower decline in cognition as they age. Over the last twenty years, increased interest in the way creative engagement improves health, combined with greater levels of research into the arts and creativity as a public health resource has increased our understanding of the role the arts paly in reducing health inequalities and promoting better health outcomes. Arts based interventions help develop better social cohesion and reduce social inequality, promotes better child development, and encourages health promoting behaviours. It also helps support recovery for those suffering from mental illness, supports care for people with acute conditions and neurological disorders, helps in the treatment of noncommunicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and supports end-of-life care. Creativity can also be used as a tool for empowerment; providing us with a greater sense of resilience or control by giving us access to different emotions, which in-turn allow us to face problems or issues, or to give us respite from them. Creative health compliments the biomedical approach, allowing for a broader, holistic treatment, helps to keep us well, aids recovery, and assists in the management of long-term conditions for a better quality of life.

Creative Health Interventions. How we measure what we do

Public Health Outcomes Framework. Indicators relating to Creative Health

The Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF) is a national programme that supports and outlines the government’s public health ambitions to improve and protect the nation's health, and to improve the health of the poorest fastest. It has two overarching goals; to increase healthy life expectancy, and to reduce the differences in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between communities.

The PHOF measures this through a series of specific indicators which are grouped into four overarching domains covering the wider determinants of health, health, health protection and Healthcare and Premature Mortality. A series of twelve Creative Health Indicators have been identified within the PHOF to help us measure our progress and performance. The twelve indicators detailed in the table above show how well East Sussex is doing, benchmarked against the England average. You can find out more about the Public Health Outcomes Framework by clicking on the link to the Public Health Outcomes Framework for East Sussex (PHOF). A summary table of the Evidence base relating to each of the target indicators can be found in Annex 1 towards the end of this report.

Introduction to the Catalyst

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated measures to control the spread of the disease and reduce deaths created unprecedented changes in how we live and interact, and almost three years on, the long-term impacts of COVID can still be felt. According to a 2020 report produced by the Health Foundation, young people aged 12-24 were disproportionally affected by COVID, especially in terms of employment and mental health outcomes. (The Health Foundation, 2020). Recent years have seen a growing interest in how the consuming and participation in cultural and creative activities can improve the health and wellbeing of all ages, and following the success of the Everyday Creativity pilot in 2021, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) extended and embedded the youth element of the pilot into core public health business, committing investment into the promotion of participation in creative activities to improve the mental health, personal (confidence, self-esteem optimism) and cultural (coping, resilience, creative skills) wellbeing of young people.

Programme aims and objectives

Delivery partner Make (Good) Trouble (MGT) were commissioned to deliver the three distinct elements of the Catalyst programme: the development of a vibrant creative community through a series of exciting and professionally supported creative workshops, an online social network for young people to connect and share their work, and a pastoral and careers based mentoring programme providing an independent source of support, advice and guidance, each contributing to the overall aim of improving the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of young people through increased engagement with creative activity. The programme is open to all young people in East Sussex aged 14 to 24, with a particular interest in specifically targeted groups including those who are or at risk of becoming NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training), school avoiders, looked after children, young people with Statements of Educational Need and Disability (SEND), and those from black and traveller ethnicities. The programme aligns to the ESCC 2020/21 priority outcomes of ‘Helping people help themselves’, and ‘supporting vulnerable people’, and aims to:

  • Champion creativity as an avenue to wellbeing.
  • Build young people’s personal and cultural wellbeing through increased personal optimism, self-confidence and self-esteem, and a better developed sense of resilience and coping abilities through creative participation.
  • Develop employment skills and increase career pathways.
  • Reduce loneliness and isolation through the creation of a creative network and thriving peer community.
  • Use programme evaluation data as a contribution to the growing evidence base on the benefits of participation in arts and creativity in the improvement of health and wellbeing.

The Catalyst recruitment pathway and process

The programme is open to all young people in East Sussex aged between 14 and 24, and can be accessed through a number of routes. Project partner Make (Good) Trouble (MGT) designs and tailors each workshop to appeal to a particular youth cohort e.g., NEET, SEND etc., within a target geography and age range, and then works to promote and recruit directly from internal and external agencies and partners. However, a young person can also self-refer directly to the programme, or be referred by a third party such as a teacher, a youth worker or other care professional. Each participant is asked to complete a pre- and post-workshop  questionnaire designed to measure self-reported improvement across four identified categories, and feedback on the quality of the intervention. Post workshop, young people can opt to continue any ongoing support through the pastoral and career mentoring services. After three months, the young person can then choose whether they wish to engage with the final formal evaluation process using the Most Significant Change (MSC) evaluation methodology. The diagram below shows the referral pathway and intervention process.

Creative workshops

Over the two-years of the programme, MGT will engage with a total of 140 young people through a series of 14 two-day workshops, to be held in the following nine specified locations: Bexhill, Sidley, Glyne Gap, Eastbourne, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Rye, Hastings, and St Leonards.

Workshop 4. 15th & 16th March

The Joff Youth Centre, Peacehaven

Recruited through the Joff Youth Centre and the SEND and local care system, participants worked with Street Artists from Priority 1-54 in the design and creation of a large wall mural in the centre’s sports hall. Participants were instructed in the art of spray paint design and provided with the materials and canvass to create their own piece to take home.

Workshop 5. 25th & 26th March

Newhaven Football Club, Newhaven.

Working with renowned street artist Pinky Vision, the young people involved assisted in the creation of three large pieces of artwork at the Newhaven Football Club stadium. They chose inspirational words for inclusion within the artwork, and created their own personal canvas to take home. Young people were recruited both through Newhaven FC outreach programme and from the SEND system.

Workshop 6. 31st May & 1st June

The Pelham Youth Centre, Bexhill.

The Brighton based Sparks Film School worked with a group of young people at the Pelham youth and community space to devise and produce a short film called ‘The Choice’. Participants learned about various aspects of film production from pre-production, film idea planning and development, through to visual storytelling and composition.

Workshop 7. 26th & 27th June

Bexhill Primary School. Working with community artists from Priority 1-54, and using the designs created by the children at Bexhill Primary, participants contributed to the production of a new art mural for the schools 'Rainbow Rooms', a twelve place SEND facility developed specifically for pupils with neurodiverse needs.

Workshop 8. 11th & 12th July

The Old Observer Building, Hastings.

Using the Old Observer building in Hastings as a pop-up-photo studio and backdrop, this workshop led by artist Lyn Wendle explored photographic self-portraiture through experiment with coloured gels, physical pose, facial expression, and gesture to create a set of stunning self-portraits. Participants were also taught how to draw into and rework their self-portraits using shapes, text, symbols etc., to create an image that is ‘all about me’.

Workshop 9. 24th & 25th July

Printers Playhouse, Eastbourne.

This drama-based workshop used games, storytelling, and improvised theatre to create a safe and inclusive space in which participants could devise and tell their own stories.

Workshop 10. 15th & 16th August

De La Warr Pavilion, Eastbourne

Devised and led by performers from the world-renowned theatre production STOMP, this workshop explored how the artists use everything from their hands and feet, to everyday items such as broom’s, boxes, and even pieces of old hosepipe, to create their own unique style and blend of rhythm, music, and dance. The workshop was topped off with a short, high-energy performance for family and friends, all collaboratively choreographed by the young performers involved.

The programme has four further workshops planned for the period November 2023 to April 2024

Workshop 11. 20th & 21st November

Hastings Contemporary Gallery.

Hastings based artist Kerry Lemon will lead an exploration of the connection between protest and art through the making of protest banners. Inspired by the ‘punk’ and ‘sneaker’ aesthetics, participants will be guided in the fabric collage skills needed, and encouraged to use their imagination and creativity to voice their own passion through their very own textile protest banner.

Workshop 12. 22nd & 29th January 2024


This planned pottery workshop will be a free flow session where participants will be given the opportunity to experience the pottery process, work with clay in all its forms, learn about techniques such as glazing, and explore the use of patterns and colour. Participants will also have the chance to paint their own glaze designs onto pre-fired pieces to take home.

Workshop 13. February or March 2024. Eastbourne

Project leads are exploring possible collaborations with the Towner Gallery as part of the Eastbourne ALIVE partnership project.

Workshop 14. April 2024

Photography workshop. Rye Nature Reserve.

A nature photography workshop led by Lynn Wendle and hosted by the Rye nature reserve.

Evaluation methods. What are we measuring and how?

The programme has three distinct strands requiring monitoring and evaluation. Change outcomes in workshop participants are measured using the Most Significant Change (MSC) methodology, with workshop participation, workshop quality and participant feedback measured through a pre and post workshop questionnaire. The pastoral and careers monitoring is evaluated using narrative analysis of reports and feedback.

Evaluation: Pastoral mentoring. A narrative analysis and summary


All Catalyst programme participants are entitled to a short period of career and/or pastoral mentoring to support their creative and wellbeing journey during the programme. At its best, mentoring is about collaborative and mutually enhancing relationships, allowing both parties to learn from each other. In the context of the Catalyst, mentoring is about empowering participants, providing them with knowledge or skills, increasing self-awareness and self-reflection, and improving communication, networking and relationship building skills. Mentoring is important because it provides a space for individuals to build confidence and self-esteem, and to develop current competencies, as well as preparing them for growth opportunities in the future. It can help individuals recognise talents and skills within themselves that they may have never previously identified, and provide the guidance, support, and insights needed to remove barriers allowing individuals to flourish and achieve their personal goals.

Mentoring provided between October 2022 and August 2023

Between October 2022 and August 2023, the programme provided mentoring for 15 young people aged 12 to 18, with a majority of young people who were mentored aged 15 years. All pastoral mentoring was delivered by young people’s mentor Nansi Hitchman.

The use of Narrative Analysis in evaluating mentoring processes and outcomes

Narrative analysis is a qualitative analysis method focused on interpreting human experiences and motivations by looking closely at the stories or narratives that people tell in a particular context. A narrative analysis interprets long-form participant responses or written stories as data, to uncover themes and meanings. That data can come in the form of interviews, monologues, written stories, or even recordings, and can be used on both primary and secondary data to provide evidence from the experiences described.

Support needs

The support needs of each young person mentored were initially categorised by the mentor. The most common support needs related to emotional wellbeing, sex and relationships, career advice and educational options. Support for emotional wellbeing was predominantly around building confidence, but multiple young people also needed support for anxiety and mindfulness, emotional and behavioural issues and around their future aspirations. The main focus of relationship support was on peer/social relationships, with a few young people needing support specifically around sexual consent and the law, or around family relationships. Support for careers concentrated on pursuing creative careers and work placements, with educational mentoring including attendance issues and further education options. There were a variety of less common support needs noted, including: healthy eating; identity;  SEN; transitioning from child to adult support provision;  living in care; and support for travelling alone.

Support received

As suggested by the complexity of initial support needs, the majority of young people receiving mentoring through this programme needed support across a variety of different areas, with key areas of support outlined below. All 15 young people received one-to-one sessions, mainly at the Joff Youth centre or at East Sussex College. Of those, six young people required multiple one-to-one mentoring sessions, and six also participated in group mentoring. For a number of young people, this also meant working closely with partners across the system, including school counsellors and SENCOs, social care, and services around youth employment, sexual exploitation, and sexual and gender identity services.

Most young people received support relating to employment and work experience, specifically around organising work placements with Talent Accelerator, or options for volunteering and employment opportunities. Many (also) received mentoring around sex and relationships, in particular with regards to friendships and sexual relationships, and to a lesser extent around family relationships. This largely related to building relationships and friendships, not being drawn into negative behaviour patterns and discussion around neurodiversity in relation to both relationships and emotional and behavioural regulation. In a minority of cases sexual trauma or risk as disclosed and contact/referral was made with relevant partners. 

Other support provided included support for mental health and wellbeing, notably around coping mechanisms for issues of anxiety and around a lack of confidence in their abilities, and support around further education options, special educational needs, and sexual and gender identity.


Some of the most predominant outcomes noted by the mentor across all those they supported related to improved confidence and skill development. Improvements in confidence were largely related to managing to attend a week of work placement, with feelings of confidence growing across the week and several young people achieving a level of participation beyond their usual comfort zone. For some, this was also linked with improved behaviour, particularly emotional regulation, and with confidence specifically in their creative abilities and skills, including developing transferable practical creative skills.  Less predominant outcomes across all those mentored include the development of positive relationships with adults, and expressing interest in further creative opportunities.

Ongoing support needs

Over half of the young people mentored did not need further support, but signposting was given to those who may want to link with Talent Accelerator in the future. For those needing ongoing support, the majority of links or referrals made were to schools for counselling/SENCO support or further action. Where there were wider challenges or issues needing support, links were made to organisations or charities including All Sorts, WISE and the Pye Project.


Although there is 2.5 days of mentoring allocated to each creative workshop, in reality Nansi has been providing closer to 5.5 days per session in order to  ensure the young people in question are fully supported, and the best outcomes can be achieved for those young people participating.

Evaluation: the Talent Accelerator career mentoring programme

The Talent Accelerator provides help and guidance to young people up to the age of 25 in accessing creative careers through the development of high quality work experience and opportunities for skills development.

Working in close collaboration with Nansi Hitchman, Talent Accelerator Project Lead Kim Byford has so far provided guidance and support to nine young people from the Catalyst programme. Kim arranged for five Catalyst participants to join a week’s work experience placement organised in collaboration with the Haven Young Creatives network. Supported by professional creatives, participants were involved in all aspects of producing a music video, from the creative collaboration in generating initial ideas, through to the creation of a video plan and storyboard, composing and producing the songs and the shooting of the accompanying video. Catalyst members Cameron, Adam, Amelia, Ellie, and Emma were all referred into the programme to build on their interest in the creative arts, further their experience of arts based projects and to expand their creative skills. Adam has a strong desire to pursue some form of creative based education or training post 16, so Kim has arranged to check in with him and investigate further support requirements when she attends his school careers event later this year. Ellie and Emma were also initially supported by Nansi at the start of the project to ensure continued attendance and engagement through the week. All five successfully completed the work experience and have been invited to attend the premier of the video at the end of November.

Kim has worked closely with Catalyst member Scott, who has expressed an interest in working as a coder in the online games industry. Kim provided him with advice on education and training opportunities, and has supplied him with information about ‘Develop’, an annual gaming industry conference held in Brighton. Kim suggested that he could attend for free through volunteering as a steward. All of this information was shared with Scott’s youth worker at The Joff so he can be supported through follow-up. Jack has had a number of generalised creative careers conversations with Kim, and has received advice on possible college courses post 16. She has also provided him with programme contact details if he wishes to follow up for further support.

Kim has made a number of attempts to establish contact with Sophie but has yet to receive a response, and she is working with Lawrence to confirm a date and time to meet to discuss further creative careers support.

Evaluation: Most Significant Change (MSC) evaluation and monitoring methodology

The Most Significant Change (MSC) is a participatory monitoring and qualitative evaluation method often referred to as a means of “monitoring without indicators”. Developed by Rick Davies in the 1990s, the MSC approach allows for the monitoring and evaluation of programmes where it may be difficult to predict desired outcomes and change and thus a challenge to set clearly pre-defined markers and indicators. The MSC process involves the collection of stories outlining experiences and changes experienced by stakeholders, which are then reviewed by a panel or series of panels where the story that signifies the greatest change is identified and analysed.

The first Catalyst MSC panel met in July 2023 to discuss the five stories collected for evaluation by project delivery partner Make (Good) Trouble. The meeting comprised of both ESCC project stakeholders, and members of the MGT delivery team. It was held online using Zoom, was recorded and a transcription of the discussion was produced.

The approach taken by the panel was to circulate copies of the stories to panel members for review and familiarisation prior to the meeting. Each of the stories were then read out loud by a different member of the panel, after which panel members were asked to share their initial thoughts and feelings. Once all five of the stories had been read, the panel held a round table discussion after which they were asked to say which of the stories for them had had the most impact and evidenced the most significant change. It was agreed before the readings that if the panel were unable to reach agreement, the story with the highest aggregated number of votes would be considered as the story showing the most significant change. A consensus was very quickly arrived at with a single story being considered to show the most significant change.

Panel Considerations

The panel recognised that each of the stories had real merits and showed great evidence of change and growth through participation in the workshops, however Izzy’s story stood out for the panel as they felt it resonated most with the overall objectives of the Catalyst programme. Izzy’s journey struck a real emotional chord with the panel. Her participation in the workshops contributed greatly to her improved self-confidence, permitting her to actively participate, collaborate, and contribute to the creative process. The programme, and particularly the work done with Nansi as part of the mentoring strand really supported Izzy, allowing her the time and space she needed to achieve the clarity and self-assurance needed to make a considered decision about her creative and educational future.

Overview of the stories

The following is a brief outline of the findings made by the panel on each of the stories.

Story 1. Blossom. Storyteller: Scott

Scott displayed a strong element of personal growth, and a real sense of increased self-belief which has allowed him to take the first steps into his chosen industry and accelerate his career development. Scott stated that the workshop had made a significant impact on him, and gave him the confidence to make use of the industry contacts and support systems he has access to, rather than being someone as he puts it that, “sits on the side lines”. Scott described himself as “feeling lost” before his participation in the workshop, and the workshop experience opened up a “different perspective and way of looking at the world” and allowing him to “jump rungs of ladder following workshop.”

Story 2. Creative Confidence. Storyteller: Elisha

Elisha identified her most significant change since joining the Catalyst as her increased levels of confidence, which has strengthened her belief in her own skills, thoughts and ideas, and the courage to share and defend them both inside and outside of the creative space. Elisha has also benefited from the opportunity to learn new skills and get “hands on experience” in collaborating in and managing the film production process, which again has enhanced her self-belief. Elisha also cited the opportunity to come together in person after COVID to collaborate.

 Story 3. Two beds, three bath mixed with broken down tower blocks Storyteller: Izzy.

Izzy’s experience of the Catalyst opened up new creative routes to her expression, freeing her to explore and learn more about performance art. Having access to equipment and artists to guide and support her has helped her make “significant changes in her actual practice”, and her work with Rachel (Workshop Artist) has inspired Izzy to start writing poetry as part of her final performance  piece. Her work with the Catalyst, has allowed her to clarify for herself where she wanted to go next artistically and educationally, particularly through the work done with Nansi as part of the mentoring strand, which allowed her the self-assurance to take the space and freedom to consider the next steps in her education.

Story 4: Open myself to discomfort. Storyteller: Prokop

Prior to attending the Catalyst workshop, Prokop had had very little opportunity to nurture relationships with other artists or creatives, to share and exchange ideas, or learn directly from them. The workshop allowed him to spend more time with the artist Rachel Irons, which “made him think differently”, and expanded his perspective and experience of other aspects of film as a creative art. Prokop feels more comfortable in exploring his own creative boundaries, which he considers the greatest influence coming out of his experience of the Catalyst.

Story 5: My local area and art. Storyteller: Violet

The biggest impact of the Catalyst for Violet was how it helped change the way she appreciates and considers her local environment as part of her art. It also gave her the opportunity to experiment with and build her confidence using technical and audio equipment. The workshop also helped free-up her creative impulses, and increase trust in her instinct. “I can still feel the effects of it (the workshop) this long afterwards. It’s something I'm still feeling now, so it definitely feels more important. And yes, it's not something that's just within the workshop. It's about my own feelings about art and things like that”.

Analysis of the panel discussion

A brief analysis of the detailed discussion notes taken during the panel meeting was carried out to determine the common points and themes identified by panel members during their discussions of each individual story. A series of 45 recorded comments were categorised into 9 broad themes.

  • 20% of the panels comments recognised participants feelings or sense of personal self-efficacy.
  • 18% of comments from panel members observed evidence of increased levels of self-confidence and a sense of personal positivity in some participants stories.
  • 16% of panel comments identified a sense of powerful and impactful change in some of the participants stories.
  • 16% of panel comments recognised increased levels of knowledge and personal growth.
  • 9% of comments identified team work & collaboration.
  • 9% of comments showed participants to be receptive to change and new ideas.
  • 7% of comments identified participants learning of new and transferable skills.
  • 3% of comments identified participants increased feelings of acceptance and belonging, and of happiness & fulfilment.