A Realist Review and Evaluation of Spark: An Online, Arts in Health Intervention for Older People Experiencing Social Isolation and Loneliness in Wales

  • Sarah Way

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Chronic loneliness is a serious public health concern which affects all aspects of bio-psychosocial wellness. For the older population, finding preventative, community-based interventions that can reduce social isolation and loneliness is particularly important because of the potential to reduce their need to access secondary health and social care services and the ability to increase the amount of time an older person feels able to age well in the environment they choose. This thesis develops a Realist model to explore how Spark, an online, community-based creative life story intervention that took place between May 2021 and June 2022 worked to reduce social isolation and loneliness amongst older people in Wales. The thesis also explores why Spark, an intervention run by Cardiff-based, WalesWide Life Story Theatre company Re-Live ltd, worked to alleviate feelings of social isolation, for whom it worked and provides some insight into what context Spark might work best. The results, obtained from analysis of recorded footage of Spark sessions, stakeholder interviews and feedback documents, indicate that Spark has the potential to fill an existing gap in social interventions for older people who, on top of feelings of social isolation, find it difficult to leave the house and engage in face-to-face activities. The scaffolding of the intervention, in the form of compassion, non-judgement, safety and creativity, facilitated by Re-live Practitioners and in turn perpetuated by the participants, created an environment conducive of expression, acceptance, choice, flexibility and ownership and this seemed to be crucial to the intervention’s successful outcomes. Social Prescribing teams often work with older people experiencing feelings of loneliness, implying an opportune referral pathway to interventions, such as Spark, that seek to work with this client group. However, this research suggests that when interventions are online and delivered by a third-party organisation, not local to the area where participants or social prescribers reside, more time should be taken to develop a relationship between delivery staff and social prescribers prior to the recruitment phase. In this way social prescribers can feel competent in explaining the intervention to older people they work with and on the process that a referral involves, and their role within it.
    Date of Award2023
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMark Davies (Supervisor), Carolyn Wallace (Supervisor) & Thania Acarón (Supervisor)

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