NHS staff across north Cumbria have undoubtedly faced intense challenges this year, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For many of those who have been on the frontline of the county's fight against coronavirus, creative endeavours have proven a much-needed outlet for the stresses that the global outbreak has brought.

The impressive creative talents of north Cumbria's healthcare workers, and the valuable role creative endeavours play in their lives, are being celebrated this week as part of a "festival of thanks", paying tribute to the hard work and dedication of all those at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic response.

This three-day festival, organised by the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation (NCIC) Trust, will feature an array of awards given out to staff who have exemplified compassion, care, and commitment throughout Covid-19, as well as a poignant vigil for all those who have been affected by the virus.

As part of this festival, the trust has launched a campaign called "be the artist", encouraging staff members to submit works of art, to be shared in an online gallery, that capture their recent feelings in light of the pandemic.

Mr Paul Counter is an ear, nose and throat consultant and clinical director for the head and neck directorate at the trust. He explained that the motivation behind the campaign was to provide staff with an opportunity to express their creative side.

“We know that the trust is full of people with creative skills and artistic talent and we wanted to give staff a chance to 'be the artist'", he said.

"Art is subjective and free and we wanted staff to create whatever they feel is an expression of the extraordinary times we are in."

Mr Counter added that the health benefits of the creative arts are becoming more widely recognised for their positive impact on wellbeing and mental health.

“They can and be used as a method to relax especially during times of change, stressful situations or the likes of a pandemic," he said.

“So far we have had a great response to the campaign with lots of creative submissions – including photographs, graphic art and poetry.

“Nature has certainly been a being a very popular choice so far.

"It is clear that staff are feeling more connected to nature, taking time for themselves to reflect; to enjoy the wonder of the outdoors and the pleasure it can bring.

"Exploring nature is so good for our physical and mental health and our stunning Cumbrian landscapes provide the perfect subject matter.

“Reflection and positivity are very present within the beautiful work that has been sent in;

calming, reflective pieces that also have strong feelings of positivity joy.”

The “be the artist” campaign will continue running following the festival and will support the relaunch of the trusts’ Healing Arts programme.

This is a programme of art, dance, music, puppetry and poetry that helps with the recovery process of patients.