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Singing and dancing is not something you routinely associate with our Parliamentarians — unless you think this expression applies to the Brexit saga, recently discussed in another of our blogs.

Yet this (and other arts activities) is what the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health & Wellbeing discusses in a report entitled Creative Health: The arts for health and wellbeing.

The central premise of the report is that

…engaging with the arts has a significant part to play in improving physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Breathe Arts Health Research Melodies for Mums — Leigha Fearon

The report promotes the embedding of art interventions in mainstream clinical care, and supports the view that the arts can make significant contributions in addressing a number of the pressing issues faced by our health and social care systems.

It reflects the enormous amount of work that has been happening within communities and healthcare settings led by artists over the last few decades in the UK and is part of a wave of publications from the health sector and arts sector over the past 20 years aiming to unite the fields of arts and health.

So, inspired by this ‘call to arms’ both from the Creative Health report and the broader developments in the field of arts and health internationally, today we are launching the world’s largest ever study into the effects of arts interventions on physical and mental health!

Rosetta Life

Co-led by myself and Dr. Daisy Fancourt (who has an upcoming blog on InSPIre the Mind in a few weeks, on a new World Health Organisation report she has authored on arts and health), this project is a new enterprise that puts together not only two universities, King’s College London and UCL, but also three art organisations — the English National Ballet, Breathe Arts Health Research and Rosetta Life — as well as the Wellcome Trust, which supports the programme with a £2 million grant.

Watch Dr Fancourt, here, talking about the importance of arts for health and wellbeing:

This program is called SHAPER, and it does what is says on the tin: Scaling-up Health-Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research.

And yes, we also hope that we will shape the future of art and health!

Why scaling up?

We have chosen three interventions that have been proven to improve patient health: singing groups for postnatal depression, dance classes for people with Parkinson’s, and movement and music sessions for stroke patients.

We know that these interventions work, but the evidence so far has been largely in small studies.

But now, we are scaling these interventions up, by offering them to hundreds of patients within NHS hospitals and health centres in London.

English National Ballet — Laurent Liotardo

Why do we need implementation and effectiveness research?

We will have a stream of work specifically dedicated to examining how the art interventions can be implemented within the NHS, led by Professor Nick Sevdalis and Drs Ioannis Bakolis, Andy Healey, Rachel Davis and Tayana Soukup-Ascensao, all from the Centre for Implementation Science at King’s College London.

Because these interventions will only make a true difference in the life of patients if we can demonstrate that they are acceptable to, and taken up by, patients, as well as feasible and cost-effective enough that they can be delivered in the NHS.

Rosetta Life

So, what will we do, exactly?

We have built a programme with three parallel interventions, for postnatal depression, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.


Postnatal depression is a type of depression that many mothers experience after having a baby. It’s a common problem, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth.

Postnatal depression can start any time in the first year after giving birth, and it can present with symptoms like persistent feelings of sadness and low mood, lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world, and a difficulty bonding with the baby.

We published a touching personal account of postnatal depression in another of our blogs, here.

Breathe Arts Health Research’s pioneering Melodies for Mums programme brings together new mothers — often referred by GPs, midwives and other health professionals — in singing and music sessions with their babies, with the aim of reducing symptoms of postnatal depression.

Breathe Arts Health Research Melodies for Mums

Watch a 3-minutes “Melodies for Mums” film here.

Myself, Dr Fancourt, and Professor Paola Dazzan (who was recently interviewed in an ‘InSPIre the Mind’ blog) will lead this part of the programme.

Previous studies have already demonstrated that these singing sessions reduce symptoms of postnatal depression faster than usual care or social groups.

Moreover, these sessions are a great way to engage mothers from minority backgrounds, who are less likely to seek professional support for their mental health needs in the postnatal period.

In Dr Fancourt’s words:

Postnatal depression is a condition for which there is currently a recognised gap in effective treatments and provision for mothers. Evidence from two years of clinical trials and mechanistic studies of singing has demonstrated the promise of community-led singing programmes as an effective and engaging intervention both for mothers’ mental health and to support the early development of their infants. This programme will allow us to further test the intervention to reach more mothers who could benefit.

We will extend this evidence by studying a large number of women with postnatal depression, and by assessing the bonding between the mother and the child. We will also try to understand how the singing sessions work, by looking at possible changes in hormones related to stress and bonding.


Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years. The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (tremor), slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles.

However, a person with Parkinson’s disease can also experience a wide range of other physical and psychological symptoms, including depression and anxiety, balance problems (which may increase the chances of a fall), and problems with sleeping and memory.

Dance for Parkinson’s from English National Ballet will be upscaled and tested in a project led by Professor K Ray Chaudhuri and Dr Aleksandra Podlewskaat King’s College Hospital.

It will see people with Parkinson’s join weekly ballet classes, incorporating live music, dance, rhythm and voice with specialist dance artists and musicians from the English National Ballet.

English National Ballet — Rachel Cherry

Dance for Parkinson’s has been shown to reduce social isolation, benefit emotional and social wellbeing and improve stability, fluidity of movement and posture to support everyday life.

In the words of Fleur Derbyshire-Fox, English National Ballet’s Engagement Director:

Since creating our Dance for Parkinson’s programme in 2010 we have seen first-hand the incredible effects dance can have on a person living with Parkinson’s. We’re thrilled to be a part of this study, with the opportunity to embed the programme within secondary care social prescribing, increase reach and diversity, and in turn have a greater impact on the physical and emotional wellbeing of people living with Parkinson’s.


A stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

The main symptoms of stroke at the time that it happens includes changes in the face (the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped), arms (the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm) or speech (their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them). It’s time to dial for an ambulance immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

However, in this study we are seeking to help people who have survived a stroke and are left with some long-term problems caused by injury to their brain.

Stroke Odysseys is a project delivered by the charity Rosetta Life and it was initially developed and funded by King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. It will be tested at scale for the first time, led by Professor Nick Ward and Stroke Specialist Consultant Nurse, Angela Roots.

Stroke patients will be invited to join 60-minute sessions featuring movement, music, song and spoken word in the acute stroke ward at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and at community arts or rehabilitation centres.

Rosetta Life

Co-designed with stroke communities in South London, preliminary research shows that the sessions deliver improvements to patients’ cognition, mobility and speech disabilities, enhancing recovery, agency and wellbeing for patients after stroke.

In the words of Chris Rawlence, Co-Director of Rosetta Life:

The experience of a stroke is life-changing. Your sense of who you are may be transformed overnight by stroke’s impact on speech, movement, vision, and the ability to think clearly. Participation in performance arts workshops, by highlighting the power to communicate to an audience through speech, song, and movement, powerfully addresses the losses resulting from stroke, enabling a recovery of identity and the positive embrace of living a new life with stroke.

SHAPER will be supported by a multidisciplinary team of artists, scientists and clinicians together with research manager, Dr Tony Woods, and arts advisor, Nikki Crane.

To learn more abour the coordinating team, visit King’s Arts, Health & Wellbeing Hub, or read today’s interview in The Guardian with Deborah Bull, our Vice President & Vice-Principal (and former Royal Ballet principal ballerina!).


The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, mentioned above, specifically calls

…for an informed and open-minded willingness to accept that the arts can make a significant contribution to addressing a number of the pressing issues faced by our health and social care systems.

Our journey to answer this call begin today.


header image source English National Ballet — Laurent Liotardo


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