Breathe Arts Health Research: NHS Staff Wellbeing Programme: Collective Power Award

| Anna Eaton

We are delighted to be involved again this year with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) annual awards which focuses on collective power (partnership and co-production), practitioner support and climate. The awards ceremony took place online on Friday 23rd April celebrating an amazing collection of organisations and people supporting others to cope, create and grow.

We partnered with CHWA on their Collective Power Award. This award aims to recognise an inspiring project, consortium, collective or movement of people in which meaningful partnership and co-production has improved the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through culture and creativity. CHWA were positively overwhelmed by the quality of applications for this award. We loved the different interpretations of “collective power” and we were blown away by how people and organisations worked together to respond and adapt during the pandemic. 

Breathe Arts Health Research

To celebrate this work, we are running a blog series about each of the projects shortlisted and this week we’re excited to feature – Breathe Arts Health Research: NHS Staff Wellbeing Programme.

This programme is delivered across Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London. It uses creativity, underpinned by science, to improve the health and wellbeing of the 18,000 staff across the Trust. Breathe’s work is co-produced with healthcare staff, patients, artists and scientists.

In response to Covid-19 Breathe immediately transformed their existing NHS Staff Wellbeing offering to an online programme, ensuring improved accessibility. In consultation with NHS staff, Breathe developed a selection of new programmes following feedback from NHS Staff Champions, participants and in consultation with colleagues to meet specific needs that had arisen in response to the pandemic – particularly the impact on staff’s mental health.

Their programmes include:

  • Breathe Dance for Staff Wellbeing: an online dance class set to relax/stretch after work, for staff sedentary behind a screen or physically challenged due to redeployment.
  • Creative Breaks: an online, lunchtime drawing class to focus and channel anxiety/stress, encouraging staff to take their lunch break (many don’t, risking burnout).
  • Breathe Harmony: a non-auditioned staff choir bringing colleagues together to experience the benefits of group singing and social interaction.
  • Wellbeing Workshops: online pre-recorded workshops that NHS staff can access anytime/anywhere – designed to target specific needs e.g. writing for mindfulness.  
  • Wellbeing Playlists: Themed music playlists from professional Breathe Musicians designed for staff to listen to on the go or in their down time.

We particularly loved the multiple methods Breathe use to co-design and develop their programmes. They do this through formal evaluations, WhatsApp groups, phone calls, interviews, pre- and post-session feedback, surveys, meetings and informally during sessions.

They also channel lived experience. Breathe are disability led and 71% of their team have lived experience of the issues they address, such as struggling with mental health and 30% identifying as having a long-term health condition. This gives their team ongoing insight which helps inform the delivery and content of the programme.

We caught up with Hannah Dye, Breathe’s Head of Programmes and Melissa, an Occupational Therapist and one of the brilliant Breathe Dance for Wellbeing participants to learn more about their experiences of the project.

What has been your favourite thing about the project?

Hannah Dye, Head of Programmes at Breathe: Our favourite thing is that by developing and delivering an online NHS Staff Wellbeing programme, we have managed to bring together over 500 staff from across Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Trust in what has been their most challenging year. Working within a Trust of over 18,000 staff can often feel very daunting, fragmented and at times lonely, especially when working from home. Our programme breaks down these barriers and helps staff feel connected from all over the trust. We’ve seen first-hand the impact our work has had in the most challenging times over the past year, which has been so rewarding for us.

Melissa, Breathe Dance for Wellbeing participant: The Breathe team has helped the weekly dance classes; Breathe Dance for Staff Wellbeing develop into something much more: an encouraging and supportive community, which has been incredibly important during this pandemic. Georgia and Kat have created a positive, fun and restorative space for us to recharge, which was most helpful particularly during the lockdowns. I feel Georgia really think of the group’s participants when creating the dance routines and choosing the music for each session. For me, the classes are a welcome break from a challenging day working as an NHS Occupational Therapist, especially during lockdowns with juggling remote schooling with a little one, being apart from family and friends, or watching the uncertainty of the pandemic unfold on the news.    

Have you made and learnt from any mistakes along the way?

Hannah: We have learnt LOADS about how to best deliver online and create digital content. There was a lot of trial and error at first, but our wonderful artists adapted their delivery approach to ensure a positive and engaging experience.  

I think there was an assumption last year that it’s not the same online and some creative disciplines just won’t work, or won’t be enjoyable, but actually, over time we’ve found an adapted way to run almost every area of our work online. The difficult bit now is how to move back to ‘in person’!

Melissa: What I’ve learned from taking part in the weekly online dance sessions is how important music and movement is in my own physical and mental health. In the past, I found it difficult to cultivate time for myself. Now, I find it important and helpful, to take the time for myself, even if it for just one hour a week, and be part of a community, especially the camaraderie of spending an evening with fellow NHS workers.   

Has anything surprised you during the project?

Hannah: For us, the most surprising part of delivering our NHS Staff Wellbeing programme over the past year is that even during the most challenging, stressful and pressured moments of the pandemic, staff have prioritised attending. We were anticipating a drop in attendance during the second and third waves of COVID-19, but we experienced the opposite – attendance was higher! This is a key message to us that staff value the programme, feel the benefits, and want to prioritise it in their busy lives. 

Melissa: I have not taken a dance class in 20 years, and I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover how much joy dance brings me.  I’m also surprised how quickly I’ve taken to the online format.  This is credit to Georgia who have kept the sessions interesting, fresh, and accessible to a diverse group of people. I feel this is another reason why I, and many others in our group, continue to log in every Tuesday night to dance together, to cheer each other on, and to support one another during this pandemic. I’m pleasantly surprised how mindful the dance class is for me. I become acutely aware of my movements and my breath. And I’m always surprised when Georgia says it’s time to stretch- the hour flies by! I am truly grateful for Breathe Staff Dance for Wellbeing.  

Find out more about Breathe’s Staff Wellbeing Programme at and follow them on social media: @BreatheAHR  

Photo: Breathe Wellbeing Playlists, provided by and credited to Breathe Arts Health Research

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