PROJECT – Life Course

WCCEH announce a creative collaboration on LGBTQ+ loneliness and history with the Northcott Theatre and Natalie McGrath

12 June 2020

Following an initial seed phase in which three artists were granted funding to think about loneliness, theatre and performance alongside scholars at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, we are excited to announce the direction that this collaboration will take.

Working closely with the Centre and with Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, the acclaimed playwright and activist Natalie McGrath will create an original piece of work for production, drawing in part on creative exchanges with Centre researchers and LGBTQ+ people with lived experiences of loneliness and isolation.

Conceived before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, one aim of the work was to think critically about the loss of hard won social and emotional spaces which LGBTQ+ people have created to share with one another. Running deeper than this present, dislocating moment are stories and histories which reverberate through queer experiences of isolation, quarantine and distance in 2020.

Natalie McGrath

Natalie McGrath will work with WCCEH and the Northcott Theatre on LGBT+ loneliness and history.

As Natalie put it:

“Working with Drs Fred Cooper and Charlotte Jones from the University of Exeter’s Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health on the subject of loneliness, in partnership with Exeter Northcott Theatre, is an exciting new direction for my work as a playwright and socially engaged artist.  LGBTQ+ stories have historically been erased or silenced due to hatred, ignorance and prejudice, whilst structural legislation and lack of rights have caused harm to many lives.  This opportunity to explore some of the pivotal moments in LGBTQ+ history through the lens of loneliness will enable an exciting new play to emerge for an ensemble of LGBTQ+ performers in the future life of the project.”

For Fred and Charlotte, this project goes much further than simply engaging new audiences with academic research that has already been done. Fred had the following to say about the importance of the project for his own work, and why Natalie’s ideas stood out:

“A significant aspect of what we want to do is to push back against ways of working which create artificial hierarchies between university academics and the people they collaborate with. Natalie is not here to ‘translate’ our research into something more accessible, she is here to determine an agenda, explore the questions that she knows are vital, and participate in a meaningful process of exchange which will alter and enrich our practice as academics. Natalie began the project with a clear idea of the direction she wanted our work together to take, and a keen sense of the historical and structural harms which are embedded in LGBTQ+ experiences of loneliness. We’re delighted to be working with such an accomplished and talented artist.”

Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Exeter Northcott Theatre added: “Artists such as Natalie have an extraordinary ability to pose questions, stretch our imaginations and create a space for considering new possibilities. Through projects such as this and the Northcott Futures programme which supports local theatre-makers, the Northcott aims to make meaningful exchanges between artists, audiences and practitioners across a number of disciplines and lived experiences. We’re delighted to take this project forward and excited to see how the play evolves.”


Natalie McGrath is a playwright, poet, occasional performer, producer of arts and heritage projects, and Co-Director of Dreadnought South West who curate the Rebellious Sounds Archive.

Natalie is currently Writer in Residence and Cultural Heritage Producer at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum for Out and About: Queering the Museum, a National Lottery Heritage Fund project in collaboration with the University of Exeter’s Dr Jana Funke.

Fred Cooper and Charlotte Jones are research fellows at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. Fred is a historian of medicine with particular interests in loneliness, estrangement, and solitude. Charlotte is a sociologist of gender, sexuality, disability and health.

PROJECT – Life Course

Beacon: Healthy Relationships

26 February 2020

The Centre’s Beacon Projects aspire to exemplify the ways in which the Centre aims to create and sustain cultures and environments of health through transdisciplinary engaged research.


Transforming relationships and relationship transitions with and for the next generation: Healthy Relationship Education (HeaRE) and Transitions (HeaRT).

Research participants needed – please see below.

Professor Anne Barlow
Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgado
Dr Jan Ewing
Dr Chris Boyle
Simon Benham-Clarke

This project is a partnership between the Law School, the Medical School, and the Graduate School of Education. Our work is concerned with transitions into and out of relationships across the life course and their impact on mental and physical health. We focus in particular on children and young people, in terms of how they can develop the skills needed to have healthy relationships in the future, and how they might be supported to cope with parental relationship breakdown and future relationship transitions of their own. Public narratives around marriage, divorce and relationship breakdown often make expectations around transitioning into and out of relationships intended to be long term, mismatched with reality. Relationships and sex education will form part of the curriculum from September 2020, yet evidence suggests many schools are not well prepared to deliver the aspects which focus on healthy relationships rather than on sex.

Evidence from two projects, the Shackleton Relationships Project and Mapping Paths to Family Justice, showed an appetite among young people for:
· more education at school (which they help to develop) about how to build positive relationships and handle ‘normal’ relationship difficulties
· more information, and for their views to be better represented in mediation processes following parental relationship breakdown

In the HeaRE strand, we are currently exploring the best ways to co-develop messages and materials about healthy relationships together with young people which can be used in schools, based on the core attributes and key skills identified by the Shackleton project. We are also carrying out qualitative research to better understand young people’s perspectives on the most important outcomes of relationship education, which will inform further work on outcome measurement and evaluation.

In the HeaRT strand of this programme, we are focussing on the impact of parental relationship breakdown on children and young people, and how young people and adults can learn skills to cope better with transitioning into and out of a range of relationships across the life course. In particular, we are considering how to make child-inclusive mediation better understood and more accessible for parents and children as well as build wider practitioner confidence in the process. To this end, we are working with mediation agencies, the Family Justice Young People’s Board and relationship experts, as well as interviewing both professionals and families who have participated in child-inclusive mediation.

In a final conference, the findings from the two strands will be brought together to look at how relationship education and family justice processes can normalise relationship transitions, help give voice to young people and build appropriate skills to help them make healthy relationship choices and cope better with relationship difficulties – their own or their parents.

For project overview and status slides prepared for cancelled WCCEH’s External Advisory Board click here.

Research participants sought: if you have used child-inclusive mediation we would like to speak to you. We are conducting confidential telephone interviews with parents and young people aged 8 and over who have experienced child inclusive mediation. We give a £20 Amazon voucher to parents and a £15 Amazon voucher to the young people we interview. If you are interested and would like further details, please contact Jan Ewing:


PROJECT – Life Course

TRA: Dance, health and well-being

1 August 2019

Transformative Research Awards support novel, innovative and interesting research that moves beyond established divisions and dichotomies to enable insight, debate and new approaches to current health challenges.

Dance, Health and Well-being: debating and moving forward methodologies

It is now widely agreed in the arts and health practice and research communities that there is considerable evidence of the positive benefits of dance on developing physical aspects of health and fitness. Building on this, this project seeks to develop understanding of the under-researched aesthetic, artistic and creative contributions that Dance makes to Health and Well-being across the lifecourse. In particular it will focus on what kinds of methodologies are appropriate for investigating these contributions, and how these methodologies can generate findings which extend how we understand the impact of the arts on health and well-being.

This project will begin in autumn 2019.

Project leader

Kerry Chappell


PROJECT – Life Course

RIA: Building for maternal health

12 July 2019

Research Initiation Awards are small awards open only to people or organisations from outside the university. Our aim is to support individual people or community organisations to begin to build the relationships or help create the conditions that could initiate future engaged research.

Planting a seed during a drought – working for maternal health in Orus, Kenya

The Research Initiation Award was used to develop a collaboration between STEMA Health System Innovation, MAMA Kenya (Maternal Aid for Mothers in Africa, a local NGO based in Eldoret, Kenya), Global Health Disrupted and the village of Orus in Kenya. We are collectively interested in looking at how built environment maternal health interventions can be embedded in a health ecosystem and how a multi-disciplinary team could work with communities to generate ideas on how best to develop a maternal health space.

Diagrams drawn in sandy soil

Participatory mapping literally ‘on the ground’

We held participatory workshops with the community of Orus in Western Kenya to understand their barriers to and resources for health, looking at how we could collectively form ideas for a community space for maternal health by learning about vernacular building techniques, local agricultural knowledge and maternal health expertise and the community health system. Working with the village elders, women, men and community health workers, we hoped to co-create ideas about how a community can develop its own resourcefulness for health and integrate health and environmental care by looking at co-designing a community health space and agricultural intervention.

Group of women meeting together - Orus, Kenya

Women’s group meeting – sharing journeys and birth stories

The award allowed us to bring together this partnership of global health researchers, medical doctors, architects, inclusive designers, community health workers and the community of Orus to look at creative ways to develop the most appropriate and ‘resourceful’ ideas for health, and specifically maternal health. In particular, the award gave us the resources to support and bring together the community as part of the research, which is fundamental to our work.

We identified a system of challenges to maternal health in the community, which encompass social, political and environmental barriers to good health. The climate and the support the community were identified as key challenges, a participatory and systems thinking approach going forward will be essential.

Our fieldwork is ongoing and the MAMA team has begun the first phase of interventions through initiating training for the local traditional birth attendants. We are writing up our fieldwork and recently exhibited the fieldwork in the ‘Design Research for Change Showcase’ at the London Design Fair.

Project leader:

Mikaela Patrick, Research Associate at STEMA


Global Health Disrupted
The Orus Community

PROJECT – Life Course

RIA: We Hear You

12 July 2019

Research Initiation Awards are small awards open only to people or organisations from outside the university. Our aim is to support individual people or community organisations to begin to build the relationships or help create the conditions that could initiate future engaged research.

The impact of a cancer diagnosis on close relationships

We Hear You (WHY) is a charity based in east Somerset. WHY provides a free professional counselling service for anyone affected by a diagnosis of cancer or other life-threatening condition.

Cancer can have a huge impact on close relationships, with more than 20% of relationships breaking down. It is an issue that comes up frequently in our counselling work. The counselling that WHY provides is available for patients and carers; we know the strain that a cancer diagnosis can bring, changing relationship dynamics and connections. WHY is aware that there is little research into the psychological impact on relationships when there is a cancer diagnosis, and we wanted to understand this in more depth, to help us improve our knowledge and how we support our clients.

WHY used this funding to convene a workshop at our head office with eight service users (current and previous) to start to understand how this change in relationship dynamics has affected their close connections.

Cancer affects men and women fairly equally and for this piece of work WHY was particularly interested  to speak to men, who are currently under-represented in our service.

This project was the first phase in a larger piece of work that WHY wanted to undertake. Engaging with those that have used our service is a vital part of our work and helps us as a charity to shape the service we deliver to best meet the needs of those that we support. The workshop was the beginning of a co-creation process to enhance how WHY provides support to families affected by cancer, and will feed into our broader service development plans, where we have secured funding to train two counsellors in couples therapy skills.

Project update

WHY was awarded one of the Centre’s Transformative Research Awards to carry out further research to understand the transformative impact of cancer on close relationships.

PROJECT – Life Course

RSF: Well-being outcomes

12 July 2019

The Research Support Funding scheme supported 13 short (six-month) projects that complemented and extended the Centre’s research themes: Transforming Institutions, Transforming Engagement, Transforming Health across the life course and Transforming Relations.

Generating evidence of well-being outcomes from community engagement and social infrastructures

Workshop date: 24th September 2019 

The background

A group of community representatives in rural southern Zambia shared how they felt hopeless and isolated: maternal and infant mortality are high; nutrition and health access are poor. Engagement with external facilitators and an international network of collaborative communities stimulated local connections and the formation of a collaborative local ‘Cluster’ that leveraged collective strengths to improve well-being. This cluster has improved health access, sanitation and maternal health. There has been a shift of mindset and a ripple effect that has led to new clusters.

This project is looking at how community engagement and action (in the UK and internationally) can improve health and well-being, by sharing testimonies and co-creating, with communities, academics and practitioners, ways to measure health and well-being.

What we did 

Arukah workshop discussions

Participants at the workshop

In September 2019, we held a workshop that brought a group of practitioners and academics together to look at approaches to, and measures of, community-led improvements in health and wellbeing, and think about what future work is needed to strengthen and measure these approaches.



A few of the organisations that were represented on the day: 

Some of the questions we asked:

  • How might donors and policymakers better support complex and subjective community-led change?
  • Community-led improvements in health and wellbeing: anecdotes, barriers, enablers
  • What methods can we use to measure community-led improvements in health and wellbeing?
  • How might donors, policymakers and others understand and pay attention to the different kinds of subjective evidence? (e.g. evaluative, experience, eudemonic).
  • What might be possible if community-led change approaches were adopted in other fields (beyond health and development)?

What we’d like to do next

  • We’d like to hold further discussions to share our methods of impact measurement with funders, and talk about the challenges we have with their traditional way of working.
  • Arukah would like to explore how complexity theory might affect or inform our work, given our network-based approach.
  • We’d like to arrange further meetings with C2 and other groups to continue to share learning, challenges, advice and support.
  • We’d like to seek constructive feedback from donors (from both successful and unsuccessful applications) and collate this information, then share the kinds of questions they’re asking and the challenges they have with our models.

Read the full report: Arukah Network WCCEH Report.

Project Partners

Elizabeth Wainwright
The Arukah Network

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