PROJECT – Transforming Relations

The Beat of Our Hearts: Staging New Histories of LGBTQIA+ Loneliness

26 May 2021

LGBTQIA+ loneliness has a long history, as do the relationships and spaces that LGBTQIA+ people have built for solidarity, creativity, and care. The Beat of Our Hearts will engage LGBTQIA+ and non-LGBTQIA+ audiences with these histories, reconnecting them with past queer lives.

This project is part of an AHRC EDI Engagement Fellowship, run by Dr Charlotte Jones (PI) and Dr Richard Vytniorgu (PDRA) in partnership with local writer Natalie McGrath, the Intercom Trust, and the Northcott Theatre. This work draws upon previous and ongoing loneliness research and collaborations developed by Dr Fred Cooper and Dr Charlotte Jones as part of the WCCEH’s Loneliness and Community Beacon Project.

What are we doing?

The Beat of Our Hearts begins with a programme of creative workshops about loneliness with LGBTQ+ communities in Devon and Cornwall, in partnership with the Intercom Trust, a leading LGBTQ+ charity in the South West. This will culminate in the development and staging of an original performance at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre as part of LGBT+ history month in February 2022. The performance will be written by playwright Natalie McGrath, drawing on a community of queer writers and artists. The performance will be accompanied by a parallel festival of events, bringing in local and national LGBTQIA+ charities, groups, and initiatives.

Why are we doing it?

Many LGBTQIA+ people in Britain have been subject to exclusion and isolation, both historically and today. This can result from explicit discrimination and hostility in family homes, on the street, and from institutions such as our education and healthcare services, as well as a more diffused cultural biases which favour and naturalise some lives and relationships over others. Loneliness is one of the most significant emotional and psychological expressions of this marginalisation.

What’s next?

Over the summer we will be holding our online creative workshops, which will be open to LGBTQIA+ people of all ages who are based in the South West – so watch this space for more details!




PROJECT – Transforming Relations

UNESCO: Creative Writing & Mental Health: East African Representations & Voices

18 December 2020

To celebrate Exeter’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature, the Centre held a short call for literary research projects. 

Working with Kigali-based Huza Press and African creative writing teaching initiative Saseni!, this project is concerned with supporting East Africa-based writers to write and publish creative work that engages with issues of mental health. It is a creative, critical and collaborative research initiative concerned with highlighting the relationship between literature and well-being, with modes of supporting writers who are interested in exploring difficult and traumatic subjects, and with increasing the visibility and complexity of the narratives of mental illness circulating in the East African region. This forms a key part of an emerging stream of Africa-focused programming which is an anchor project for Exeter’s UNESCO City of Literature, focusing on building event and research connections between Devon and East Africa. It will also enter into dialogue with work being done by partner Royal African Society, highlighting current innovations shaping mental healthcare in Africa today and developing a roadmap for working towards the WHO’s Mental Health Action Plan.

Led by Dr Kate Wallis, the seed funding enabled the team to begin building the partner relationships, audiences and digital materials to support a larger project. They initially worked with Huza Press and Saseni!, to develop and run a 2-hour online creative writing workshop for up to 15 writers based in East Africa. This workshop focused in particular on supporting the development of narratives around mental health that respond specifically to the challenges brought about by COVID19. Working with Huza Press and Saseni! to develop audiences and materials for this one-off workshop enabled the building of an evidence-base that informed the development of this longer-term project, providing vital information about writer engagement as well as the kinds of writing and support creative writers in the region are looking for and could benefit from.

Read the full report here: Creative Writing & Mental Health: East African Representations & Voice

PROJECT – Transforming Relations

Beers, Burgers + Bleach: Hygiene, toilets, and hospitality in the time of COVID-19

17 November 2020

The logo is a row of four images: first a green pint of beer on the far left, then an orange toilet, a blue cleaning spray, and finally a red burger.
Beers, Burgers + Bleach
Hygiene, toilets, and hospitality in the time of COVID-19

Austerity has led to a huge decline in public toilet provision in the UK over the last decade, and more toilet facilities have been closed permanently or become temporarily unavailable since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These closures have made it increasingly necessary for the public to make use of private facilities as substitutes, such as toilets in pubs and cafés.

Toilets in hospitality venues also bring challenges, however. Since the UK government began to ease the national lockdown in July 2020, there have been concerns about the COVID-19 transmission risks involved in visiting public venues. More recently their status continues to be debated as part of regional restrictions and curfews. Safely preparing and maintaining these spaces for the public has therefore required significant work for hospitality staff.

In collaboration with workers, trade unions and local campaigns, this project responds to rapidly changing circumstances in the sector. We explore the labour involved in new hygiene routines in the time of COVID-19, with particular attention on the cleaning and monitoring of toilets, and the impact these additional measures have had upon the lives, safety, and responsibilities of hospitality staff.

This research has been developed and will be carried out collaboratively, with outcomes intended to support the wellbeing of workers. The study is funded by a Wellcome Centre Enhanced Research Award.

Research team

The research team brings together academics based across the South West of England and Yorkshire, and builds on a series of co-produced projects about toilet accessibility (Around the Toilet), previously funded by AHRC Connected Communities.

Profile image - Charlotte JonesDr Charlotte Jones
Charlotte is a Research Fellow at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, University of Exeter, and is based in Bristol. Her research interests lie at the intersections of gender, sexuality, disability and medicine. Charlotte was Research Fellow on the Around the Toilet project, and also contributes relevant expertise from previous work on public health activism and biocitizenship, and HE staff support. She leads Reprofutures, a collaborative project about variations in sex characteristics, intersex and reproduction.

Dr Jen SlaterJen Slater
Jen works as a Reader in Disability Studies and Education at Sheffield Hallam University. They led the Around the Toilet project due to their wider interest in issues of gender, disability and the body. Jen is involved in University and College Union (UCU) work as a department representative.

Dr Jill Pluquailec
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJill works as a Senior Lecturer in Autism at Sheffield Hallam University. She is situated in education but draws heavily on sociology and critical disability studies. Jill was part of the most recent phase of our Around the Toilet project, and is also a UCU department representative.

Dr Lauren White
The profile of a smiling face, with a black cap, long blonde hair and a the collar of a red coat.Lauren works as a Research Fellow in Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield. Her interests span the sociology of health and illness, everyday life and qualitative research methods, such as diary methods and mobile methodologies. Lauren recently began an ESRC postdoctoral fellowship titled ‘Everyday life with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Accessibility, mobility and belonging’.

Advisory group

This study is guided by a group of hospitality workers, representatives of trade unions and local campaigns, and academics, who provide valuable experience and/or expertise to shape the project, improve the quality of our work, and help to ensure our research is ethical and accountable. The advisory group is working in collaboration with the research team over the course of the project.

Contact us

Email logo of a closed envelopeEmail:

White Twitter logo of a bird in a blue circle Twitter: @cctoilettalk

PROJECT – Transforming Relations

Suffering from the ‘Lockdown Blues’? Share your experiences online

1 September 2020

Share your experiences of loneliness and Covid-19 as part of a major new creative project

People in the South West can now share their experiences of the considerable isolating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as part of a major new project designed to collect stories of loneliness and community.

The Lockdown Blues is an online scrapbook where anyone can contribute their thoughts, feelings, or reflections on loneliness in any format – whether through poems, songs, paintings, stories, sketches, videos, letters or a few brief notes. It has been designed to promote empathy and creativity, with the hope that reading, writing, and creating may help visitors to the website feel less alone. It will also act as a public record, so that people’s experiences of difficulty during this important time aren’t forgotten or overlooked.

The website is designed so that anyone can easily submit their contributions and share their thoughts with others. It was developed by three researchers at the University of Exeter’s Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, Charlotte Jones, Olly Clabburn, and Fred Cooper, as well as their community partners, Devon Libraries and Exeter Phoenix to celebrate Exeter’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

Dr Olly Clabburn, University of Exeter, said: “We’ve created a community space where people can share their experiences, get creative, and read about how others are feeling. Loneliness is something that affects people very differently. The Lockdown Blues is a safe space for anyone in the South West to share what loneliness has meant to them during the global pandemic.”

Dr Fred Cooper explained: “The website isn’t just about experiences of loneliness, it’s also a place to celebrate friendships and community during lockdown. We understand it can be difficult to talk about loneliness, as it often feels like an individual failing. It isn’t, and we hope that this project will emphasise that, and help make it easier to discuss. If solidarity can be found in shared experience and expression, we hope we’ve made a space for that to become possible.”

Dr Charlotte Jones added: “We know that many people’s experiences of loneliness and isolation didn’t begin with Covid-19, so these reflections may go back further than the last six months. We’re also interested in hopes and anxieties for the future; many restrictions are in the process of being lifted and this will impact people’s well-being in very different ways.

Contributions to The Lockdown Blues can be anonymous and in any format. People can also contribute using the hashtag #lonelycovid. Charlotte, Fred, and Olly hope that as many people as possible will take part. The website also provides details of charities, services and community groups in the South West if you feel in need of support, or just want to meet new people.

PROJECT – Transforming Relations

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).

Professor Anne Barlow
Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgado
Dr Jan Ewing
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.




PROJECT – Transforming Relations

TRA: Cancer and close relationships

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.

The impact of a cancer diagnosis on close relationships

When one partner has a diagnosis of cancer the impact on relationships can be extremely challenging.  Yet this aspect of a cancer experience is often overlooked and support to help people is limited. In more than 20% of cases relationships break down. WHY supports more than 500 people each year through their cancer experience and understands the strain on relationships that cancer can bring. Social support networks can flounder, and relationship dynamics change.  WHY would like to understand more about this impact on close relationships, why they break down or change and how the provision of counselling or other therapeutic interventions can support families.

This project will begin in autumn 2019. It was developed from the workshop WHY carried out as part of a Research Initiation Award.

Project leader

We Hear You

PROJECT – Transforming Relations

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 – Transforming Relations

RSF: Making space

11 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.

Making space for well-being

A young girl with disabilities recently narrated the story of some of her life experiences as a ‘living book’ at Exeter Central Library. Having left full-time education she (and her carers) were entering a new landscape, where many of the opportunities found in specialist schools need to be “re-found” in the community. This young girl and her father had just discovered the library’s FabLab. It had been a revelation to both of them, offering them both social and creative opportunities they were keen to embrace.

Young people with disabilities can often face a ‘drop off’ in support (including health, social and educational) when they leave formal education. The impact of this can be far-reaching, particularly in terms of a vulnerability to social isolation (as much for their families and carers as the individual themselves). This project was a collaboration between the library, the Pelican Project (a community organisation supporting such young people) and an engaged researcher, who came together to facilitate ways for other young people and their carers to tell stories about their lives as they are and the ways they would like to use and shape spaces such as the FabLab to improve their wellbeing.

Project Partners
Georgie Tarling
The Pelican Project (Kath Ford and Charlie Robinson)
Libraries Unlimited (Karen Leach-Bowdler and Colin Bray)

PROJECT – Transforming Relations

Beacon: loneliness and community

15 April 2019

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.

Loneliness and Community

Dr Fred Cooper, Dr Charlotte Jones, Professor Mark Jackson, and Professor Manuela Barreto.

This Beacon draws together a series of transdisciplinary research, engagement, and policy strands on loneliness in and beyond Higher Education. The core project of the Beacon uses medical humanities methodologies to engage student co-researchers in transformative work on loneliness and mental health, most recently in the charged and altered context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Led by Dr Fred Cooper and Dr Charlotte Jones, this project uses mixed-media journalling alongside new online spaces for creativity, solidarity, vulnerability, disclosure, and reflection. It also bridges vital gaps between student experience and university policymaking.

Other strands include a creative and pedagogical collaboration with the playwright Natalie McGrath and Exeter’s Northcott Theatre on LGBTQ+ loneliness, stigma, and history; the creation of a loneliness network to bring together academics, students, university staff, community organisations, charities, public health experts, and people with lived experience of loneliness;  a policy report for the WHO Regional Office for Europe on the cultural contexts of youth loneliness; and a UNESCO-funded repository for reflections on loneliness and isolation in lockdown in Devon and Exeter, with Olly Clabburn, Devon Libraries and Exeter Phoenix.



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