A ground breaking dance project to research the benefits of performing arts for children has won a prestigious NHS award.

Lisa Dowler, Edge Hill University’s Senior Lecturer in Dance, working with the Small Things Dance Collective and Cath Hawkins, received an NHS Children and Young People’s Award for Excellence in Participation for the ‘From Where You Are Project’ at an awards ceremony at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester.

In 2006 Lisa became the first dance artist in residence at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, and has evolved the pioneering research since then. This unique research uses dance improvisation and somatic practice with children who are undergoing treatment at the world-famous Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

The findings of the project showed that children’s emotional and physical well-being improved as a result of the sessions, and often children who had previously been introverted moved towards a state of happiness and self-expression. The study included using dance with children undergoing neurorehabilitation, cardiac or orthopaedic surgery, oncological treatment or those with acute psychiatric conditions.

The effects were documented through film, qualitative and quantitative research, promoting the benefits of dance and improvisation within a healthcare setting.

The project has shown that children and young people experiencing acute pain or were difficult to engage in other activities and therapies often responded positively and creatively to improvised dance practice. They also had improved emotional and physical well-being during and after the sessions as well as a significant reduction in their pain.

Lisa said:

“We’re at the cutting edge of the growing field of dance and health practice and research in primary and acute care, and working within a hospital setting with a multi-disciplinary team of clinical and care staff sets us apart from other dance and health projects.

I’m delighted that our work has been recognised with this prestigious award and selected from over 100 other entries.”

Vicky Charnock, Alder Hey Arts Coordinator added:

“This innovative dance programme reflects Alder Hey’s commitment to supporting and engaging our patients and their families through our ground-breaking arts for health programme. Our patients and their families have been at the forefront in developing the ‘From Where You Are’ project and with them, and through engaging the arts, we have been able to deliver a unique and personalised approach to healthcare. The project has been supported from its conception by a range of Clinical Teams within the hospital and demonstrates what can be achieved when arts and health professionals work in partnership.”

The NHS England Excellence in Participation Awards celebrate the outstanding contributions of people and organisations across the country who are transforming people’s lives, improving health and care services and putting patients, service users, carers and communities at the very heart of health and care.

The final judging panel included NHS staff, patients, service users, carers and the public.

Professor Victor Merriman, Director of Research in the Department of Performing Arts added:

“This award demonstrates the real public impact that this pioneering research has created.”