These Faces in the Crowd – An Experience report from the Expo 2016

Innovation was at the heart of NHS England’s Health and Care Expo, held in Manchester in September 2016. As winners of the NHS England national rehabilitation prize 2016, Breathe was invited by NHS England to showcase their work to the crowds of health professionals and commissioners interested in how modern healthcare can be improved by innovative approaches. Our declared aim is that more young people with hemiplegia can benefit from funding and support from the NHS to access our service.

The busy trade fair was set in what was once a bustling train station in Manchester. As it would have been in its previous existence, people were moving constantly. Breathe Magician Richard McDougall talks about how the space influences the way he approaches people during the busy day:

“Of course, everyone’s aim is to get passersby interested in their work. And magic is potentially a great way of doing this. Other stands also had magicians who tried to do the same. However, our use of magic was different in that it directly applied to the service we were showcasing, and not just as a crowdstopper.”

NHS Expo 2016. Day One. Wed 7th Sept 2016. © NHS England. Photography by, Victor De Jesus. Mobile: 07931 401268 Email: mail@victordejesus.com

Breathe Magician Richard McDougall (left) in conversation with Yvonne Farquharson (right) at the NHS Expo 2016 © NHS England.

Luckily the Breathe team had a special joker up their sleeves to stand out from other stands – young magician Cat Lee who had just completed the Breathe Magic Intensive Therapy Magic Foundation Programme. She was able to relate to the visitors the real world impact that Breathe Magic had on her daily life. Cat explains:

“I was slightly nervous as I wasn’t too sure how valued my opinion would be to the various medical professionals. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how attentive people seemed to be of what I had to say.” Cat shares some of the ‘trade secrets’ at the stand:

“We didn’t just demonstrate the magic aspect of our therapy programme but we also wanted people to empathise with the difficulties people with hemiplegia have to face every day. We did this by inviting people to open a packet of crisps with only one hand. Needless to say people struggled and some even resorted to their teeth!”

NHS Expo 2016. Day One. Wed 7th Sept 2016. © NHS England.

Breathe Young Magician Cat Lee (middle) in conversation with an exhibition visitor. With Breathe Clinical Lead Rebecca Johnson (left). NHS Expo 2016. © NHS England.

Expos can be tiring physically and mentally. As a small company we are trying to expand our programme into different regions, therefore our staff are always trying to assess who of the visitors at the stand may prove a key contact for the future. It is also a challenge for the delegates, who are visually bombarded with banners and leaflets. Making each meeting – no matter how short – authentic, genuine and memorable – is not an easy achievement, but young magician Cat achieved this with aplomb. She says,

“the second day saw me take a more active role in demonstrating the programme to the visitors, and I also met several members of the NHS England Youth Forum, whose work I’m interested in following further. I greatly enjoyed finding out what other people’s professions were and even how they could potentially assist Breathe Magic in the future.”

Because Breathe is combining magic routines with principles from occupational therapy, there are two sides to our Breathe Magic Intensive Magic Therapy programme: the performing side, delivered by magicians from the Magic Circle such as Richard and the clinical side. This is where Rebecca Johnson, one of our Clinical Leads, came in. During the Expo Richard would usually perform a quick and surprising trick to intrigue the attendees but this was then always followed closely by Rebecca giving insight into the clinical reasoning for the tricks and demonstrating exactly how magic worked for particular patient groups. Backing up the magical experience with scientific research proved very efficient on the exhibition floor and visitor were charmed by it and grasped the concept in only a short time.

In addition to talking to people at the stand, Richard and Managing Director of Breathe, Yvonne Farquharson, were invited to deliver a short talk to a seated audience at the NHS England theatre. Proving a confident ambassador for the programme young magician Cat joined them:

“I think I was able to effectively get across the amazing functional benefits the camp has brought to my life, along with the confidence boost I was able to gain. I felt my two cents where greatly appreciated by the attendees, who afterwards came up to congratulate me on my part in the presentation.”

NHS Expo 2016. Day One. Wed 7th Sept 2016. © NHS England. Photography by, Victor De Jesus. Mobile: 07931 401268 Email: mail@victordejesus.com

Yvonne Farquharson in conversation with delegates at the NHS Expo 2016. © NHS England.

But exhibitions are not just about spreading the word about your own work, it is also to have an open mind and to be inspired by other people’s efforts and achievements. Richard shares his stand out moment from the Expo:  “My highlight was meeting family members of Kate Granger, who started the extraordinary The Other Side and the Bright Side blog and the #HelloMyNameIs campaign which encourages healthcare staff to introduce themselves to patients. Her powerful message about making human connections is more important and relevant than ever, and was another reminder that authentic communication, whether in hospitals or even in a trade show, lies at the heart of everything.”

The next public event Breathe has been invited to is the World Innovation Summit for Health in Qatar on November 29th and 30th. 

Photo credit: Header NHS England.

Annegret Marten

Article written by Annegret
01 Oct 2016