Greeting from the new Chairman of the Breathe Board
David Owen QC, the incoming Chair of the Board at Breathe gives an insight into his part in getting Breathe up and running and talks about what lies ahead for the company.
Breathe Chairman of the Board David Owen with Managing Director Yvonne Farquharson at the Lammy Awards
As I am taking over as Chair of the Board I have been thinking a lot about how the company came into being. I was involved in setting up Breathe, and remain part of the team delivering our magic projects. I was a barrister and QC for many years, and, when not thinking about Breathe, I work on resolving disputes in the business world. It is daunting to step into former Chair Mike Wright’s shoes, but also encouraging that we have such a range of skills and experience on the Board, and such a dedicated team of staff who unfailingly make the Breathe magic happen.
It is interesting to look back to Breathe’s early days, and compare them with where Breathe is now. Before Breathe was formed, the magic camp idea was being developed, and the Performing Arts Programme was carried out as part of the Guy’s and St Thomas’s Charity. With the formation of Breathe, it became possible to bring together these strands of work. We used a social enterprise model to develop them, and to build relationships with funders, project partners, and bodies such as Clinical Commissioning Groups.
In the early life of Breathe, the therapeutic magic programme was still in its infancy, and running a performing arts programme seemed like a daunting prospect. There was little opportunity to do much planning for the future. Over time, our work has developed into managing sizeable, ongoing projects, needing to be nurtured and developed from one year to the next, and supported by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers.
From the Board’s perspective, it has become increasingly important to think strategically, with a business plan aimed at enabling Breathe to flourish and to grow in a controlled way. We remain open to new ideas for arts interventions in the health sector, whilst also needing to be disciplined in focusing resources on projects which best fit with our core activities and strengths. Ensuring strong governance and the sustainability of Breathe’s work are important, ongoing priorities.
All this may sound rather dry. But what is really important, and worthwhile, about the Board’s work is seeing the impact which it has on those taking part in Breathe’s projects.
In relation to the Performing Arts Programme, it has been exciting to see the programme extending to impact on an increasing number of patients, staff and visitors at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, for example, with the development of new pop-up “Breathing Space” events; the creation of a community choir, and the running of a recent pilot involving collaboration between dancers and patients. The Board sees the Performing Arts Programme as a key part of our future work in developing innovative projects, and in broadening the impact of the arts in hospital communities.
Untying the knot. David Owen is also a Member of The Magic Circle.
On the magic front, it is intensely rewarding at each magic camp to see the transformation which takes place in our young magicians between their first day and their final performances at the end-of-camp shows. Over the years I’ve seen many other magic shows, performed by some of the greatest magicians in the world, but I’ve never seen anything to match the joy and excitement of Breathe’s young magicians performing to their friends and families.
It has been gratifying to see the number of magic camps increase, and the development of follow-on magic clubs and “Next Stage” camps, in response to demand from the young magicians and their families. Importantly, our research work is continuing, so that the impact of these developments can be monitored. We will continue to look at ways of extending our therapeutic magic work, and the research on which it is based.
In relation to new projects, it has been very good to see “Melodies for Mums” being launched, as a relatively low-cost, effective intervention in the field of mental health. We look forward to this project, and potentially others, being developed in coming years.
None of this could happen without the efforts of our staff, volunteers and supporters. We are immensely grateful to all of you, and look forward to doing whatever we can to support all that you do for Breathe.