Highlights from 10 years of Breathe - Breathe

Highlights from 10 years of Breathe

Tue 27 Sep 2022

Celebrating 10 years of Breathe Arts Health Research at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, supported by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, we’re taking a look back at some of the highlights from over the years and the impact of our work from staff, patients and visitors. We’ll hear from Breathe team members, former and current Guy's and St Thomas' staff, participants, and some of Breathe’s many creative artists; all of whom have helped shape our work over the past 10 years.

2012: The Beginnings of Breathe Arts Health Research                                            

Breathe began life as a seed of an idea with our Founder and Director, Yvonne Farquharson. Back in 2012, the new social entrepreneur drew on her passion and experience from managing the performing arts programme at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS, to create a pioneering new social enterprise company that had the vision to bring arts and creativity into mainstream healthcare.

With new investment from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, the fledgling company needed a name that did justice to her ambition and passion. So, why Breathe Arts Health Research? It reflects the values of the organisation that have remained a cornerstone for the last ten years. As Yvonne explains, ‘Breathing is something that we all do; it is available to everyone, a great equalizer. This reflects our belief that the arts should be an indispensable part of healthcare, not just a ‘nice to have’. We want to breathe life into innovative ideas and move the arts and health sector forward.’ Adding ‘Arts Health Research’ reflects the intention and continued ethos today that scientific research would underpin the work.   

2013: Growing Breathe’s Resident Musicians

A unique part of Breathe’s work at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS is our Resident Musicians. This group of twelve talented professionals bring calming and uplifting live music to clinics, wards and staff wellbeing areas to enhance the hospital environment, reduce stress and anxiety for staff, patients and visitors. The music and choice of instrument is also carefully considered to suit the setting. We visit over 60 locations at Guy’s and St Thomas’ every month, so listen out for them!  

One of our original Resident Musicians and classical guitarist, Dimitris spoke to us about his experience of playing in the hospitals:  

Live music in healthcare is very important to me. It is very rewarding and makes me feel very complete to be able to share my music with people whose health condition may not allow them to go to venues and listen to live music. It’s why you get some amazing reactions that makes me really happy. I could not imagine my career or who I am today as a musician without performing live music in healthcare. 
Dimitris Dekavallas, Breathe Resident Musician

About our live music programme: https://breatheahr.org/programmes/breathing-spaces/  

2015: The Cultural Cycle 

In summer 2015, Gavin Tiffin, Hospitality Manager at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS took on the epic challenge of a sponsored bike ride cycling over 2000 miles from London to St Petersburg, raising money for both Breathe and Evelina London Children’s Hospital.  

This inspiring undertaking was kicked off by Gavin and Breathe Performing Arts Manager, Tim Osborn, pedalling on static bikes in St Thomas’ hospital to power the speakers for the first concert. Breathe continued to support the fundraiser by programming weekly live concerts themed to countries that Gavin was passing through. 

‘During my time at Guy's and St Thomas', I developed a strong relationship with the team at Breathe, I found their approach to enhancing lives inspiring and innovative. I wanted to try and do something to help the team, and others working in the arts, to showcase how the arts can help people heal.’ 
Gavin Tiffin, (Former) Hospitality Manager at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS

Gavin cycled over 2000 miles in 3 weeks raising £8000 for both organisations. He concluded: I would like to thank Yvonne and the whole team for everything they have achieved in the last 10 years and wish them many more years of spreading happiness. 

2017: Giving NHS staff a place to sing! 

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS staff choir, Breathe Harmony, formerly known as ‘Trust Harmonix’, was originally set up in 2017 by Breathe. Former Performing Arts Manager, Tim Osborn set up the staff choir in response to reaction from them a staff roadshow: “We asked staff what arts activity appealed to them as a creative outlet, and the overwhelming reaction was for a staff choir. 

We were keen that the choir would be non-auditioned and that staff should be able to attend no matter what their singing ability or experience. Around 26 people turned up to the first rehearsal and many of them are still with the choir! They have performed in large concert venues such as St Johns Smith Square and Greenwich Theatre in front of audiences of several hundred. Led by talented choir directors, Mike King and Katie Rose, Breathe Harmony continues today and is open to all staff and official volunteers.  

Guy’s & St Thomas’ Staff Only: Sign up to the choir here.

Watch Breathe Harmony’s official single, released 2020 below

2018: The Art of Portering 

The Art of Portering was a collaboration between Breathe and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, collaborating with the Portering team across Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals. The project saw poet and performer Simon Mole engage with the Portering team to then inform a brand-new art display along their most used routes within the hospital. The artworks selected are part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity’s art and heritage collection, one of the largest and oldest hospital collections in the UK.  

“Not only did the Portering team inform the art displays along the corridors they travel through daily, they now enjoy talking to patients about the pieces; their interpretation of them and why they chose them.”
Hannah Dye, Head of Programmes 

The Art of Portering project has brightened up our most walked routes and given us something to talk to the patients about”.  

Francis O’Ruke, Porter 

“It’s a great idea. On the way to my appointment we had to wait for the lift so it was really interesting to learn about the different pieces of art.” 

Patient, St Thomas’ 

2020: A place to dance during lockdown

 Breathe Dance for Staff Wellbeing was set up in response to NHS staff needs during the height of the pandemic in 2020.  We The new programme, led by dance lead and Breathe team member, Georgia Heighway The plan was to offer 6-weeks of online classes. A full two years later we continued to log on each week to dance together, from living rooms, kitchens, hospital wards and offices, enjoying the power of dance to relieve stress, boost mood and connect with colleagues through the screen.  

 Sharon Hudswell, Assistant Service Manager, was there from the very beginning. “I have benefitted so much on so many levels from doing the classes, especially with them helping my physical and mental health, certainly throughout some very uncertain times. Georgia kept us all engaged and energised and found just the right pace to work at, adjusting as and when needed, and always had a fantastic play list to dance to too!” 

Breathe’s Dance for Staff Wellbeing is now offered to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS staff in person! Find more: https://breatheahr.org/programmes/breathe-dance-for-staff-wellbeing/  

Watch the Breathe Dance film on Breathe’s YouTube below: Breathe Dance for NHS Staff Wellbeing 

2022: Creative Breaks visits the Florence Nightingale Garden            

In July 2022, Creative Breaks for Staff Wellbeing, Breathe’s online weekly drawing workshop for NHS staff met for the first time in person in the tranquil new Florence Nightingale garden, nestled between St Thomas’ hospital overlooking the Thames. 14 Guy’s and St Thomas’ staff including nurses, IT analysts, speech and language therapists and administrators created a large-scale collaborative drawing inspired by the newly-planted garden. First seen at RHS Chelsea Flower show and featuring inscriptions from Florence Nightingale’s diary, the garden is now a permanent feature at the hospital – a green space for all.  

Melia Mathioudaki, Analyst and Creative Breaks participant said about her first in person Creative Breaks workshop: “I started joining Creative Breaks in October 2021 during my lunch break at work. I quickly started blocking this specific time in my calendar to ensure I can attend with no interruptions, as I noticed the effect it had on my mental health. I found it very therapeutic, giving me a moment to breathe within the day.” 

Breathe’s work at Guy’s and St Thomas’ is made possible thanks to the supporters of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.