Breathe Arts Health Research is to be part of the world’s largest ever study into the impact and scalability of arts interventions on physical and mental health.

Announced today by King’s College London and University College London, with an award from Wellcome Trust, this large scale study will investigate both the process and the impact of scaling up our pioneering Melodies for Mums programme for women at risk of postnatal depression, meaning we can reach hundreds more women across South East London.

Our Melodies for Mums service is a 10-week singing course for new mothers experiencing feelings of anxiousness, isolation and low mood. Women are invited to apply to join the groups via a short screening questionnaire that establishes their risk of postnatal depression; those displaying symptoms are then invited to join the course. They bring their baby to the sessions too, and the music is specially chosen to improve singing skills and confidence as well as helping mothers to bond with their babies. This offers women crucial creative support at a time when many mothers struggle with their mental health, but find effective support is often lacking, and symptoms often missed.

Since launching in Southwark in 2017 we have welcomed over 150 women into the groups, including new Mum Jenny:

“Once my partner went back to work, I felt very isolated. I was on an emotional rollercoaster but taking part in Melodies for Mums was a very positive experience. Now I sing, talk and interact with my baby far more than before. After 10 weeks I felt a noticeable difference – my spirits were lifted and I felt in a much better place and able to cope more.”

Our model for the service closely replicates an important pilot study carried out in 2016 by Royal College of Music and Imperial College, which demonstrated that the singing sessions were more effective at reducing symptoms of PND than usual care or social play groups. This approach underpins all of our work here at Breathe, where we strive to find creative solutions to some of the NHS’s biggest challenges and work with them – and artists – to co-create projects that have real impact.

This new research study will allow us to further investigate this impact and reach hundreds more women with this much-needed, innovative service. Our hope is that in the coming months and years Melodies for Mums will follow a similar journey to our renowned Breathe Magic programme in translating research into widespread practice that both extends and complements NHS offerings, leading the NHS to commission the programme as a clinical service in several UK locations.

The study, called ‘SHAPER’ (Scaling-up Health-Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research) will be led by Dr Daisy Fancourt, Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology at UCL and Professor Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at King’s College London. Uniquely, the SHAPER programme will have a stream of work specifically dedicated to examining how the art interventions can be implemented within the NHS, led by Professor Nick Sevdalis and Dr Ioannis Bakolis, both from the Centre for Implementation Science at King’s College London. Melodies for Mums has been selected alongside English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s and Rosetta Life’s Stroke Odysseys.

Professor Sir Robert Lechler, Senior Vice President/Provost (Health) at King’s College London and Executive Director of King’s Health Partners, said:

“We aim to provide the evidence needed for arts-based interventions to be embedded into NHS treatment pathways, offering effective alternatives to traditional therapies while delivering better results for patients and possible cost savings to the NHS.”

Breathe’s Head of Programmes, Hannah Dye, said:

“We at Breathe are extremely proud to be part of SHAPER and its ambitious approach to studying the impact and scalability of these arts interventions. We hope this study will inspire future funders and NHS commissioners to recognise the value of this work and be inspired to invest. Given the recent announcement of NHS England’s new National Academy for Social Prescribing, now is a fantastic time to be starting this project and really bringing into focus how arts projects in healthcare and community settings can change systems – and change lives. We look forward to collaborating with this expert team and most importantly, we’re delighted to be offering Melodies for Mums to so many more women when we know they need it most.