The 8th RSPH annual arts and health awards focused on the use of creative arts in working with ex-service personnel and their families, in a range of media including music, dance, theatre, creative writing and visual arts.

Sponsored by Canterbury Christchurch University, Anglia Ruskin University, Elsevier, Taylor & Francis and Lankelly Chase and with performances from the Military Wives choir and comedian John Ryan, the awards honoured, celebrated and provided a forum for sharing knowledge about innovations in this field.

Professor Stephen Clift brought expertise on the UK arts and health movement and chaired the event, whilst awards were presented by General the Lord Dannatt, a leading figure in the armed forces with over forty years experience as a soldier, including as chief of general staff, and current president of Help for Heroes.

Those receiving the awards were credited with overcoming initial barriers to engaging with the arts; for men, a perceived gender bias and for all, dispelling concerns that those with little experience are not of sufficient competence to participate. All of our award winners provided participants with the opportunity to be creative and expressive in adult life and the range of projects receiving awards proved that the capacity to create and inform is part of our human birthright.

Lord Dannatt emphasised the importance of the awards in the context of the centenary year of WW1 and the contrast to how little we knew about helping military services personnel and their families 100 years ago, particularly in relation to mental health. The recognition of military services by RSPH is also timely as the largest deployment of armed forces in the last year was to Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic; a major public health issue.

The winning organisations:

Practice award- Abandoned Brothers by Re-Live

Re-Live create theatre and life story work: ‘Abandoned Brothers’ allowed ex-service personnel to explore barriers in a supportive group environment. The project focused on the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on veterans and their families, working with them to shape their experiences into a moving and unique piece of testimonial theatre. The performance had huge benefits for the participants, as well as affecting audience members who reported an increase in empathy and understanding of the issues affecting military families.

Re-Live’s vote of thanks emphasised the timeliness of this year’s awards as the last British troops returned from Afghanistan in 2014. They emphasised the importance of supporting veterans and their families and creating public events which highlight their experiences to deepen public understanding. Re-Live have secured funding from the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant for ‘Coming Home’: a 12 month creative programme for ex-service personnel and their family members who are struggling with the transition to civilian life. This will continue to create a powerful dialogue about the legacy of conflict and how it affects us all.

Combined practice and research award - Home Front

The Home Front project took an innovative approach to tackling the mental health issues affecting military personnel, using comedy as an art form to raise awareness, reduce stigma and break down barriers. The research project has generated new evidence on the effectiveness of comedy based creative arts participation in promoting wellbeing in the Armed Forces.

Special commendations were presented to five well-deserving organisations:

The Military Wives Choirs Foundation 

The network of Military Wives Choirs provided by the Military Wives Choir Foundation support 80 choirs with over 2000 members and generates opportunities to sing, enjoy music, enhance creative ability and improve personal development. Positive benefits of being involved in the choir include: wellbeing, confidence and morale, increased numbers of friends and positive effects on health. Moving personal testament was given to the importance of belonging to the choir during the upheaval and difficulty of moving locations as part of a military family.

5 Soldiers by Rosie Kay Dance Company

5 Soldiers is a moving, dramatic and unique work of dance theatre that looks at how the human body remains essential to war. Those receiving the award were credited with changing perceptions of the general public toward the military and touching people with a deep understanding and portrayal of the life of a soldier. 5 Soldiers toured in spring 2015 to 8 locations around the United Kingdom, both theatres and military venues. Rosie Kay described her own emotional journey as the production evolved, exploring how soldiers cope with risking lives.

Combat Stress

Currently there are over 5900 veterans actively receiving treatment and welfare support from Combat Stress in the forms of drawing, painting and sculpting. Their integrated art therapy model has evolved specifically to meet the needs of traumatised veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression. Mindful of the peculiarities of military culture and informed by neuroscience, art therapy aims to access the non-verbal core of traumatic memories by using its own language of symbols and sensations.

Veterans in Practice 

Veterans in Practice (VIP) is FACT’s creative digital programme for military veterans. The VIP programme holds weekly workshop sessions at FACT, bringing veterans and artists together to collaborate and co-produce creative projects. Whilst the overall aim of the VIP programme is to work with military veterans and artists to develop digital arts projects the methodologies and ethos of FACT’s Engagement team results in additional benefits for participants: increased levels of confidence and self-esteem, new social connections, skill development and a route into other services and organisations.

Wounded Warriors

Recognised with a special international commendation, Wounded Warriors developed from within the Royal Danish Ballet to become an independent organisation providing sustained support for severely wounded ex-servicemen through the use of dynamic polytrauma pilates plus unique opportunities to collaborate in national performances of a new ballet company. Wounded ex-serviceman build self-esteem and confidence through the opportunity of performing with professional dancers: those receiving the award identified it as a significant “milestone” in their journey, recognising the bridges being built between arts and the military.

RSPH would like to offer their warmest congratulations to all our Arts and Health Award winners for 2015.