The contribution of the arts to public health is being celebrated on 18 November 2015 at a prestigious awards ceremony at Portland Place in London.

Now in their eighth year, the RSPH’s Arts and Health Awards, in partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University, recognise organisations and initiatives that draw on the power of music, visual arts, drama and dance to help promote health and wellbeing.

This year, as part of the ongoing remembrance of the First World War, the Awards focused on the role of organisations and initiatives that support the wellbeing of military personnel and their families.

At the ceremony, winners were presented with their awards by former head of the British Army Lord Dannatt, and there were performances from the North London Military Wives Choir and comedian John Ryan.

Alongside the two winners, five organisations received a special commendation, including one special international commendation. The winners are:

  • Combined Practice and Research Award – Home Front
  • Practice Award – Abandoned Brothers, by Re-Live
  • Special Commendation – 5 Soldiers, by Rosie Kay Dance Company
  • Special Commendation – Combat Stress
  • Special Commendation – Military Wives Choirs Foundation
  • Special Commendation – Veterans in Practice
  • Special International Commendation – Danish Wounded Warriors Project

Find out more about the winners below.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “We are delighted to name Home Front and Abandoned Brothers as our Arts and Health Awards winners for 2015. The mental wellbeing of military personnel and their families is a uniquely challenging area, yet both these projects have approached it in innovative and creative ways that have seen real results and benefits for the people they have set out to help. Congratulations must also go to all those who have received special commendations. It is heartening to see so many organisations working with such commitment in this field, helping to raise awareness of the health and wellbeing issues military personnel and their families face, and inspiring others to provide much-needed support through the creative arts.”

This year’s winners

Combined Practice and Research Award: Home Front
The Home Front project, which ran from January 2012 to January 2013, took an innovative approach to tackling mental health issues affecting military personnel, using stand-up comedy to increase awareness, encourage new ways of thinking and reduce stigma. The act was developed using focus groups to establish the content for the shows, based on the experiences and beliefs of armed forces personnel around mental health. The research aspect of the project has gathered new evidence on the effectiveness of comedy-based creative arts participation in promoting wellbeing in the armed forces.

Accepting the award, Maya Twardzicki of Surrey County Council and Lift the Lid Productions said:  “It is an honour to receive this award and have our innovative approach of using comedy in public mental health work recognised. The award will raise the profile of the Home Front project, and help us build on the research to establish longevity of its impact. We encourage other organisations to enter the RSPH awards to help increase their reach and raise the profile of the arts as valuable tools to deliver public health work.”

Major Norman Jones, from the Academic Department of Military Mental Health at King’s College London, added: "Armed forces personnel do a difficult job which can sometimes have adverse psychological consequences. They are affected by stigmatisation regarding mental health matters and can sometimes find it difficult to seek help. Happily, they also have a robust sense of humour which helps them in adversity. We are very happy to receive the award on their behalf for their help in supporting our attempt to use comedy to reduce stigma and promote help-seeking among a very deserving group of people."

Practice Award: Abandoned Brothers, by Re-Live
Re-Live, an organisation which creates theatre and life story work, delivered its arts and wellbeing project Abandoned Brothers in Cardiff in June 2014. The project focused on the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on veterans and their families, working with groups of veterans and their family members to shape their experiences into a moving and unique piece of testimonial theatre. An exhibition of art work also emerged from the project and was displayed in the theatre during performance week. 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, and an increased desire to see more action being taken around the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Special Commendations

5 Soldiers, by Rosie Kay Dance Company
5 Soldiers is a performance dance theatre work, unique in British dance history. It has challenged and changed perceptions of the general public toward the military, showing the sheer effort, physical work and commitment involved in their work, and touching people through its deep understanding and portrayal of the life of a soldier.

Rosie Kay, Artistic Director of the Rosie Kay Dance Company, said: “It’s a huge honour to receive this award for 5 Soldiers, a work that has a special place in all our hearts. 5 Soldiers, and the bespoke outreach programme of activity that supports it, were created with great care, thought and embodied research. This was only possible with the contribution of so many great artists, collaborators, dance leaders and participants, who really put their hearts and souls into the project. Thanks must also go to the Army Welfare Services for their support. The intersection between the arts and the military is a controversial, new and relatively untested territory, but one that is vitally important and challenges many assumptions – in both directions! We feel incredibly privileged to have worked with so many incredible people in the armed services and in arts centres and theatres around the country.”

Combat Stress
Art therapy was introduced to Combat Stress, the veterans’ mental health charity, in October 2001. Over the years since then an adaptive, integrated art therapy model has evolved specifically to meet the needs of traumatised veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Janice Lobban, Senior Art Psychotherapist for Combat Stress, said: “We are delighted and honoured to receive a Special Commendation from RSPH for our contribution to arts and health practice. Through art therapy, veterans are able to express themselves in ways that are not possible by using words alone. Research has shown that art therapy is able to access non-verbal parts of the brain that communicate through emotions, visual imagery and body sensations, bypassing the rigid and repetitive thought patterns that can hamper recovery. In this way art therapy can assist recovery on a structural level by establishing new neural pathways that alter function.”

Military Wives Choirs Foundation
The Military Wives Choir Foundation supports a network of 75 Military Wives Choirs with over 2,000 members, and provides opportunities to sing and enjoy music, enhancing creative ability and improving personal development. They are commended for their work in partnership with the Sidney de Haan Centre at Canterbury Christ Church University to define the health impact of singing and being part of a choir. Their research study showed that 73% members felt a stronger sense of wellbeing since joining a Military Wives Choir, 85% increased in confidence through performing, and 80% noted a positive effect on their health as a result of singing.

Sara Smalley, Trustee of the Military Wives Choirs Foundation, said: "The Military Wives Choir Foundation is delighted to receive this Commendation from RSPH. We knew that Military Wives Choirs were providing fun and friendship, but we were greatly encouraged by results of the research showing the deeper the health and wellbeing impact. Involvement in the RSPH Awards has provided us with a spotlight to herald the positive health benefits of being a member of a Military Wives Choir. MWCF provides support and services to women in the military community wherever they are based, across a network of 75 choirs."

Veterans in Practice
Veterans in Practice (VIP) is a creative digital programme for military veterans, run by the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT). Since 2013, the programme has held weekly workshop sessions at FACT, bringing veterans and artists together to collaborate and co-produce creative projects, including animations, documentaries and online projects.

Emily Gee, Communities Manager for FACT, said: “FACT is so proud that VIP has been chosen by RSPH for this Special Commendation for the excellence of its contribution to arts and health practice. VIP supports military veterans by creating a space where they can discuss similar personal experiences, be creative and gain new social connections and experiences. We'd like to thank all of the veterans who have been a part of VIP, past and present, all of our wonderful artists, FACT staff, and a special thanks to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for supporting the VIP programme.”

Special International Commendation

Danish Wounded Warriors Project
The Danish Wounded Warriors Project has been 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. It gives unique opportunities to collaborate in national performances and develop new and contemporary work.

Jojo Bowman, Director of the Danish Wounded Warriors Project, said: “It is hard to believe that the Danish Wounded Warriors Project began five years ago, with two professional ballet dancers, putting our knowledge of movement, balance and strength to the test, volunteering our time to help Danish war veterans learn to walk again. It’s even harder to believe that this work has now gained international recognition and that we are to be awarded a 'Special International Commendation' by the RSPH. We are simply overwhelmed with pride.”