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The state of someone’s health and their experiences of health care are conditioned by a wide range of factors throughout society, many of which are outside the immediate remit of health care services. Interventions to improve peoples’ health therefore may require involving expertise from a wide range of disciplines and particularly those within SHAPE (Social Sciences Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy).  As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing noted in its 2017 Creative Inquiry Report, there are a wide range of benefits from engagement in the arts and humanities for health throughout the life-course. Similarly the World Health Organisation has noted how economic and social policies as well as political systems can help determine health outcomes. 
One of the key goals of the Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR) is to explore and develop interdisciplinary and inter-faculty collaboration around health-related research across the University of Plymouth. The SHAPEing Health collaboration aims to support health related research and develop inter-disciplinary collaborations with our colleagues in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business

Using music to improve patient health and wellbeing

Based in the School of Society and Culture Professor Eduardo Miranda’s pioneering research demonstrates the powerful role that music can play in improving health and transforming people’s lives. Through the £2.7 Million RadioMe project, Eduardo has been using artificial intelligence to adapt and personalise live radio for people living alone with dementia, aiding their quality of life and helping them to live independently for longer.

Eduardo has also developed a unique Brain-Computer Music Interface technology which enables individuals with severe motor impairment to create and perform music with signals from brain activity. This enabled Rosemary Johnson, who was prevented from becoming a word-class violinist due to an accident resulting in brain damage, to make music once again.

The Institute of Education’s Professor Jocey Quinn’s research also touches on the role of music in supporting patients, including those with dementia, autism and stroke. The Beyond Words project funded by Arts Council England and conducted in collaboration with Plymouth Music Zone worked with people who communicate in ways other than words. Rather than seeing them in deficit terms the researchers positioned them as post-verbal with unexplored capacities. They followed their engagement with music over sixteen months and also conducted 30 arts workshops with them, as well as 44 interviews with family members and carers, and focus groups with music leaders. Their research used posthuman theories and methodologies to show how participants challenge limited ideas about what it is to be human. Jocey is now currently researching how people with dementia are both learners and teachers, showing that they have the capacity to learn new things even at a very late stage of the disease.

Art in health communication

The Arts can also play an important role in health communication. The 'There 2 Care' project, led by the School of Art, Design and Architecture’s Dr Kayla Parker, developed a short animated video, in collaboration with young carers and carer workers at The Zone, for Plymouth Children's Services, Plymouth City Council. The video serves as a training tool for healthcare professionals, teachers and children and aims to raise awareness about young carers.

Staff in the Peninsula Medical School have been utilising artwork as part of an initiative to educate midwifes in Uganda about the dangers of biomass smoke. Biomass smoke exposure is harmful to pregnant women, the baby in utero, and in early years of life and this midwife-led education programme in the Jinja district will help midwifes and other community healthcare works to reduce the risks to mother, foetus and young children. As part of the project University of Plymouth BA (Hons) Illustration students, Rachel Simpson, Skye Liu Tianzi and Georgina Moram, produced some artwork to demonstrate the messages of The Midwife Project. Click here for more information.

Smart communities and healthcare

Another facet of arts-health collaboration is the role of space and place in the healthcare of residents, and the impact that smart technology might make to overcome geographical and socio-economic barriers to good health. The EPSRC Network Plus Beyond project 'Human Data Interaction and the Future of the City'aims to understand how people in rural communities can be helped to breathe more easily by sharing breathing data in an 'Internet of Things' (IoT) ' in the wild', facilitated by a test bed network. Led by Professor Katharine Willis, Professor of Smart Cities and Communities in the School of Art, Design and Architecture, it looks at piloting smart technology within rural and coastal communities, like in the South West of England. In collaboration with Ray Jones, Professor of Health Informatics and the eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project, the project is engaging with technology companies, local breather groups and GP services.

Katherine has also been working with PIHR researchers Professor Ray Jones MBE, Professor Sheena Asthana and Dr Richard Ayers on community engagement work, including a Centre for Health Technology pop-up in Stonehouse, Plymouth. As one of the most deprived areas in the UK, the pop-up centre will aim to address health inequalities and social deprivation using digital technology and eHealth solutions. This includes companion robots as well as apps and internet-based health and welfare resources. Click here for more information

Community arts and social prescription

Professor Anthony Caleshu, Professor of English and Creative Writing in the School of Society and Culture has been working with PIHR Director Professor Sheena Asthana and Plymouth Medical School's Dr Kerryn Husk. They are focusing specifically on the potential of community arts groups to support the practice of ‘social prescription’ – a mode of non‐medical community referral, to help individuals manage ‘common mental health symptoms’ as they are known. The research team will be working with community arts groups and evaluating the benefit of social prescribing community arts activity, especially on those suffering common mental health symptoms. It will work with and evaluate the benefits of 'The Joy App', a digital web/app with a mission to add ten years to life expectancy through better social health. 

Applications to Biofeedback

Professor Eduardo Mirandais applying his expertise in music technology to a new project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and led by Dr Stephen Preece at the University of Salford. Optimusclewill create a prototype that will provide multimodal biofeedback (information about the body) to those living with dysfunctional breathing, so that they can better manage their condition. Eduardo Miranda will lead the participatory design of the biofeedback system that will enable real-time visualisation and sound to represent muscle patterns during breathing.

Researching the determinants of health inequalities

We have been working with our partners in Plymouth City Council (PCC) and the voluntary and community sector, as well as the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business to research the wider societal causes of health inequalities. In Autumn 2022, PCC, in collaboration with the University, through PIHR, secured 4.7 million from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) for the first, and so far, only Health Determinants Research Collaboration in the South West. We are utilising our share of the funding to adapt our successful embedded research model involving. This involves researchers-in-residence working with Plymouth City Council staff and community partners to carry out research and evaluation projects to address the determinants of health inequalities in the city. 

SHAP(E)ing Health Collaboration fund

In recognition of the powerful contribution that the arts can make to health and well-being we launched the SHAP(E)ing Health Collaboration Fund
to develop a small seed-corn funding stream to support arts-health collaboration projects. 
Digital health resources

Centre for Coastal Communities

It is increasingly recognised that new and worrying patterns of deprivation have materialised in peripheral coastal areas across the UK, but there has been limited investigation of the problems experienced in widely varying coastal settlements. PIHR, alongside our partners in the Marine and Sustainable Earth Institutes, as well as the Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Business is consequently leading a new cross-disciplinary Centre for Coastal Communities, building upon the University’s existing strengths in coastal research.
The Centre will examine the economic, environmental, socio-cultural and health issues faced by coastal communities. 
Torquay panorama