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08 April 2021

ECHO and CME deliver creative sessions for children and families undergoing surgery, recovery or treatment

The workshops were an opportunity for researchers to talk about their research in an engaging and accessible way and to connect with the ECHO community


Tackling the isolation caused by the pandemic, a series of creative public engagement workshops saw heart and brain researchers from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences talking about their work with the ECHO community. The workshops, developed as part of the Happiness Live series for ECHO charity, aimed to promote wellbeing in families of children with heart conditions and to celebrate the research in our School.

The workshops were developed in collaboration between ECHO, a charity which supports young people with heart conditions and their families, and the public engagement team of the Centre for Medical Engineering at the School. The two have a long-standing partnership.

The ECHO community has been greatly impacted by COVID-19, which saw the charity stop all community events and much of their in-hospital support. The pandemic has resulted in parents and carers in hospital with their children feeling particularly isolated.

ECHO CEO, Samantha Johnson said: "Welcoming scientists and researchers to these workshops as part of the ECHO Happiness Hub has been a wonderful way of bringing researcher’s work to life in an informal and creative space, where families in the ECHO heart community can gain a new insight into their work while taking part together in a virtual activity such as origami, sound, drawing and mindfulness."

The workshops have helped scientists to raise awareness of their research and introduce themselves to the ECHO heart community in a different way than they may have before. Importantly for families in hospital and at home, they were able to connect with researchers outside of a medical environment and ask questions along the way. Many of the families we support have been at home shielding, in hospital or away from loved ones and our Happiness Hub was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide some distraction to the families we serve and our supporters.

ECHO CEO, Samantha Johnson

Professor Serena Counsell, Dr Alexandra Bonthrone, Dr Thomas Day, Suzette Lust and Lindsay Munroe each collaborated with a creative practitioner to deliver a live-streamed sessions for audiences to tune into.

Paediatric and fetal cardiologist Dr Thomas Day was part of a Detective of Sounds session which saw him interpreting everyday sounds with Anna Staufenberg, podcast producer, listening and engaging in different ways with the sounds we have in our surroundings including those a baby may hear in the womb.

Suzette Lust, PhD student, joined artist Jenny Leonard to draw shapes while talking about her area of research and sharing insights on the heart and blood vessels. Lindsay Munroe, PhD student, folded a blossom heart with Dr Lizzie Burns, science based artist, while talking about her research exploring ways to measure iron in the body and brain.

King’s Perinatal Imaging & Health Professor Serena Counsell and research associate Dr Alexandra Bonthrone also joined Dr Burns, folding roses while talking about their research exploring the brain and heart.

Anna and Tom
Serena Counsell

As our work focuses on brain development in children with Congenital Heart Disease, we felt this was a great opportunity to engage with families outside of the usual research setting. The workshops improved my awareness of the ECHO charity and helped me think about engaging in non-traditional academic formats.

Professor Serena Counsell
suzette and artist

I was motivated to participate as I have previously done public engagement events and absolutely loved it. I was particularly drawn to this event because lockdown has made me realise how important feeling connected is, and so I wanted to help even in a small way to do something fun and help patients feel heard.

Suzette Lust
Lizzie and Lindsay

Public Engagement Officer, Bella Spencer, said the workshops were an opportunity for researchers to talk about their research in an engaging and accessible way and to connect with the ECHO community.

She hopes the workshops brought science to life through creativity and provided a gentle distraction for families stuck at home during the pandemic. 

Families with children undergoing surgery, treatment or recovery are currently isolated. ECHO, creative practitioners and our researchers, experts in the heart and brain, delivered friendly and thoughtful sessions to children and their families to not only provide a break from lockdown but also to open a new way of talking about important research.

Ms Bella Spencer

In this story

Serena  Counsell

Professor of Perinatal Imaging & Health

Bella Spencer

Public Engagement Manager

Thomas Day

Clinical Research Fellow