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30 October 2019

World's largest study into the impact of arts on physical and mental health

The world’s largest ever study into the impact and scalability of arts interventions on physical and mental health has been launched by King’s College London and UCL, supported by a £2m award from Wellcome Trust.

Rosetta Life's Stroke Odysseys © Pari Naderi
Rosetta Life's Stroke Odysseys © Pari Naderi

Interventions proven to improve patient health, such as singing groups for postnatal depression, dance classes for people with Parkinson’s and movement and music sessions for stroke patients will be trialled among larger groups of people within NHS hospitals and health centres.

SHAPER – Scaling-up Health-Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research – will be led by Professor Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at King’s College London and Dr Daisy Fancourt, Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology at UCL, alongside a multidisciplinary team of artists, scientists and clinicians brought together by research manager, Dr Tony Woods, and arts advisor, Nikki Crane.

There is growing research on the impact of the arts on health. But more work is needed to take programmes from successful local projects with short-term funding to national programmes commissioned by the health sector.

Professor Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at King’s College London

King’s will leverage its connections across King’s Health Partners to trial the interventions alongside Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts, as well as community centres across Lambeth and Southwark.

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 from the Centre for Implementation Science at King’s College London.

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.

Professor Sir Robert Lechler, Senior Vice President/Provost (Health) at King’s College London

Three arts interventions will be offered to patients:

  • Melodies for Mums from Breathe Arts Health Research’s brings together new mothers – referred by GPs, midwives and other health professionals – in singing and music sessions with their babies. Led by Breathe Arts Health Research, Dr Fancourt and Professor Pariante alongside Professor Paola Dazzan, Professor of Neurobiology of Psychosis, it aims to reduce symptoms of postnatal depression.

  • Dance for Parkinson’s from English National Ballet (ENB) will be upscaled and tested at King’s College Hospital. Led by Professor K Ray Chaudhuri, Professor of Movement Disorders and Neurology at King’s College London and a Consultant at King’s College Hospital, it will see people with Parkinson’s join weekly ballet classes, incorporating live music, dance, rhythm and voice with specialist ENB dance artists and musicians. Dance for Parkinson’s has been shown to reduce social isolation, benefit emotional and social wellbeing and improve stability, fluidity of movement and posture to support everyday life.

  • Stroke Odysseys, a project delivered by charity Rosetta Life and initially developed and funded by King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, will be tested at scale for the first time, led by Professor Nick Ward, Professor of Clinical Neurology and Neurorehabilitation at UCL and Stroke Specialist Consultant Nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Angela Roots.

Speaking about Melodies for Mums, Dr Fancourt says: 'Evidence from two years of clinical trials and mechanistic studies of singing has demonstrated the promise of community-led singing programmes as an effective and engaging intervention both for mothers’ mental health and to support the early development of their infants. This programme will allow us to further test the intervention to reach more mothers who could benefit.'


Throughout my career I’ve seen first-hand the many ways in which arts and culture enhance health and wellbeing. The Creative Health report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health & Wellbeing, for which King’s was research partner, was a reminder of the vast range of arts in health interventions already taking place and the huge opportunities they could present, if proven at scale.

Baroness Bull (Deborah Bull), Vice President & Vice Principal (London) and Senior Advisory Fellow for Culture at King’s College London

Philomena Gibbons, Deputy Director for Culture & Society at Wellcome says: ‘There are many examples which show the impact of embedding arts interventions in mainstream clinical care. But if we are to build up a good evidence base, and develop effective implementation and evaluation models, we need to enable researchers, cultural organisations and clinical care providers to explore this area on a bigger scale.’

To learn more visit King’s Arts, Health & Wellbeing Hub   

Image credits: (L-R) Breathe Arts Health Research, Melodies for Mums, image by Leigha Fearon; Breathe Arts Health Research, Melodies for Mums; English National Ballet, Dance for Parkinson's (c) Laurent Liotardo; English National Ballet, Dance for Parkinson's (c) Rachel Cherry; Rosetta Life, Stroke Odysseys (c) Pari Naderi; Rosetta Life,Stroke Odysseys (c) Pari Naderi.