12th May 2020

Thomasin Nicholds, Psychology Lecturer at Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU), shares an exploration carried out in an experiential workshop at the recent Death and Dying Conference



In February a collaborative workshop to explore the role of the Arts in supporting children and families through loss was run by three partner organisations as part of Bishop Grosseteste University’s (BGU) Death and Dying Conference 2020.

The experiential workshop brought together perspectives of three disciplines and sector roles, Thomasin Nicholds, Psychology Lecturer at BGU with a background in community-based services, Mary Hall, Specialist Nurse Practitioner, St Barnabas Hospice Trust along with Victoria Sleight, Music Therapist and Neighbourhood Lead (an organisationally agnostic role enabling system transformation) and used a widely read poem in times of grief, Auden’s Stop All the Clocks to centre its consideration of the role of the Arts.

Throughout history arts have been used as a connection for communities to come together and share, develop and interpret their responses to the social climate of the time.

Taking a cross-sector approach the workshop drew on collaborative working and provided a theoretical context followed by the opportunity for participants to explore the role of the arts in creating space for grief, relationship development and expression of need and emotion through the use of visual arts materials, musical instruments, voice and silence.

Participants were supported to consider the messages widely shared through Auden’s poem in the context of and contrast to contemporary approaches to grief. With an opportunity to explore the needs of grieving children and people more generally, how those needs are communicated to others and how as communities we can learn to respond to those needs through the arts. Participants explored areas such as sensory processing, respect and emotional responses to mortality, with theoretical contributions from the perspectives of Positive Psychology in the development of resilience and the role of the arts in wellbeing alongside tools used in community and clinical palliative care contexts, brought together by an introduction to the role of arts-based therapies.

The concept of Time was represented throughout the workshop, both through physical representation via the use of space and timed activities as well as a concept for exploration when considering the parameters society places on dying, death and grief. There was an observed and reported benefit to this shared experience, with participation from a broad range of personal and professional contexts.

In current times of Social Distancing and Isolation the shared experience this offered is accentuated and the opportunity to collectively participate in the arts challenged, particularly at times of dying and death. There will be new considerations for communities to address in times of loss and the absolute nature of our distance from people close to us. Physical removal of our support systems and our usual routines brings a new complexity to ensuring children and families can communicate and share their needs in grief and more broadly. The arts can be a valuable tool to enable the exploration of emotion and for creativities sake, with widely shared family experiences being a daily occurrence in the media this shared session in February has a new relevance in the context of a global pandemic.

During these unprecedented times the roll of the arts in group expression has become located within the home and families are turning to creativity as both a way to communicate but also to revisit the idea of ‘play’ and collaborative exploration. Many families have worked together to produce rainbows to express their gratitude to key workers when words cannot be shared; some playing Over the Rainbow on instruments or quite simply banging pots and pans together on a Thursday at 8pm. Although this may not be perceived as high level participatory art; it encapsulates the essence of how powerful the arts can be when general conversation is inhibited.


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