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Imagination and Wellbeing Conference

@Theatre Deli202 Eyre Street Sheffield S1 4QZ

Thursday 27th September


This event is now fully booked. You can join the waiting list by clicking here

A day long event that brings together representatives from research, the creative community, health, arts policy, and education to explore how imagination influences our wellbeing. Including talks, discussion groups and networking.

Open to everyone. Likely to be of special interest to those working in the creative, health, research, policy and education sectors with links to the arts.

This event is part of Festival of the Mind and Arts Council England Research Grant.


The Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield and Ignite Imaginations have partnered up to carry out some exciting and important research on  imagination and wellbeing. Our project has been funded by an Arts Council England.

The arts are commonly portrayed as forms of entertainment and leisure, but in this research people’s engagement with the arts are framed as encounters with other people’s imagination. These encounters include traditional forms of arts participation, such visiting a gallery or theatre, but they also encompass other everyday activities, such as watching a television drama or reading fiction. Participation in these encounters offer potential benefits or deficits that extend to different aspects of psychological wellbeing, including life satisfaction, affective wellbeing, and meaning in life. Our research has begun to investigate the frequency of these daily encounters and how their effects on wellbeing depend on their form and content.



10.30AM -10.50AM Arrivals

10.50AM -11AM Welcome Luisa Golob (Ignite Imaginations)

11AM -11.30AM  How People’s Encounters with Artistic Imagination Impact Psychological Wellbeing - University of Sheffield’s Professor Peter Totterdell and Giulia Poerio.

11.30AM -12noon Key Note: "Second Lives for the Third Age"

Professor David James- Director and Dr Ben Heller- Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University.


12.15PM -1.15PM Talks 1 & 2

Talk 1: "The art of engaging in a culturally driven wellbeing project."

Helen Featherstone- Director, Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust.

Talk 2: "Birth Shock: Using the Arts to Interrogate the Birth Experience."
Professor Susan Hogan; Professor of Arts & Health, Research & Development Lead, College of Health & Social Care Research Centre. Derby University.


2PM - 3PM Talks 3 & 4

Talk 3: "Past Time" 

Professor Hilary Marland, University of Warwick. Co- Principal Investigator on the Wellcome Trust project and Saul Hewish, Director, Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation). 

Talk 4: "The Reader - How Shared Reading is making the world a better place"

Dr Jane Davis, Founder and Director, The Reader.

3PM -3.45PM Discussion groups.

3.45PM - 4.30PM Close & Refreshments.


Key Note Speech: Second Lives for the Third Age

Virtual worlds offer rich possibilities to explore imagination and to promote wellbeing. This talk will present research on how virtual worlds can be used by older people to enhance their balance and coordination, whilst providing opportunities to develop social interactions. In the virtual environment, anything is possible, and this can provide empowerment for individuals who may suffer from limited physical mobility and social isolation.

Talk 1: The art of engaging in a culturally driven wellbeing project.

Increasingly arts organisations, museums, theatres and galleries are recognising the social impact of their work, and the benefits that people derive from engaging in arts and culture.  This often chimes with their increasingly socially driven missions statements, and presents opportunities.  What are some of the issues to consider when thinking of working in their field and how far does the recognition of the impact of the arts and culture on people’s wellbeing go?

Talk 2: Birth Shock: Using the Arts to Interrogate the Birth Experience.

Births can be traumatising for all involved; obstetricians and midwives are subject to very different stresses to the women they serve. Yet all those witnessing the birth (and death) of babies may also be traumatised - both professionals and birth-partners. Furthermore, hospital protocols, coupled with the unpredictability of birthing itself, can override what women want and expect in terms of a birth experience, leaving some women frankly in shock, which then can have a knock-on effect on infant development. The Birth Project uses the arts to explore this complex and emotive  eld.

Throughout the course of the research, parents and birth workers have been given the opportunity to explore their experiences of compassion fatigue, stress, birth suffering and post-natal readjustments using the arts: drawing and painting, photography, photo-diaries and art elicitation in participatory arts community workshops, primarily through art making and elucidation of the art works produced. A major component of the research is that it is filmed by Sheffield Vision and that the films are then being edited in such a way as to address the research questions.

Talk 3: Past Time

Hilary and Saul will discuss their collaborative project Past Time, which has been running with men at HM Prison Hewell exploring the history of prison food through research, drama and cookery. The project encourages vulnerable prisoners to become creative researchers, to imagine the past and the future, and to develop coping strategies as well as educational qualifications.


Prisoner voice is one of the most useful materials available to historical researchers, and this public engagement activity was developed to investigate what today’s prisoners thought about the past. Participants were encouraged to imagine and investigate, using prompts from the archives, what conditions in the past were like and why, and consider how that relates to current prison conditions and diet.


Two cohorts of the programme have completed, with feedback universally positive from participants, prison staff, and audiences. The power of the Arts to unlock new horizons for these men, to interact with them in a way that is very different from standard educational methodologies, is very clear from the psychological evaluations the men completed pre and post-programme showing much increased wellbeing and mental health as a result of their participation.

Talk 4: The Reader - How Shared Reading is making the world a better place

National charity, The Reader, has pioneered the use of Shared Reading to improve well-being, reduce social isolation and build resilience in diverse communities across the UK and beyond. 

More than 500 Shared Reading groups now take place each week in care homes, hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters, libraries and community centres across the UK.  


Professor Hilary Marland
University of Warwick. Co- Principal Investigator on the Wellcome Trust project 

Professor Hilary Marland is one of the PIs on the Welcome funded project and Director of the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick. With the other PI, Professor Catherine Cox (UCD) she is researching mental health in prison.

Saul Heiwsh
Director at Rideout (Creative A
rts for Rehabilitation)

Saul is one of the country's leading practitioners in the use of drama and theatre with offenders and is a recipient of a Butler Trust Award, a national award which recognises exceptional work by staff in HM Prison Service. 

Dr Ben Heller
Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Sports Engineering Research
Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Ben Heller is a principal research fellow in the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University. His expertise is in medical engineering and instrumentation, particularly for the ambulatory monitoring of human activity. 

Professor David James (Write Professor)
Director of the Centre for Sports Engineering Research
Sheffield Hallam University

Professor David James is the Director of the Centre for Sports Engineering Research (CSER). David’s current research is focused sports mechanics, injury prevention and the ethical considerations of an increasingly scientific sporting arena. David is a visiting professor at TU Delft, Netherlands, and the Editor-in-chief of the 2017 International Conference on Sports Engineering in Jaipur, India. 

Helen Featherstone
Director of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust

Helen joined Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust in July 2017 as Director and brings with her a wealth of experience having worked in the arts and cultural sector for twenty years.  Helen previously held a national role at Arts Council England as Senior Manager for Engagement and Audiences where she specialised in Arts, Health and Wellbeing, Arts and Older People and undertook day to day management of the Creative People and Places programme; a £57 M programme in 21 places across the country to engage people who were not regular attenders in arts, culture and heritage.

Professor Susan Hogan

Professor in Cultural Studies & Art Therapy
Derby University

I have research interests in the history of medicine. I have written extensively on the relationship between the arts, insanity, and the role of the arts in rehabilitation. I am also very interested in the treatment of women within psychiatry and maternity care. Recent work is ESRC funded, in collaboration with the University of Sheffield, Department of Sociological Studies, which is looking at representions of older women. 

Luisa Golob
CEO Ignite Imaginations

Luisa Golob is CEO of an ambitious arts charity based in Sheffield, fundraising over £1million to run quality creative activities for local communities, involving thousands people in the past 10 years. Working with 25 freelance artists, Ignite Imaginations work within communities where there is little opportunity to engage.

Professor Peter Totterdell 
Professor of Psychology at University of Sheffield

Peter Totterdell is a Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Sheffield, UK. Much of his research has focused on studying emotion in applied settings. The three authors are currently collaborating on a two-year project funded by Arts Council England that is investigating how people’s encounters with artistic imagination impact psychological wellbeing.

Giulia Poerio
The University of Sheffield

Giulia Poerio is a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Sheffield. Her research encompasses imagination, daydreaming/mind-wandering, and wellbeing.

Dr Jane Davis

Founder and Director of 'The Reader'

The Reader’s founder, Jane Davis, had a challenging upbringing and left school at 16 with two GCSEs. She eventually returned to education as a young single mother and  gained a First Class Degree and a PhD from the School of English at the University of Liverpool. 

Over many years, Jane became aware of how literature’s ability to open up our imaginations to new worlds and thoughts had been instrumental in helping to turn her life around.  It was this that later inspired Jane to leave her career as an English lecturer and to set up The Reader with the aim of starting a reading revolution that would get great literature into the hands of people who needed it. 

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