USW academic helps Great Ormond Street parents share valuable advice

Dr Emily Underwood Lee

Dr Emily Underwood-Lee 

Parents of sick children at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) have put together pieces of advice for others facing similar challenges, as part of project involving a University of South Wales (USW) academic.

Associate Professor Dr Emily Underwood-Lee was one of a team, also involving Professor Brian Lobel and artist Emily Speed, who conceived the Kicking Up Our Heels project, which was carried out at the London hospital in 2019 – 2020 with the hospital’s arts programme, GOSH Arts.

Using funding from Arts Council England, the project used performance and visual art to give parents and carers of children at GOSH the chance to consider their own wellbeing as primary carers.

The parents and carers were invited to take part in a playful performative ‘survey’ about how they nurtured and looked after themselves while caring for a child in the hospital.

“The parents were encouraged to get beyond the idea of the ‘good parent’ who subjugates their needs for those of their children,” Dr Underwood-Lee said.

Over a period of two months, Dr Underwood-Lee and Prof Lobel spent time creating short performances with 100 parents and carers at GOSH.

Wearing colourful dressing gowns and masks, and adopting new personas as heightened versions of themselves, they invited parents to have a conversation with them about how they look after themselves.

Using a carefully and deliberately planned playful approach, they encouraged parents and carers to take a momentary break from their role as ‘parent’ and to consider themselves first.

The responses were used by visual artist Emily Speed to design a permanent artwork, Cocoon, which was installed at GOSH in February 2020, and was accompanied by a paper booklet called You Are Doing A Great Job, which incorporated ideas and activities offered by parents to improve their own and others’ wellbeing.

As part of the project, parents and carers were asked to come up with suggestions that could help others who were at GOSH, which included places that could go within the hospital and local area, and advice from parents to other parents, all of which was included on a leaflet that is now available for all parents and carers at Great Ormond Street. There was also feedback from staff on what they learnt from the project.

“The project successfully demonstrated the ways in which creative consultation can effectively gather information from parents and carers,” the independent evaluation into the research said.

“It also raised awareness across the hospital, both with clinical and non-clinical staff, of the importance of supporting parents/carers, who play such an important part in the whole care of the child, often neglecting their own needs in the process.

“The valuable information gathered from parents about their self-care needs will be used in the design brief for the new Children’s Cancer Centre and the patient experience review of Morgan Stanley Clinical Building and Premier Inn Clinical buildings.”

Dr Underwood-Lee and Prof Lobel also used the Kicking Up Our Heels method to run a workshop for staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital, encouraging them to address their own needs as front-line healthcare workers and are producing a staff-focused You’re Doing a Great Job leaflet.

Dr Emily Underwood-Lee is a research fellow at the University of South Wales. Prof Brian Lobel is Professor of Theatre and Performance at Rose Bruford College.

GOSH Arts is the award-winning arts and cultural programme at Great Ormond Street Hospital. See

GOSH Arts is funded by the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.

The full Kicking Up Our Heels report is available here -

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