And the Doctor Said…..

Mark Webster, Staffordshire University; Dr Alannah Tomkins, Keele University; Dr Geoff Walton, Northumbria University; Dr Jackie Reynolds, Staffordshire University

This is a collaborative project between Staffordshire and Keele Universities. The idea for the project came about as a result of the research team’s participation in an Arts and Health Group, based at Keele. It also involves partnerships with four freelance creative practitioners: Maria Whatton; Deborah McAndrew; Dave Reeves and Chrissie Hall. It is a Connected Communities project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Disciplinary background(s) Community studies, community and participatory arts, history

When will the research take place? It is a two-year project, running from March 2012 – February 2014, with the majority of the activities taking place in 2013.

Aims of research 

The research aims to explore people’s experiences of healthcare in north Staffordshire through creative writing and story-telling, to generate new insights and fresh perspectives on people’s health experiences, which can be widely shared and may contribute to future healthcare developments.

Description of creative research method

The project involved a series of two-day (or four half-day) creative writing workshops. The workshops took place in community venues and were led by creative writers who were commissioned for the project. In the workshops, participants were encouraged to discuss and to write about their health experiences, either in the past or more recently. The workshops were organised and supported by a researcher.

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There were four sets of workshops, each one led by a different creative writer, and involving different participants. They all involved some group activities, to encourage people to interact and to share their experiences, as well as some form of creative writing, either individually or as a group.

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Voices of Experience with Maria Whatton

Voices of Experience is a mutual support group for women who have experienced domestic abuse. The women took part in two one-day workshops led by Storyteller and Creative Writer, Maria Whatton. These workshops took place in January and February 2013 at the Emma Bridgewater pottery factory in Stoke-on-Trent. On the first day, the women discussed their experiences of healthcare as a group. They began to write their pieces individually, and continued to do so between workshops. At the second workshop, they shared their writing and also chose key words or phrases to paint onto pottery. These pieces of pottery, along with the writing, will be included in a project exhibition.

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Women and Healthcare with Deborah McAndrew

Deborah McAndrew, an Actor and Playwright, worked with a group of teenaged Mums and a group of older women, in a series of four half-day workshops that took place at the Mitchell Arts Centre in Stoke-on-Trent (February-March 2013). Deborah made audio-recordings of the women discussing their healthcare experiences. She then transcribed the conversations, and worked with the group to develop a three-act audio-documentary, which was recorded on the final day.

Local History and Healthcare with Dave Reeves

Writer and Historian Dave Reeves worked with a mixed group of participants at the Burslem School of Art. He ran two one-day workshops in June and July 2013. There was a particular focus in these workshops on historical aspects of healthcare, with participants writing about their memories, for example of childhood encounters with healthcare professionals. A wide range of writing was submitted, including poetry and prose.

Life Story Writing with Chrissie Hall

The final workshops in the project took place at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Life Writing Facilitator Chrissie Hall worked with a mixed group of participants and supported them to write about their experiences of health and illness in north Staffordshire. There were two workshops, both in September 2013, and again, a wide variety of writing was submitted, including several longer pieces about people’s lives.

Each of the workshops included filming and/or photography and audio-recording on the final day, which gave participants an opportunity to read some of their work and to comment on the experience of taking part in the workshops. There were also interviews with the workshop leaders and the project co-ordinator. The filming was carried out by staff and students from Unique Media Production, Staffordshire University. The films are shared, with appropriate consents, on the project website. These will also be a travelling exhibition and a book publication in Autumn/Winter 2013/2014.

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Why did you choose to use this method? 

The method was chosen because it is highly participatory. It enables people to express their experiences in their own words, but also to gain support and guidance in how to develop their creative writing. Moreover, the approach is designed to provide participants with opportunities to engage in creative activities in a fun and enjoyable context.

What did you learn from the research process? 

We learned that there is much interest in this approach to research, from both participants and practitioners. People engaged in the project with great enthusiasm, even though many had no particular background in creative writing. The wealth and diversity of writing that was produced after just two days of engagement certainly exceeded our expectations.

There were a wide range of barriers to people’s participation in the creative writing workshops (e.g. childcare, transport issues), and we were able to address many of these so that people could take part. Occasionally, however, barriers proved more intractable, for example those experienced by some full-time carers or by people who are very ill themselves but would like to have taken part.

Finally, we have learned a great deal about both the opportunities and the challenges of implementing a research project with non-academic partners, and of disseminating it using multi-media approaches.


The project is influenced by narrative approaches to social research and by the work of medical humanities researchers.

Further information

Project website: