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Life of Breath project wins Inspiration Award

Life of Breath project Inspiration Award, Havi Carel

Havi Carel (second right) receiving the Health Humanities Medal Inspiration Award for the Life of Breath project

Press release issued: 11 September 2018

The Life of Breath project, which has carried out research into breathlessness has won the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the first ever Health Humanities Medal awards created by the Arts & Humanities Research Council in association with Wellcome Trust. The awards recognise the excellent work taking place to improve quality of life, health and wellbeing of the population using arts and humanities research.

Life of Breath, a five-year project, which is funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award, is a collaboration between Durham and Bristol Universities, led by Professor Havi Carel (University of Bristol) and Professor Jane Macnaughton (Durham University).

Elizabeth Blackwell Institute congratulates Havi Carel and the team on this award and looks forward to working with her as one of the co-leads for the new EBI Medical Humanities Research Strand, opening the door to new arts-science collaborations by connecting researchers from all faculties together with clinicians and external partners for research focusing on philosophy and humanities.

Currently in its fourth year, the Life of Breath project aims to make breathlessness and the associated suffering more visible. It engages with respiratory patients with limited mobility, seeking to interact with them in their local community rather than in a clinical setting, revealing the authentic stories of these ‘invisible’ lives.

The project has developed various activities and materials aimed at reducing the stigma of breathlessness by exposing the prejudices, as well as making people aware of their breath and how to maintain respiratory health. This has included a ‘patient toolkit’, supporting them to think about their breathlessness in a non-medical way. The toolkit, piloted in the UK and US, benefits patients and health professionals, as it helps articulate the experience of breathlessness.  

They have established a ‘Singing for Breathing’ group in Bristol and a pilot project offering a dance programme for respiratory patients is due to be launched this month.

Havi Carel is a professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol. She is the author of ‘Illness’, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize and ‘Life and Death in Freud and Heidegger’. She uses film in teaching and has co-edited a volume entitled ‘New Takes in Film-Philosophy’. She was voted ‘Best of Bristol’ lecturer in 2016 by students.

Havi Carel said: "I am delighted to be awarded this prestigious medal. This award is testament to the dedication of the entire Life of Breath team. Our goal is to improve the understanding of a neglected yet common and distressing symptom: breathlessness."

Jane Macnaughton is a professor of medical humanities at the Durham University and Director of the University’s Institute for Medical Humanities. She has been centrally involved in the development of medical humanities in the UK since 1998.  She was part of the core group that set up the Association for Medical Humanities in 2000 with support from the Nuffield Trust, and was the inaugural Secretary. 

Professor Edward Harcourt, Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation at the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) said: “The AHRC has always seen the importance of backing the health humanities. We were struck by the exceptional quality of the applications, which express a more inclusive vision of health and wellbeing and how to achieve it in ways that are not driven by medical science alone.”

Led by Professor Paul Crawford at the University of Nottingham, the AHRC, in association with Wellcome Trust, created these awards in recognition of the excellent work that is being done to improve quality of life, health and wellbeing of the population using arts and humanities research.

Simon Chaplin, Wellcome Trust Director of Culture and Society, said: “Wellcome supports a wide-range of activities across humanities research and public engagement, as well as an exciting programme of exhibitions and events at Wellcome Collection. This is why we are pleased to support the Health Humanities Medal in association with the AHRC.  The different category winners reflect the diversity of our interests and we congratulate them on the work they do at the intersection of humanities, culture and health.”

There were almost 100 entries across the five categories and these were assessed by a panel of academics, health practitioners and industry professionals. The first panel comprising Dr Catherine Stones from University of Leeds, Dr Brian Lobel, University of Chichester; Dr Matthew Smith, University of Strathclyde, and chair Professor Nicola Shaughnessy, University of Kent whittled down the entries to a shortlist of 24.

The winners were then selected by a second panel, chaired by Professor Edward Harcourt, which included:

  • Vivienne Parry, UK Research and Innovation Board member, and science and health writer
  • Peter Hunt, former BBC correspondent and Director of Communications at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Susie Hall, Head of Arts at Great Ormond Street Hospital

The awards were announced during a special ceremony at the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday 11 September which was attended by invited guests. The event was sponsored by Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon.

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), said: “Health Humanities is an important interdisciplinary field which applies arts and humanities approaches to drive improvements in health, social care and wellbeing. These awards are an excellent opportunity to showcase the very high quality of Health Humanities research across the UK, working in areas as diverse as antimicrobial resistance, music and psychoneuroimmunology, and trauma in post-conflict situations.”

The other Health Humanities Medal awards winners included:

  • Best Doctoral or Early Career Research Award – Dr Daisy Fancourt, University College London
  • Best Research Award – Using design-led research to address the global challenge of AMR - by Professor Alastair Macdonald, Glasgow School of Art
  • Best International Research Award – Dr Ross White, University of Liverpool
  • Leadership Award and overall Health Humanities Medal winnner - Professor Helen Chatterjee, University College London 
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