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Taking the lead: Arts for health and well-being for people experiencing homelessness and/or mental health issues


Underground Lights is a member-led and trauma informed community theatre organisation run by and for people experiencing homelessness and/or mental health issues.

The organisation connects to a sustainability agenda by employing creative methods including theatre, dance, puppetry and film-making to improve the health and well-being of its members. It has a remit to bring together adults who are at risk of experiencing social isolation, loneliness and marginalisation. It also seeks to increase the confidence, skills and friendship networks of individuals and create more mentally healthy communities.

The project will unite the lead researcher (Professor Nadine Holdsworth, Theatre and Performance Studies), Underground Lights and the Belgrade Theatre Coventry to foster conversations and knowledge sharing around what it means to be a values-led and lived experience-led organisation, how that's defined, what alternative organisational models this demands, how members can be equipped to extend and develop their roles, how this mode of working contributes to enhanced health and well-being, as well as the challenges it poses. The project will involve weekly creative workshops run over 12 weeks at the Belgrade Theatre (from April to July) with 24 Underground Lights members exploring themes of community, compassion and connection.

This will culminate in a shared public performance, discussion and creative evaluation document.

Research impact and public engagement

This project has the potential to open up possibilities for future collaboration, research impact and public engagement by further embedding the researcher in the arts and homelessness sector, at the same time as facilitating a relationship with a leading regional theatre. The creative process, output and researchers expertise will catalyse organisational conversations about the working methods of Underground Lights, and the implications of this grass-roots practice for the regional theatre/organisation hosting this work. Strengthening this relationship will support research impact pathways via the potential to incorporate research findings into future activity and/or strategy development.

Professor Nadine Holdsworth has been working on a body of research to re-think and re-position how arts and creativity can change perceptions, policy, and outcomes for those who are or have been homeless since 2019. This has included the Homeless Monopoly Project as part of Coventry City of Culture 2021.

This project links to the below Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):