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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. Formed in 2018, it is 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 and dance to improve the health and well-being of its members.

It has the remit to:

  • Bring together adults who are at risk of experiencing social isolation, loneliness and marginalisation
  • Increase confidence skills and friendship networks for individual participants
  • Create more mentally healthy communities

Their mission is: “To be a safe and inspiring creative community, for people on the margins of society, that is owned and run by us.”

The project united the lead researcher (Professor Nadine Holdsworth, Theatre and Performance Studies), Underground Lights and the Belgrade Theatre Coventry.

The project considers the work of Underground Lights in order to foster conversations and share knowledge around what it means to be a lived experience-led organisation, how that's defined and how it contributes to enhanced health and wellbeing. It also looked at the potential challenges and organisational models this may demand.

Researchers tracked weekly creative workshops run over 12 weeks (April - July 2022) at the Belgrade Theatre with 24 Underground Lights members exploring themes of community, compassion and connection.

Data gathering techniques and analysis included participant observation, semi-structured interviews and creative methods of documenting events including diary entries and photography.

It culminated in a shared informal performance, discussion and creative evaluation document.

Underground Lights Theatre montage

Research impact and public engagement

Taking The Lead Underground Lights Report

The final report, "Taking the Lead", examines how Underground Lights facilitates opportunities, providing a compassionate approach that promotes safe spaces and interactions for its diverse members. It also looks at the strong partnership between UL and the Belgrade Theatre, as small-scale and large scale arts organisations.

It has been widely distributed amongst Underground Lights staff and members to help articulate their approach and impact.

Read the Report: "Taking the Lead"

This project has the potential to open up possibilities for future collaboration, research impact and public engagement. It has developed a three-way knowledge exchange between the researcher, theatre and organisation which continues with regular meetings.

Professor Nadine Holdsworth's work in this area is part of an ongoing 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. Find out more about this body of work.

Underground Lights also demonstrates how creative processes can support work towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

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