Case Study: Coming to Our Senses

Authors(s), Creator(s) and Contributors: Iwan Brioc, Director, Theatr Cynefin

Publication Date: 13/12/2023

Categories: Case Studies

Partner(s): Theatr Cynefin, ABUHB

Funder(s): Arts Council of Wales, ABUHB


Coming To Our Senses is an innovative new 'mindfulness through theatre' course, developed and delivered by Iwan Brioc of Theatr Cynefin and Psychologist, Sarah Gregg and funded by the Arts Council of Wales. The aim was to explore the effectiveness of a creative arts approach to mindfulness in enhancing mental health and resilience, specifically targeting the challenges faced by workers in high-stress medical environments. It was piloted with two groups of participants from a cross section of the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board workforce during summer and autumn 2023. The first iteration of the course was at The Grange University Hospital and targeted general staff and the second was at Mamhilad Park Estate hosted by the Complex Care and Community Nursing team.

The Challenge

Healthcare professionals often face intense stress and burnout, creating a crucial need for effective mental health support strategies. In a recent wellbeing survey a third of ABUHB staff said they can't see how they can carry on. "We are turning up the dial on what we tolerate, staff are being traumatised by this, and we are sleepwalking into a potential disaster" said Daniel Madge, Senior OD Manager. Our goal was to create a safe space with these professionals where we could explore, express and rehearse meeting their needs . Not only to provide immediate stress relief but also to empower participants with meta-cognitive tools and techniques that could be applied in both their personal and professional lives, thereby addressing a gap in the wellness resources available.

The Approach

Coming to Our Senses is delivered through 120 minute weekly sessions over 8 consecutive weeks. It is based on a three day intensive introduction to Context Oriented Arts called 'The Art of Looking at Ourselves' that Theatr Cynefin has been delivering internationally for over 10 years.

Each session consists of one or two applied theatre activities, called 'dynamic metaphors' bookended by the introduction of a mindfulness practice and includes time to inquire and reflect in a circle. It is the way that the dynamic metaphors serve to give an experiential and embodied understanding of the core mindfulness themes that make this curriculum unique.

Participants are also introduced to a journaling for flow methodology developed by psychologist Sarah Gregg, which help increase availability to flow states during the day - concomitant with the raw and natural mindfulness remembered from childhood.

Iteration 1: Started with 14 participants from a cross-section of self-selecting staff from ABUHB at The Grange University Hospital

Iteration 2: Started with 9 staff from the Complex Care and Community Nursing team as Mamhilad Park Estate.

The delivery team met regularly to monitor progress and on the second iteration mindfulness teacher, Kamalagita Hughes joined as a critical friend.

The Impact

Independent researcher Ruth Stevenson was commissioned to evaluate the project. The research methodology comprised: pre- and post- course surveys completed by 14 participants, plus depth interviews with 5x participants and 5x project partners.

At the close of the course, most of the participants were using the techniques that they had learned:

  • 86% had applied techniques that they learned, outside the course;
  • 92% agreed that I regularly use mindfulness to improve my wellbeing (rising significantly from 31% in advance of the course);
  • 54% agreed that I regularly use flow to improve my wellbeing (rising significantly from 8% in advance of the course).

Additionally, most of the participants had experienced positive impacts as a result of the course:

  • 79% agreed that my wellbeing has improved;
  • 71% agreed that I have treated myself more kindly;
  • 57% agreed that my personal life has improved;
  • 57% agreed that my working life has improved;
  • 57% said that yes, participating in the course lead to changes in their future plans or ambitions;
  • 36% had experienced a moment of deep insight during the course.

Lessons Learned

The course worked extremely well for engaged participants but faced significant recruitment and retention challenges. Filling groups was initially difficult, as NHS staff found it hard to commit and attend consistently, hindered by work duties and personal/systemic barriers. Typically, 14 signed up per cohort, but only about 5 attended regularly, with others sporadically. Despite there being a lengthy waiting list of staff still wishing to do the course, future versions of the course must address these issues of retention in delivery planning.

The Legacy

"Coming To Our Senses" offers a novel approach to staff wellbeing in healthcare, with potential for broad application.

Summerising one Manager - "It probably stopped some people going off sick so there's a staff retention and a sickness benefit. If you're feeling positive, you're not finding excuses to hide and you've got a mechanism for not feeling overwhelmed, or you are able to take yourself away and do something with it rather being negative. That rubs off on everybody around you.”

The next step is to fund a broadening of participation.

Website and Social Media Links

Course Webpage with Evaluation Report:

Facilitator Pages:

Iwan Brioc -,

Sarah Gregg:

Contact Details

Iwan Brioc -

Tags: Theatre, Mindfulness, Mental Health, NHS Staff Retention

Coming to Our Senses