Arts, Culture & Mental Health in Greater Manchester

Company Chameleon: Improving children and young people’s mental health through dance and movement

Kevin Edward Turner, Artistic Director, and Sam Broadbent, Learning & Participation
Manager at Company Chameleon meet Kat Taylor, GM i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and
Mental Health Programme Manager to explore how arts and cultural provision can
support emotional health and wellbeing for children and young people.

Download this implementation story.

Arts and cultural engagement

Research evidence published by the World Health Organisation indicates that arts
engagement can offer effective and engaging methods to support the wellbeing and mental
health needs of children and young people. The arts can help develop a child’s confidence,
work ethic, resilience, emotional regulation, and communication skills. Arts and culture play a
significant role in preventing illness from developing in the first place, and worsening in the
longer term (All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, 2017), and can
help save money in health and social care through effective and safe interventions.
The Five Year Forward View, published in 2014 by NHS England, sets a new vision for health
policy, emphasising a need for rapid improvements in prevention and public health. Arts and
cultural engagement have a vital part to play in this public health arena, as an option to
enhance wellbeing and quality of life in people of all ages.

GM i-THRIVE Arts and Culture Mental Health Programme

The GM i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health programme is unique to Greater
Manchester in the context of a 30+ year history of arts and health research in Manchester.
The programme was established to support the broadening of options, increase shared
decision-making, and promote the assets-led approaches of the THRIVE Framework for
system change by exploring the role of creative and cultural interventions as part of a more
versatile, empowering and sustainable clinical offer.

Company Chameleon: GM example of arts and cultural engagement
Company Chameleon is a Greater Manchester-based, internationally touring dance company,
who lead dance-based workshops and projects and facilitate conversations about mental
health. Their work was explored in BBC2’s documentary Dancing to Happiness in 2018.

Q&A with Kevin Edward Turner and Sam Broadbent

Please describe some of the work company chameleon is involved in to help support
children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing.

1. Dance and mental health in schools:
Kevin: In partnership with the Co-operative Academies Trust, we developed a bespoke
project, exploring emotional health and wellbeing. With this project we aimed to explain what
emotional health issues can be, encouraged discussions and in these ways educate young
people, helping to address the stigma attached to emotional health distress.
A live performance of ‘Witness This’, a dance piece about mental health, was offered to 100
Key Stage 3 pupils from three Manchester Secondary Co-operative Academies and 240 KS2
pupils from four Leeds Primary Co-operative Academies. Young people then took part in
creative workshops that explored the themes of the work they had experienced.
Each school then created its own work in response, with pupils expressing their thoughts
surrounding mental health. The project culminated by bringing students together to perform
alongside the professional company for an audience of family and friends, captured in film.

What were the implications of these workshops?
Below is some of the feedback we received from the young people involved and the artist:
Young People:
‘At the start I didn’t really know about the message of the story, but I have learned that
mental health is a common thing and it can happen to everybody’
‘I think dancing about mental health can help loads of people because you can dance
instead of saying it–show people in a creative way’
‘I learned new techniques and how to show your emotions through dancing and facial
‘You can learn about mental health problems, by trying to be that person and learning what
it is all about’
‘By giving young people a piece of art to look at, gives them something tangible to look at
experience, [mental health] won’t be something abstract, it becomes something that’s right
there in front of them.’
‘It gives young people platforms to discuss and debate, as well as raising their
understanding of topic’

2. BROAD project (Building Resilience and Overcoming Adversity Through Dance
and Drama)
BROAD is an innovative dance theatre pilot programme designed for vulnerable groups in
prisons, secure children’s centres and secure hospitals. It was co-created by Odd Arts, who
have a significant track record of working with theatre in such settings, in partnership with
Company Chameleon. Both partners worked with psychologists to design the programme,
based on a 24-month research and development collaboration which included shadowing, codesign and delivery of specialist projects. The objective of workshops was underpinned by
restorative approaches, non-violent communication, and trauma-informed approaches.
During the project (6-10 half day sessions), participants create their own theatre/dance
performance based on feelings, emotions and experiences. Young people reflect on some of
their choices and emotional needs. Facilitators assist young people to identify boundaries and
goals they would like to achieve from participating in the project. At the end of sessions,
participants can share their achievements with other staff and peers at a showcase event.
The BROAD project was funded by the Arts Council England and co-designed by Company
Chameleon and Odd Arts.

BROAD Project Aims and Design

– Increase the resilience and wellbeing of young adults in custody
– Improve communication and self-esteem thus reducing violence and harmful
– Improve mental health and overcome the barriers caused by adversity

How was the BROAD project evaluated?

Evaluation of the project was led by the Psychological Research Unit at UCLAN (University
of Central Lancashire), the research and findings are available in the BROAD -Building
Resilience & Overcoming Adversity through Dance & Drama Research & Evaluation Report.
The project reported findings qualitatively, using the psychotherapeutic approaches that
informed its design, and five overlapping themes to describe the workshop experience:
performance; challenge; psychosocial and bodily integration; using space creatively; working
in and through the group, and embodied learning.

What was the impact of the BROAD project?

Through drama-led, embodied work, participants learned to use physical space freely as an
expression of mental space. Learning from the collaborative approach modelled by the
facilitators, participants developed their sense of safety in space with other people, and how
to be vulnerable and respect the vulnerability of others. Participants found ways to re-claim
parts of self that felt fragmented and ‘split off’ and experienced the integrative power of an
environment that can be trusted. Performing in front of an audience and receiving positive
and constructive feedback affirms skills and develops confidence.
The project:
– Provided creative ways of engaging and developing relationships with young people
– Helped young people develop confidence and break down communication barriers
– Delivered creative methods towards exploring ideas and feelings
– Provided a safe environment for young people to discuss difficulties

How does Company Chameleon’s offer align with the THRIVE Framework for system

We help support children and young people who do not need individualised support for their
mental health and wellbeing needs, but may benefit from effective prevention and promotion
strategies to maintain their emotional wellbeing. Through the different projects we help reduce
stigma around mental health and let young people know that it is ok to talk about mental health

Getting advice and signposting
We also support children and families accessing support from the ‘Getting Advice and
Signposting’ needs-based grouping who are managing their own health and do not want
goals-based specialist input. If any mental health concerns arise during workshops, we have
structures in place to enable young people to access advice and we can signpost them to
other local services.

If you would like further information, please contact Sam at
or Kat Taylor at