Letters to… Arts&health workshops and research

Join in celebrating and reinventing the hand-written letter. Relish the imperfections. Physical letters inform us in so many ways: they are about the trail we leave and the future we wish to shape.

If you’d like to book a letter making event or workshop, email us on elspeth@2buproductions.co.uk

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
 Letters of joy from girl and boy,
 Receipted bills and invitations
 To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
 And applications for situations,
 And timid lovers' declarations,
 And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
 News circumstantial, news financial,
 Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
 Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
 Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
 Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
 Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
 Written on paper of every hue,
 The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
 The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
 The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
 Clever, stupid, short and long,
 The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

From The Night Mail 
WH Auden

Letter to my Kidney:

We are currently developing an exciting new letters project.

Letter To My Kidney and Out Like Fudge: Bringing Research To Life




Letter to my Breath: 

As part of the award-winning team at Life of Breath Project (2018 Health Humanities Award), we’ve run over 10 “Letter to my breath” workshops along with Dr Alice Malpass, and organised Being Human Festival event Gasp! Exploring Breath Through Creative Arts at The Arnolfini, other community events such as Breath letters at Fun Palaces. Our related papers and talks are outlined below. 

Penny, E., & Malpass, A. (2019). Dear Breath: using story structure to understand the value of letter writing for those living with breathlessness–a qualitative study. Arts & health, 1-15.

Malpass, A., & Penny, E. (2019). Invisible Breath. Storytelling, Self, Society, 15(1), 43-70.

February 2020: we showed letters to the breath to a big crowd at the end exhibition of Life of Breath Project at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Dr Alice Malpass gave a talk including the research we’ve done using the letters, and what we’ll be doing next. It’s exciting to see where the legacy of our work will go now that Life of Breath is over.

Rap to the Breath by Mandeep Singh and friends.

We love this rap – what can I say about it except… big breath in… it’s inspired. It was written and recorded by Mandeep Singh, a year 6 medical student in Jamaica, after he ran a workshop in Southmead for us, for the Catch Your Breath workshop programme. The ideas about breath in the rap bubbled out of all present in the workshop, so credit and respect to all participants.

Thank you to Dr Heather Yoeli, Northumbria University for writing to us about how our work has helped her work:

How did your Letters to Breath project influence me? Well, essentially, I came to my role with the Life of Breath as a prose writer as well as a researcher. Your work provided me with an example of how ethnography and the medical humanities give real credibility to the process and structure as well as to the content of the literature which people living with chronic illness produce. As a result of reading your publications, I was inspired to pursue my tentative dream to encourage the Singing for Lung Health group with which I was working to write their own song, and to use this song as the basis of the study.

Letters for film makers, amongst exotic potions.

I’m part of a gorgeous group of women film makers who meet regularly in Bristol, and when it was my turn to offer a workshop, I ran a letter making workshop for them. Unexpectedly, we couldn’t get into our usual venue so I ended up running it from behind the wooden counter at the narrow and wonderful herbalist ‘Urban Fridge’ in Colston Street – all brown bottles and exotic potions. I felt strangely at home as an ersatz herbalist (with my feathers, inks and a mini selection of materials laid out in front of me) and if I was 25 years younger would certainly be asking for a Saturday job there. I made do with buying some orange peel digestive bitters from Max the owner.

Exhibition at Southmead hospital

Great to see Alice, Louise and my work on Letters to the Breath represented in the Catch Your Breath exhibition at Southmead hospital. Louise Jenkins’ work Breath Capsules, using letters that our participants have made, looks stunning. Anyone can go and see the exhibition – walk inside the main entrance, down the foyer in Southmead hospital, it’s nearly at the end on the left. #breath #artsandhealth #catchyourbreath. The exhibition will move to Bristol Central Library in January 2020.

Here’s a January 2020 blog post about two of my recent workshops:  https://catchyourbreath.org/writing-letters-to-your-breath

Letter to My Superhero 

Lovely development for my letter writing project. I’m part of “Community Connections”, a social prescribing programme in the South Ward area of Weston-super-Mare. A full-time social prescriber is taking referrals from health professionals working in the For All Healthy Living Centre, who will connect people to non-medical support within their local communities and beyond. Cooked up by the lovely Fiona Matthews Theatre Orchard, and with Arts and Health South West support, the programme has a particular focus on working with and through creative and arts-based approaches. I’m running a series of workshops  to help towards the evaluation programme. This involves me leading a workshop called Letter to My Superhero, as well as working alongside Scottish comedian and comic strip creator (including for the Beano and Marvel), Kev Sutherland.

Life of Breath Project Paper/Presentations

Paper: 2019 Malpass A. Penny, E. Invisible Poem: writing letters to the breath self and creating visual stories: Storytelling, Self and Society

2019 June.  Workshop at The Storytelling For Health conference in Swansea along with GP Dr Gene Feder and Dr Alice Malpass.

One of 4 exhibition art works at the Storytelling For Health Conference is a piece inspired by our Letter to The Breath Project, by artist Louise Jenkins.

2019 Provocation at Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance: Cultures of breathlessness: using creative letters to the breath to navigate narrative wreckage.

Paper: 2018 Penny, E. Malpass, A Dear Breath: using story structure to understand the value of letter writing for those living with breathlessness – a qualitative study: Arts & Health: Vol 0, No 0

Blog posts: https://lifeofbreath.org/2018/11/letter-to-my-breath-at-fun-palaces-bristol, https://lifeofbreath.org/2018/01/gasp-making-breathlessness-less-invisible-through-the-creative-arts, https://wp.me/p2Dje8-aS

Looking towards Spring 2019

Excited to be running 3 pilot workshops in primary schools, funded by Life of Breath Project. The workshops will involve creative letter writing, puppetry and dance.

Also, Dr Alice Malpass and Elspeth are delighted to announce that our first paper “Dear Breath: using story structure to understand the value of letter writing for those living with breathlessness – a qualitative study”, has been accepted for publication with Arts & Health journal and we’re looking forward to presenting workshops and more at the letters at the Life of Breath final exhibition Catch Your Breath in Bristol in 2019 (currently on display in Palace Green Library, Durham).

Winter 2018

Two blog posts in 2018 on my Letter to the Breath project with Life of Breath Project, University of Bristol:



And a blog post on Art, mother and son, nature and transition…. http://elspethpenny.com/…/…/arts-residency-at-the-mothership

Emotion Coaching Autumn 2017

Writing a letter to your breath 2017

November 24th: Being Human Festival. An afternoon of activities about the breath. Our breath in our hands…. great to see this new Life of Breath project blog post: Dr Alice Malpass writes about the @BeingHumanFest event “Gasp!” with Elspeth Penny exploring how an installation artist, puppeteer, musician, writer, dancer & choreographer use breath/breathlessness in their work. https://lifeofbreath.org/2018/01/gasp-making-breathlessness-less-invisible-through-the-creative-arts .

Burnley: Thanks to Janet Janet Swan: Reading. Story. Voice at the wonderful Burnley Singing For Lung Health Group. Dr Alice Malpass and I loved running a workshop there in November for our www.lifeofbreath.org research project. Fifteen singers wrote letters to their breath, as well as started Christmas tree decoration letters.

September 2017: Super generous contributions to my Festival breakfast talk https://www.bristolfestivalofpuppetry.org/…/festival-breakf…  at The Bristol Festival of Puppetry on 7th September, and a great turn out.

My notebook is now full of observations and ideas for a play which is emerging… Co-hosted with puppeteer Chris Pirie, we explored puppets, breath, performance possibilities, croissants, grapes and coffee in the Tobacco Factory foyer. At the table were cast and director from The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective who were fresh from a victorious show the night before. Also Dr Alice Malpass from Life of Breath, musician Paul Bradley, my yoga teacher sister Diana, and a 90 year old local lady who turned up half way through with some puppets and told us some funny stories. Thanks to Emma and Lucy from Puppet Place for organisation and helping Puppet Place.

Meeting my on screen ‘husband’ story-teller Stuart Packer for the first time, just before the launch of the David Mackie short film Breakdown that we were both in https://vimeo.com/206720872

July 2017:

Some fantastic feedback and follow up opportunities after our conferences this summer for Dr Alice Malpass and I: we spoke in Swansea and Bristol about our innovative arts and health work using the letter writing workshops. Looking forward to developing our ideas some more.

Dr Alice Malpass and myself presented at Swansea’s Storytelling for Health Conference, Saturday 17th 2017 June, 11-13.00 Reading Room, School of Architectural Glass, Alex Building. Title of session… Creative Writing Workshop. We’ll be looking at narrative in our project Letter to my Breath www.lifeofbreath.org, and some of it will be practical. We’re presenting alongside two other creative writing workshops – Sarah Goodey from Healing Words and Vicky Field from The Poetry Practice… exciting!

Culture, Health and Wellbeing International Conference
19,20,21 June 2017 Bristol UK….Dr Alice Malpass and I talked about our work together for the Life of Breath Project, including Writing a Letter to my Breath on the day for Policy, acute care, medical humanities, arts therapies.


MAY 25 2017 Bath Spa Uni,Thank you to Dr Pamela Karantonis
Senior Lecturer in Acting (Voice)
Newton Park Campus, Bath Spa Uni, for facilitating and hosting a Letter to the Breath workshop yesterday, with Creative Corporealities group (and for the delicious coffee). It was a balmy day, but everyone was very productive. Dr Alice Malpass and I so enjoyed working with your group, and some smashing letters were created. I hope some further collaboration will come out of it.

Newsletter extract written by Rachel Lowrie, English Teacher, for Churchill Academy in the February 2017 newsletter:


On Wednesday, we were lucky enough to welcome Elspeth Penny and Dr Alice Malpass from the Life of Breath Project into school to run a workshop for 12 students. During the session, students learnt to become more aware of their breathing and to be thankful for its help in allowing us to live, laugh and sing. Following a series of warm up activities, including consideration of the lost art of letter writing, the students culminated the process by creating a note to their breath. Some employed a quill to record their thoughts, others painted their ideas with homemade beetroot ink and sprayed their paper with the scent of rose or pine. There was not a biro in sight! Using the abundance of tools and resources that were on offer, their masterpieces both touched and inspired the group.

Dr Alice Malpass and I ran a workshop in Burnley in November 2017 – what a big pleasure! It was for Burnley’s British Lung Foundation Singing For Lung Health group.
We now have some more fantastic Letters to The Breath for our research @lifeofbreath, Bristol University https://naturalvoice.net/ch…/burnley-singing-for-lung-health. 

I am including a wonderful email I received, after the session – thanks so much Janet.

Hello Elspeth and Alice,
I met the group again yesterday and got some more feedback. I also have had time to reflect on the session so here goes!
Comments from members written into the leader’s comment book:
A different and interesting way of looking at one’s breath.
An enlightening way to understand better how I breathe.
Enjoyed the day – thank you
It was good to hear that other people have the same problems as me. If we did it more often we could share more positive thoughts and plans.
A very interesting experience. Thank you.
Comments from members heard in discussion:
Yes it was good especially hearing each other’s stories.
Why just one day? We need more.
We could have spent a whole afternoon on it.
Comments sent to my by email / text:
 There were some very moving comments made at the workshop
It was a lovely experience.
G has been too moved to tell me anything about the art set (from M).
My thoughts / reflections:
I will write up about the benefit of doing this sort of activity for the other SfLH group leaders around the country. In particular how much it benefited the group dynamics:
I was impressed at how much gravity everyone gave to it. Not that it wasn’t fun – but just that everyone really got into the flow of the activity and gave it their serious consideration.
Everyone got chance to produce something and got positive feedback including claps from the group. Some people who are very quiet in the group had their chance to shine and share as an individual. This may therefore have a knock on effect for group identity and group management – as people learned things about other members that they didn’t know before. Certainly in the first meeting afterwards there were more members chatting before and after the group with some people helpfully arriving a little earlier instead of at the moment that the group starts.
There was some very honest sharing about people’s illnesses and how they feel about it. This will certainly help people to support each other more – and indeed the conversation yesterday did relate more to people asking each other how they were in a very genuine way.
It was interesting to see people in a different setting. I particularly liked how husband and wife (A and P) interacted: A supported P and gave her lots of positive comments about her letter. I was impressed at how much G shared about his illness – he is usually very jokey and flippant and I realise that this is all a bit of a show when actually it impacts on him much more than he lets on.
It clarified relationships because we all took part. T (volunteer) was able to show that he too has breathing difficulties, M was able to point out that although she comes as G’s carer, she too is gaining so much from the group and it is helping her deal with her cancer, I was able to share about my Mum.
There did feel to me to be a bit of a pressure of time, but I don’t think the group felt under pressure. There were just 2 comments about wanting more time (included above).
We are going to do another half hour or so after next week’s class in order for people to finish off their Christmas tree creations and add them to the tree that will be put in the church for the Christmas tree festival.
I think that is all for now.
All best wishes and thank you again so much. It has added so much to the group.
Best wishes,

Spring 2016…. lovely feedback from a workshop:

‘Your workshop last Tuesday gave our Breathe Easy members food for thought and a creative outlet not experienced often enough on third Tuesdays in the Acorn Suite. I hope you agree that the varied response, in words and images, is proof of the value of the afternoon to those present, not least the fun of it.
Mary tells me that the procession of the exercises led her to realise she could rise above negativity and begin again to enjoy life.’ Mike Green, chair of the Forest of Dean Breath Easy group.

Elspeth is excited to have been asked by Dr Alice Malpass of Bristol University to work on a research study about our relationship with the breath. It’s part of a larger project called Life of Breath, funded by the Welcome Trust. Elspeth will be running ‘Writing a letter to my breath’ workshops.

Healthy City Week 2016

Elspeth ran several workshops:

1. Letter to my Bones (or other body parts!)

Saturday 15th Oct at 1.30 at Wellspring, Barton Hill:

Elspeth Penny, with her letter-writing rack, unusual pens, inks and inspiration invites you to write, create or draw a hand-written letter to your own bones (or another body part such as liver, brain, lungs, heart). No one will be correcting your spelling or grammar here, but hopefully you’ll see your health in a new light and remember how enjoyable it is to write a letter. Everyone welcome.”

This was part of… http://bristolgreencapital.org/events/opening-community-day-at-wellspring-healthy-living-centre

2. A Letter to my Pain & Duet of One, a collaboration with Raquel Meseguer.

Friday 21st October at 5-7pm at Hours Space, 10 Colston Yard Bristol BS1 5BD www.hours-space.com


A free two-part workshop, for those with an invisible disability or long-term pain condition: this is your space. It is the chance for you to invite someone you know (a friend, partner, sibling) to experience a two-part workshop with you.
In A Letter to my Pain, Elspeth, with her letter-writing rack, unusual pens, inks and inspiration will guide you to write, create or draw a letter to your pain, or to your body (placing the person in pain first).
In Duet for one, Raquel will then invite you and your plus ones to slow down, listen closely, and find a truly healthy groove.
n.b. This event aims to raise awareness of invisible disability, and welcomes anyone with a disability.
For ticket: click here
For more info please contact Elspeth: elspeth@2buproductions.co.uk
Raquel: raquelmeseguer10@gmail.com
Find out more about Healthy City Week at www.bristolgreencapital.org/health

Elspeth took 34 children caving at Goatchurch Cavern in the Mendips, followed by a poetry workshop (see the stalactite words hanging in the classroom as the poems begin to form): funding from Discovering Blackdown Project. The poems went into the time capsule Elspeth arranged to go in Blagdon school attic, along with letters that the children have written to the future and to themselves in the future.

Our Time Capsule in Blagdon


Blagdon Time Capsule: Mendip Times article January 2016

If you’d like to book a workshop: email us on elspeth@2buproductions.co.uk