Letters to… Arts&health workshops and research

We are Nuts about Letters

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 or learn how to run one yourself, email us on elspeth@2buproductions.co.uk

Awards for our letter inspired work

Winner, Most Creative Community Support Enterprise, Southern Enterprise Award 2023; Most Empowering Marginalised Support Enterprise 2022, Southern Enterprise Awards; Health Humanities Award 2018, as part of the award-winning team at Life of Breath Project; For our podcast drama Tobias and Syd, released in January 2023, we are currently ranking 2nd in the Audio Fiction World Cup and are the top UK podcast! Winner Best Audio Fiction Standalone, Sydney Webfest 2023, Winner Best Audio Fiction Standalone Apulia Web fest 2023; Winner for Best Narration for an Audio Fiction Podcast at Baltimore Next Media Fest... Ell Potter. Rio Webfest Official Selection, Best Podcast Fiction and Best Director. Selected for Hollywood Series Webfest. LA Webfest 2023 Nominee, Minnesota 2023 Official Selection and Nominee for Best Podcast Director, Cusco Webfest 2023 Official Selection. For Baltimore Next Media Web Fest, Nominated for Best Dramatic/Slice, Best Podcast Director, Best Actor (Sion Daniel Young), Best Sound Design (Iain Hunter).

We run letter writing workshops, often on health themes. In workshops, Elspeth leads participants to make a letter, or several letters. The unheard voices, the little whispers expressed within the letters often remain private. Yet when permission is given, these little whispers sometimes go far and wide. There have been a number of pieces of work that have been made using the letters, or inspired by them. These include a choral piece by Toby Jones, a sculptural installation by Louise Jenkins, an award-nominated play by Elspeth Penny, an award-winning Wellcome Trust funded project, two academic papers (by Dr Alice Malpass and Elspeth Penny), an art exhibition for Uni of Bristol, as well as displays in Bristol City Library and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and even a rap by Mandeep Singh. Elspeth is currently making a graphic novel, part funded by Arts Council England and inspired by some of her personal letters.

Our work about letters began with this Tedx talk, which Elspeth made in 2016 The Lost Art of Letter Writing and has had 30,000 views.

To find out more, read on.

Letter to My Kidney

For more about this exciting project see: https://2buproductions.org/bring-research-to-life/ We are currently seeking funding or opportunity to develop this further. Check out Little Whispers: Hear Me

Letter to My Breath

Elspeth was invited to work on a research study about our relationship with the breath, by Professor Havi Carel and Dr Alice Malpass of University of Bristol. It was part of a larger project called Life of Breath, funded by the Welcome Trust. Elspeth and Alice ran ‘Writing a letter to my breath’ workshops. 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 and organised Being Human Festival event Gasp! Exploring Breath Through Creative Arts at The Arnolfini, plus other community events such as Breath letters at Fun Palaces. We have also made an audio drama, including the letters  – Find it on https://tobiasandsyd.podbean.com, Spotify, and other major podcast platforms or through our website https://2buproductions.org/tobias-and-syd/

Two papers about Letters to the Breath: 
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.

A third paper, yet to be published, outlines the making of our audio play Tobias and Syd, which includes some of the breath letters.

Other events and content inspired by the Letters to the Breath:

An exhibition In 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.

A rap! We love this:

It was written and recorded by Mandeep Singh, a year 6 medical student in Jamaica, after he ran a workshop in Southville 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.

An 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. The exhibition will move to Bristol Central Library in January 2020.

Conference Presentations

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

2019 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.

3 pilot workshops in primary schools, funded by Life of Breath Project in 2019. The workshops involved creative letter writing, puppetry and dance.

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

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

Dr Alice Malpass and myself presented at Swansea’s Storytelling for Health Conference, looking at narrative in our project Letter to my Breath, 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 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.

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.

Churchill Academy workshop for 12 students.

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.

2017: A Festival breakfast talk at The Bristol Festival of Puppetry 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, 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.

Writing a letter to your breath 2017 Being Human Festival. An afternoon of awesome artful activities about the breath. Our breath in our hands…. exploring how an installation artist, puppeteer, musician, writer, dancer & choreographer use breath/breathlessness in their work. With Louise Jenkins, Chris Pirie, Paul Bradley, Daniel Martin (Photographed below) and clinician Dr Gene Feder as chair. Total joy.

Letters for film makers, letters to My Superhero, letters to my Emotions, Letters to a Cave

Letter to one of My Very Many Experiences Elspeth is happy to be running a letter workshop for Burnham Book Fest at The Princess Arts Centre, Burnham-on-sea in May 2023. Possibly a first in person letter workshop since before Covid! https://www.theprincesstheatre.co.uk/events/a-letter-to-one-of-my-very-many-experiences-2/

Letters for film makers, amongst exotic potions I’m part of Forge 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.

Letter to My Superhero Intriguing development for my letter writing project. I was invited to be 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 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 led 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.

Letter to My Emotions: I loved running this big group workshop for 75 teachers and school staff, see https://2buproductions.org/workshop-for-75-teachers-and-school-staff/

Healthy City week 2016

Letter to my Bones (or other body parts!) – part of a community day at Wellspring Healthy Living Centre.

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

Letter to a Cave

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.