The Project

Sound or the absence of sound has the ability to change the way we react to the world around us. It can sooth us, alert us into action, make us rely on other senses to interpret meaning, communicate or compliment other sensory input too. It can overwhelm and heal us and yet is personal to all of us.

The project was formed by listening to people’s lived experience of the impact of sound, the journey it takes us on, how it interacts with mental health conditions and neurodiversity. We wanted to understand whether sound changes our ability to be creative and curious and help manage stress and distress.

Caroline Strathearn
Specialist Occupational Therapist

“The continuity that Space to Be has given me in terms of being a friendly, homely and supportive place to go has helped me to explore creativity which can be challenging due to some overwhelming personal difficulties. Being involved in Space to Be has led me to being involved in Sounds Better, and I was interested in how exploring sound might be a means of achieving therapeutic benefits, in addition to the existing norms of calming music, singing , being in nature or by the sea…the project allowed me to imagine what sound could mean to my own sense of peace, but also how different sounds appeal to different people, whether it was through creating sounds , remembering good sounds, discovering sounds in new and experimental ways.

I feel I have a new respect of listening to, finding and appreciating sounds in various places and volumes. A favourite is lying in bed, listening to an owl tooting in the still quietness after dark, and another is the deep, strong rumbling, cracking lightening and the explosive clap of a thunderstorm.”

Artist and participant advisor

“On the topic of Sound, it is forecast to snow over the next few days. I can remember that snow makes the world very bright and white, although I can no longer see this and just have the sensory element i.e. sound and texture to go by.

Sound for me is more practical than enjoyable. When I use my cane, the different surfaces feel different. Grass, tarmac, gravel all feel very different but they all sound very different too. Likewise, when my cane hits a wooden fence, metal gate or brick wall they all make very different sounds too and give me a lot of information.

When it snows and covers the ground, it takes away my sound information. Everything just makes the same sound; my cane has nothing to hit against which makes my world very confusing because I cannot tell where I am. Snow can mask many sounds. I cannot pick up sound shadows in the snow. A sound shadow is my ability to sense when I’m near a large object such as a parked car or a wall. It’s a feeling something is in front of me. My PA calls me a bat, as it’s a bit like that sonar.

The snow can also make other sounds louder such as traffic. When the snow turns to slush it is very loud and can make me sensory overloaded- the same goes for when it’s wet and or windy.

Sound plays a huge part in my life and when my sounds are changed it makes navigating the world very difficult.”

Anna Messruther
Member of Yorkshire Coast Sight Support and advisor to the project

“One of my favorite interviews is about the use of sound in the setting of a film score. In the film score for Oppenheimer, composed by Ludwig Gorannson. Ludwig picked the violin to showcase Robert Oppenheimer’s real-life complexity. “With a solo violin, you can play the most beautiful, romantic vibrato. But then if you press down the bow heavily and change the speed, you can make something horrific, manic or neurotic in a split second.”

This to me showcases the many aspects of sound and how we react to them. Just one instrument can express not only different sounds but also emotions, and this is something we’ve explored on our journey to creating this sound project.”

Charlie Ridgewell
Student at Blueberry Academy and volunteer on Sounds Better

How did the project begin?

Following on from an earlier partnership and art project (Map it Well) Cross Lane Hospital and Scarborough Museums and Galleries wanted to explore a recurring conversation about the impact and potential of sound, in recovery and creativity. The partnership began to look for appropriate funding to explore this.

Meanwhile, Space to Be opened in Scarborough Art Gallery, aiming to provide a safe and democratic space for individuals and communities to meet, share and create. The Cross Lane Art Group began to visit once a fortnight and the Personalised Learning College, Blueberry Academy and Mencap joined us, helping us consider the sensory experience in our gallery spaces.

Thanks to a successful bid, funding from Access and Connect Grant Fund 2022/23 (Transforming Community Mental Health SWR) enabled us all to work more specifically and to finally embark on this journey with sound.

Who was involved in the project?

The original partnership was with Cross Lane Hospital and Scarborough Museums and Galleries, and Crescent Arts. We recruited three volunteer participant advisors and artists to be our critical friends and mentors within the project. They helped us to consider the needs of participants, kept us accountable to the ethos of a democratic process and led us, beautifully, on the creative journey by bringing an abundance of creative skills and ideas

Our participant advisors played a crucial role in the recruitment of paid artists: sound artist, Tom Sharkett and actor Elizabeth Boag (Liz). Our group wrote the interview questions, formed the interview panel and made final decisions. They played a considerable role in supporting new participants, coming to the gallery from the hospital ward, and patients from the ward, as well as being creatives within the project.

Our bid was also supported by Yorkshire Coast Sight Support and the Personalised Learning College. We wanted to engage with these two groups, as well as Cross Lane, as we know that sight loss, disability and neurodiversity can lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion, impacting on mental health.

We knew that the young people, at the Personalised Learning College, valued sensory experiences and the creation of sensory spaces, as we had begun other projects with the, working collaboratively to make a Space to Be a more tactile space. The students had already questioned our use, or lack of use of sound.

Working with Yorkshire Coast Sight Support was important to this new project as we knew that their members felt that there was nothing for them in our settings, and members saw no purpose in visiting the space. Outreach activities have helped the group to feel more included in the project, and our learning about the impact of sound on people with sight loss and related anxieties and mental health has been invaluable to our own learning.

Later in the project, a third advisor was recruited from Yorkshire Coast Sight Support, offering us perspectives we hadn’t been able to fully comprehend within our group- and helping us to consider some vital aspects of the toolkit..

A volunteer from Blueberry, Charlie, helped us to document the process and became a friendly link person between the groups. Charlie also shared personal research and an enthusiasm for sound, becoming an informal mentor. Blueberry have also helped us with the creative process and will help us to evaluate the exhibition, in terms of access and the sensory experience.

Our exploration into sound, with Mencap, has only just begun but the group have played a vital role in the co-creation for the exhibition, helping the Personalised Learning College to build their sound machine.

Mencap are also helping us to practise our signing in the spaces, and how we make our resources more accessible with signs know by their members. (The Sound Toolkit is our first exploration into how we might do this more.) We were also treated to the ‘Singing and Signing’ choir at Christmas and we shared a very relaxing soundbath together.

What did we actually do in the sessions?

We asked our participants to summarise what we’ve been doing.
Here is their list!

We formed an interview panel; we made LOTS of ears with clay; watched sound videos and listened to podcasts; debated what sound is; we shared on Padlet; opened our minds to new experiences; learned some new vocabulary about sound; shared knowledge and skills from previous careers and our interests; taught each other some self-care, using sound, such as listening to audio books before bed; explained our challenges of sound to others; learned more about mental health illnesses; we learnt more about access and what we could do better; shared music we love; shared something about our personal lives; we listened to the waves and drew pictures; we painted and printed; made sound pouches; collected natural sounds from the gardens and the beach, with a recorder; created sounds with percussions and household instruments; we learnt a little about sound editing; we used our voices; we spoke affirmations; we told and wrote stories; we wrote a song; we supported the project even when we’d left hospital; we experienced sound baths and sound ceremonies in a forest; we listened to the vibrations of trees and made soundscapes with plants; made decisions for the project; worked collaboratively; worked with artists and sound artist; co-created to make art for an exhibition; co-curated, making decisions for the exhibition; we shared our enthusiasm and excitement with others; we were critical friends to make sure the exhibition and the sounds were of a high standard and how we wanted them to be; we made space for others and listened; we overcame challenges; we created an ethical framework; we worked sustainably; we shared lots of coffee and cakes; we opened an exhibition in a gallery; we met with others and explained our project; we created a sound toolkit to help other people; we cried a little; we laughed a lot; we became friends.

Our ethical framework helped us to work safely with sound.

You can find our ethical framework here.
If you are working with a group, you may wish to use this as a starting point for your own framework.

What is next?

In the last weeks of the project, we aim to finish and deliver the toolkits , offering some gentle training to recipients. We will celebrate the closing days of our exhibition and start the process of evaluation. The current funding will end and this may mean we meet less often, but our exploration of sound has opened up new possibilities, new connections, understanding and a motivation to work in more sensory ways.

In our spaces, we will continue to consider how sound can support creativity and find meaningful ways to introduce sound in a non-intrusive way, which supports and enhances our visitors’ experiences, whether this be a gallery space, a community setting or a hospital ward.