The ‘Footsteps Festival 2021’ is offering the first ever, year-long online festival, celebrating and promoting the science and art of those who wish to live well with pain. The Footsteps Festival, supported by ‘Live Well with Pain’ team, aims to bring people living with pain together through online events, using the arts as pain management.
The free and accessible activities are run and produced by volunteers, made up of a mix of people living with chronic pain and a number of NHS clinicians and UK scientists.
The Live Well with Pain company is a Yorkshire innovation. Over 60,000 people – clinicians and people with pain – have accessed their pain self-management resources globally. It has co-created the Footsteps Festival, which was born out of the personal passions of its creators (some with pain) to support people trying to work out how to live well with pain.
Covid-19 disrupts support for people in pain
The Covid-19 pandemic severely disrupts face-to-face support for people with persistent pain. The idea of an online creative ‘festival’ emerged in late 2020, as a way to find new ways to support and guide confident lives despite the circumstances.
Dr Frances Cole, one of the leading organisers of the festival, established the first UK and Yorkshire pain management programmes in primary care in Shipley and Idle Health Centres in 1996. She said:
“The festival team wanted to make a difference to at least one person, to connect them with possibilities of support and provide ways to move them from enduring pain to enjoying life.
We believe that something needed to happen otherwise as people with pain shared ‘they would rot in their beds and couches in front of rubbish daytime TV’”.
Dr Cole and the festival team are determined to work alongside Yorkshire arts companies to specifically design events tailored to help people living with chronic pain.
Programmes for people that need support to live well with pain
Currently, Leeds-based opera company, Opera North are featured on their ‘Main Stage’, with their successful Step into Singing programme. The online singing workshops are led by opera singer, Marie Claire Breen and are held on Tuesdays, fortnightly, at 12pm for one hour.
Participants learn a variety of breathing techniques, vocal exercises, and a range of songs to help manage pain and aid understanding of how the voice works. Previous participants have praised the programme for helping them build confidence, inducing feelings of calmness, and helping to ease and reduce pain. Those who are interested can join at any point, no matter what previous experience they have.
The Live Well with Pain team are continually working with Opera North to create new events and workshops for the festival, resulting in a greater engagement of lived pain experience in music and song. More Step into Singing workshops are planned for June, September and festive period run up to Christmas following the success of the first ones.
Organisers are in the process of forming a collaboration with Balbir Singh, the artistic director of Balbir Singh Dance Company. Based in Leeds, the company specialises in incorporating contemporary dance with classical Indian Kathak to embrace diverse influences and cultures.
The proposed collaboration for the Footsteps Festival will allow for people living with pain to tell their stories through an array of art forms, including dance, music, photography, filmmaking, written word, and clay sculpture.
Led by dance practitioner, Bisakha Sarker, who has experienced long-term pain herself but continued to dance, the workshops will be held online weekly, over a number of weeks. Participants and artists will co-create work (overseen and mentored by Singh) which will culminate in a one-off performance that will be shared with five venues, including libraries and GP practices in the North of England.
Elements of their projects will be shared digitally and documented through a series of podcasts. This will attempt to help people in making sense of their identity beyond chronic pain whilst gaining a better understanding of how the arts can improve a person’s wellbeing.
Access to knowledge and tools are essential to living well with pain
In the UK due to Covid-19, there are almost no services for people living with pain, with almost no pain self-management services for over 14 million people living with pain.
Dr Cole said:
“People are being told to live with it without enabling access to important knowledge, skills, resources, tools, and the ability to connect with people who understand what it’s like living with pain. In the UK, we are 110,000 clinicians short and there has been no real in-depth investment in pain rehabilitation.
“The health and social consequences of Covid-19 is a cost we have to bear as a society as usual. We have a superb group of young and older clinicians and people with lived experiences available to create quality rehab and recovery. Yet in this sector of pain management or long covid, we’ve had miniscule government support to invest in its amazing and still underfunded NHS.”
The festival does not just focus on the arts and how it helps to lessen the impact of chronic pain. Other festival ‘zones’ include:
- ‘The People Place’ – an informal weekly drop-in to meet and talk to others online who live with pain or caring for someone with pain, to share their experiences.
- The ‘Active Zone’ – featuring simple and fun activities, including dance, yoga and tai chi.
- The ‘Wellbeing Tent’ – where you can take part in the successful ‘Ten Footsteps’ programme, where people can explore how to self-manage themselves, their life and pain with less medication.
“Our resources have had a real role in enabling people with pain emerge from their isolated, lost lives and reconnect with themselves and others.” – Dr. Frances Cole
Their website displays all ongoing and upcoming events for people to sign up.