The English National Opera launches ENO Breathe with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

5th August 2020 in Press

The programme will use lullabies to help to put COVID-19 to bed.

The English National Opera (ENO) has partnered with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to develop a social prescribing intervention that will provide crucial support to people recovering from COVID-19, in the first partnership of its kind between a leading arts organisation and an NHS Trust.

Working closely with Imperial College Healthcare, the ENO have devised and developed an integrated six week pilot programme of singing, breathing and wellbeing aimed at supporting and enhancing the recovery of COVID-19 survivors. Led by ENO Baylis, the ENO’s learning and participation programme, this holistic online programme brings together medical and musical expertise and will provide novel ways to support and empower those recovering from COVID-19, offering tools for self-management, particularly with regards to posture, breath and anxiety.

Imperial College Healthcare already use singing as part of an improvement in care aimed specifically at people with COPD and chronic respiratory issues, often related to smoking and asthma. ENO Breathe is being developed as an improvement in care specifically for patients recovering from COVID-19, particularly those who are suffering from breathlessness and the anxiety this can produce. It is the first programme of its kind being developed for these patients.

Some patients experience breathlessness for some time after they have recovered from COVID-19. This can increase anxiety, which in turn can cause patients to take shallow, panicky breaths. Patients enrolled in the programme will learn techniques to help them focus constructively on their breathing, using music expressly designed to calm.

Traditional lullabies cross boundaries of culture and are accessible to all. By their very nature they tend to sit comfortably within a non-specialist singer’s vocal range. There are also powerful moments where lullabies appear in operas, providing the potential to link with an extraordinary range of operatic repertory. Using lullabies as the creative starting point, the ENO and Imperial aim to empower patients with tools and techniques that they will be able to use beyond the duration of the programme.

Our combined approach will help train the patients’ minds to work with their body and will mirror techniques employed by opera singers who have to trick their bodies into performing complex physiological tasks, and often achieve the physical co-ordination required for singing via emotional connection and imagery, rather than by giving their bodies explicit physiological instructions.

Initially being trialled across London, the ENO and Imperial College Healthcare plan to expand this programme nationwide. It continues the ENO’s ongoing support of the NHS and in particular, Imperial College Healthcare, having made scrubs for their respiratory team during the pandemic.

Dr Sarah Elkin, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine & Clinical Director Integrated Care, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust said: ‘As the country recovers from the effects of COVID-19, it’s important to remember that some patients recovering from the disease are still struggling with symptoms that can cause them significant distress, even after they’ve recovered from the initial illness. As doctors, we know from experience that community and social interventions have the potential be incredibly powerful for these patients, as well as providing them with tools and mechanisms to cope with the impact of COVID-19 in the future.’

Jenny Mollica, Director of ENO Baylis, said: ‘The ENO is a firm believer in the power of social prescribing, and we want to make a difference to the lives of people and communities recovering from COVID-19. We are proud to be working with the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to deliver this timely intervention at the cutting edge intersection of arts, learning and health. Our new online programme ENO Breathe, will provide participants with support from leading medical and artistic practitioners and offer them a unique opportunity to not only support their physiological recovery but also their mental health as they continue to recover from the impact of COVID-19.’

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the National Academy of Social Prescribing said, ‘We’re absolutely delighted to support the English National Opera and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust with their exciting new Breathe project, supporting people recovering from COVID through singing together. This creative initiative will provide both practical help and much needed emotional support. We look forward to hearing their progress and will be helping them to spread this initiative across the country.’

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: ‘There are thousands of people up and down the country right now who are benefiting from social prescribing. I am confident that it has a clear role to play in treating and supporting people who have suffered from COVID-19. ENO Breathe is a fantastic initiative that will provide the person centred care that we know is better for patients, staff and the health system alike.’

Caroline Dinenage, Culture Minister, said: ‘We have seen throughout the coronavirus outbreak the importance of the arts for our mental wellbeing and this new initiative shows that they can also provide powerful benefits for our physical health. I hope this innovative combination of music and medical insight will bring help and comfort to many on the road to recovery.’

Stuart Murphy, CEO, the ENO, said: ‘The ENO has supported the NHS throughout the pandemic from our brilliant costume and props teams making thousands of scrubs and visors to rewritten Gilbert and Sullivan classics to give our thanks. I am therefore so proud that ENO Breathe continues this, through our partnership with Imperial College Healthcare. The arts have a huge role to play in acting as a salve as the country recovers from COVID-19 and this project embodies the power of opera.’

Dr Harry Brunjes, Chair, the ENO, said: ‘Social prescribing is an active partnership between the community and clinicians.  As a medic myself, I am thrilled ENO is to be working with Imperial College Healthcare in this shared initiative which both promotes and underwrites ENO’s commitment to social prescribing. I am also very grateful to the input from our new board member, Professor Ajit Lalvani, Professor of Medicine at Imperial College and protagonist of social prescribing, whose expertise we admire.  ENO Breathe will be the first project that is planned as part of ENO’s mission to ensure that the skills and expertise of all those at the London Coliseum can provide genuine and sustainable benefit to the community long term.’

Annilese Miskimmon, Artistic Director, the ENO said: ‘The ENO believes opera’s ability to enrich society at large reaches far beyond world class performances on the Coliseum stage. ENO Breathe unites leading artistic and medical expertise to make a real difference in people’s lives.’


Notes to Editors:

English National Opera is the national opera company dedicated to one simple aim: making opera for everyone. We sing in English to be as accessible to the widest possible audience, as well as offering tickets for as little as ten pound and we create opera that feels different, more theatrical and creatively daring. We’ve been doing this to an internationally recognised standard since being founded in 1931 as Sadler’s Wells Opera.

We are determined to open up the genre: nearly half of our audiences in the 2018/19 season were first-time bookers and this season more than 10% of our bookings have been by under 30s. Our learning and participation programme ENO Baylis has reached more than 20,000 school children and community groups, and we have brought opera into schools, allowing more than 5000 schoolchildren from schools with a higher than average black or minority ethnic (BAME) background representation to experience opera.

Our talent development programme continues to nurture the careers of singers (the ENO Harewood Artist programme) and of conductors (the Charles Mackerras Fellowship). We also give free tickets to under 18s in our balcony for opening nights, Friday and Saturday performances. Last season, the proportion of our audience with a BAME background increased from 4% to 10%. In January of last year, we announced that we would be recruiting four new members of our Chorus from a BAME background, as well as four BAME Director Observerships. This year, we announced that we will also be recruiting five new BAME string players to continue working towards our aim of making the opera industry more accessible and representative of the society in which we live.

Through our ongoing support and development of British talent, 85% of the cast in the 2018/19 season were British or British trained, up 5% from the previous season. That’s important to us and is fundamental to our ethos of giving new talent their break.

ENO is about opera for everyone.

For further information:
Olivia Pay Communications Director
[email protected]