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The aim is to explore the connection between coastal living and wellbeing

Art and science unite to explore how coastlines impact our mental health

Two specially curated weekends of sound, light, music and art will unite local communities, regional and international artists to explore the connection between coastal living and wellbeing.

Through a series of briefings, talks and workshops running since early spring, REFLECT has brought people together to discuss their own lived experiences and connections to the coast. The project culminates this autumn with a large-scale outdoor sound and light event, featuring new commissions and works by international and local sound and visual artists, plus community groups. REFLECT aims to compare the impact of coastal living on resident’s mental health in two vastly contrasting coastal communities; Bude, North Cornwall and Gravesham, Kent.

Celia Morgan, Professor of Psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, and the research project lead, said: “We know from research that living near water can have a beneficial effect on health. But a lot of coastal and estuary areas have high levels of deprivation, and we have recently seen worrying trends like rising levels of suicide in young people who live by the sea. We want to engage residents and visitors using an innovative series of art installations and performances on the theme of the sea and wellbeing. We hope people will get involved and so we can better understand experiences of living in coastal communities, reduce stigma of mental health issues and learn how to better harness the restorative effects of the sea .”


Across two weekends, each event presents the stories and findings from the local area in an iconic coastal location: the dramatic cliffs and 91-meter sea pool in Bude and the striking LV21 art and performance space, housed in a 40-meter steel hulled ship in Gravesham. REFLECT offers collaborators and spectators a unique opportunity to reflect on their own relationship with the coast and wellbeing.


Daytime events include Heaven 17 founder and acclaimed sound artist Martyn Ware’s What Does The Sea Say?, a seaside soundscape housed in a beach hut located on the downs in Bude and the quayside by LV21, alongside singing walks and coastal benches decorated by artists from Cornwall and Kent.

Each evening audiences can experience new commissions inspired by local people’s experiences of the coast in both locations. Ulf Pedersen, well-known for illuminating national gardens and landscapes, will project his new work Karma Seas, onto to the cliff face in Bude and the sails of barge Edith May in Gravesend, reflected into the water in both locations.

At Bude Sea Pool, Timothy Crowley and Kate Ogley’s Swirlsees recorded interviews exploring local people’s experiences of the sea transformed into an interactive and generative sound installation housed in a beach hut.

At LV21, Tania Holland Williams’ States of Immersion uses different spaces on board the ship to question our complex relationship with water and the subtle everyday exchanges we make with it, be they practical, emotional or imaginative.

As part of the evening event audiences in both locations can enjoy intimate performances of folk song, new coastal soundtracks created by local young people plus University of Exeter’s Forest 404 experiment exploring how natural sounds affect our mood and brain activity. In Bude these will take place in the beach huts at the Sea Pool and feature members of Bude shanty group the Bencoolen Wreckers. Audiences at LV21 will be able to explore below deck and enjoy intimate folk song performances by Kent based BBC Radio 2 Award winning folk singer Lucy Farrell.

Research by the University of Exeter has shown that people tend to report better health the closer they live to the sea, and that views of so-called ‘blue spaces’ are preferred over other types of natural environment. Yet areas such as North Cornwall and Gravesham have high levels of deprivation with considerable barriers in many communities to overcome, such as accessing health services.  

As part of REFLECT the University of Exeter has worked with a small number of key collaborators with a lived experience of mental health over several months. The research and participatory artworks aim to understand the challenges and benefits of living by the sea and how coastal environments can impact wellbeing. This understanding comes from focus groups, interviews, nature connection, therapy sessions and involvement in art projects. They are also running a range of parallel research projects on questions such as ‘is cold water swimming antidepressant?’ and ‘how connected do adolescents feel to nature?’. This knowledge will then be used to create a vision of how wellbeing can be enhanced in these communities using the natural and human resources available.

REFLECT is produced by Sound UK in association with the University of Exeter and LV21. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England and University of Exeter.

Date: 1 August 2019

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