Working creatively with people who have experienced domestic abuse


The coMforT study

The coMforT study funded by NIHR Bristol BRC developed and tested a trauma-specific mindfulness course for women who had experienced domestic abuse and post-traumatic stress. The study, led by Dr Natalia Lewis, worked with an advisory group of six women with lived experience of domestic abuse who engaged in planning, delivering, analysing and disseminating study findings.

Developing a theatre piece about the impact of involvement in research

Once the coMforT study finished, two of the public contributors involved in it went on to co-produce a play called ‘Hard Evidence’ with support from researchers and the director of ACTA, a local community theatre in Bristol. The play shows a woman with a history of domestic abuse taking part in a study about mindfulness. It charts her journey to personal empowerment through research and how this enabled her to help a friend who was also experiencing domestic abuse.

The play was originally performed over two nights at ACTA community theatre, by the same two public contributors who co-produced the piece. Three further performances then took place at community centres around Bristol in the following year.

Project aims and impact

Feedback from the team responsible for developing the play and audiences attending the original performances in November 2021 indicated that the process of creating and watching it had had an impact on all parties involved. The research team was subsequently able to secure additional funding to formally evaluate this impact and the co-production process.

Their work focused on:

  • Understanding the value of the approach they took in developing the play as an output for their work
  • Developing a template for good practice in collaborative working for wider use in the research community

During the evaluation, researchers carried out a mixed-methods study where they:

  • Observed two performances
  • Collected fifty-six feedback forms from audience members
  • Interviewed all eight members of the project team and seven audience members

Their key finding was that participants thought the play was an acceptable way of reaching out to people about both domestic abuse and the value of co-producing research. This was because they thought the play was more emotionally engaging and accessible than other dissemination methods.

Good practice template

Illustration by Camille Aubry capturing themes discussed during live event
Illustration by Camille Aubry capturing themes discussed during live event

The research team wanted to apply what they learned during the evaluation to future public engagement work and knowledge dissemination. To do this, they built on the findings from their research by collaborating with a range of stakeholders (including theatre makers, public contributors, people with lived experience of domestic abuse, researchers and people interested in co-production).

They wanted to learn from the experiences of others and co-develop key recommendations on using creative methods to disseminate research, particularly on topics which might be emotionally difficult or re-traumatizing for people to engage with. They established the following key recommendations:

  • Access to external support is important (for audience members and the project team)
  • Centring, empowerment, hopefulness and play are key in reducing negative emotional impact
  • Depth of engagement can be more important than breadth

A ‘How-to-Guide’ is currently being developed from the project team based on these recommendations in collaboration with the graphic artist who live-illustrated the stakeholder collaboration event (