Re-Emerge? Different perspectives on the experiences of parents during Covid19 and the opportunities of creativity

Reflections on the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences ‘Understanding Society’ event on 1 November 2022
Dr Jessica Bradley, School of Education, University of Sheffield

Wakefield Arthouse
Image shows five women of different ages against a grey door and white wall with artworks displayed behind them. The women are smiling.

On Tuesday 1st November 2022, as part of the ESRC’s national Festival of Social Sciences, an evening event - including a talk and a networking reception - took place at The Art House Wakefield which brought together creative practitioners, healthcare professionals and researchers with experience in research and practice in arts and health. The event linked to an ongoing project at The Art House, ‘Re-Emerge’, which explores how people across Wakefield can be supported to thrive after the COVID19 pandemic. Re-Emerge is in partnership with Spectrum People and wider organisations involved in community support.

The theme of this year’s Festival of Social Sciences was ‘Understanding Society’, which showcased how some of the University of Sheffield’s social sciences are tackling some of the greatest problems facing society today. Our event sought to bring together different perspectives on the real and ongoing challenges faced by parents of young children and those becoming parents for the first time during COVID19 and in the aftermath. Invited guests included Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, midwife, artist and producer of Maternal Journal; Diane Saxon, Arts and Health programme manager for The Art House; Rebecca Thomas, midwife and perinatal mental health expert from Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and Fiona Scott, researcher and lecturer in digital literacies in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. Also present and participating in the event were members of the public, including Maternal Journal practitioners and participants from in-person workshops in Wakefield, run as part of the Re-Emerge programme, and online workshops. The event was chaired by Jessica Bradley, lecturer in literacies in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield who is working with The Art House as project researcher and evaluator for Re-Emerge. Bringing people together in this way enabled us to share perspectives on a range of topics relating to parenting, motherhood, diverse experiences of lockdown and isolation and the opportunities for creative practice within all of this. 

We were welcomed to The Art House with an informal reception, featuring a warming and seasonal pumpkin soup, which gave everyone the opportunity to meet each other. Though the event had been initially conceived as a panel discussion with invited speakers, the welcoming surroundings and different experiences of those present meant that we decided to open up the format to enable everyone present to speak and give voice to their experiences. Our discussion ranged from people’s ambiguous feelings about different periods of lockdown and associated isolation - the anxiety and frustration, the loneliness, but also in some ways the freedom of being released from everyday expectations. For new parents this meant feeling apart from the community which might usually surround a new baby, but also the feeling of relief to not have to ‘share’ the baby with visitors and to be able to do things their own way with less weight of expectations. Fiona Scott talked about the preliminary findings of her research with Emma Blakey and Michelle McGillion into the experiences of new parents during the pandemic.

We talked about the different ways that digital communication can support new parents and mitigate some of the feelings of being alone. We also considered how these digital tools and the accessibility of such wide ranging information and guidance for new parents requires careful mediation and negotiation, as stories and ideas from different sources are shared within groups. Many people at the event had been involved in creative practice in different ways - either by leading workshops for Maternal Journal, working with parents and children, being creative practitioners or by being participants in creative projects themselves - and we reflected on how making space for mothers to engage with creative practice for themselves within a safe and supported space can help with a sense of belonging and enable reflection on the new and shifting identities that motherhood brings. An interesting theme that arose was that many participants felt that there was learning from the pandemic that could be brought into everyday practice, for example around digital engagement and the potential and affordances of online spaces for building community and enabling mothers to engage in creative practice. 

The discussion continued for over 1.5 hours and we could have carried on for much longer, had time allowed. Thank you to everyone who attended and we look forward to further conversations in the future. 

You can read more about the project in our blog posts here and here. Project information including about the funder is available here. You can also read our online zine, produced in Summer 2022 with participants, working with Louise Atkinson and Social Research Interns from the University of Sheffield. Information about the Maternal Journal movement is available here.

If you’d like to know more about The Art House’s arts and health programme please use the contact form here. For information about the research and evaluation please contact Jessica Bradley -  

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