University of Greenwich arts-led research that teaches health students effective touch therapy


The research originated from interactive and immersive theatre research between the University of Greenwich and industry partner ZU-UK.

Lead of the Creative Futures Research Centre, at the University of Greenwich, Professor Jorge Zisels Lopes Machado Ramos, has partnered with Persis Jadé Maravala, director of multi-award-winning theatre and digital arts company ZU-UK, on new research and artwork that examines the impact of touch in mental health training and therapies.

The Creative Futures Research Centre is one of six new research centres in the new Institute for Inclusive Communities and Environments at the Faculty for Liberal Arts and Sciences, at the university.

Titled Within Touching Distance, and currently being presented at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in collaboration with the Sound/Image Festival, the project uses virtual reality and human touch to allow viewers to look at the experience of human touch from birth through to old age.

The importance of touch, at both birth and during palliative care, is well-known. But in the years between, excluding intimate touch, there is little research on its impact in relation to the training of health professionals. In the context of a loneliness epidemic, mental health crisis, and following social distancing during the pandemic, the necessity of touch is becoming more widely recognised.

Project collaborator and former NHS nurse and Professor of Healthcare Simulation and Workforce Development at the University of Greenwich, Professor Sharon Weldon said: "Within Touching Distance is a perfect example of the power art has to push the limits of healthcare simulation and make healthcare professionals think beyond their own reality. ZU-UK’s use of technology and touch to raise the importance of empathy is a powerful way of bringing the essence of what care is back to the forefront of what we do.’

Lopes Ramos and Maravala’s research into how to conduct immersive theatre from the perspective of someone recovering from SMI (Serious Mental Illness) focuses on ethics and care for the audiences, ensuring participants are looked after before, during and following a show. It has now developed into a patient-led method to train healthcare professionals to consider a patient’s lived experience of hidden disabilities, SMI and mental health conditions, funded by Innovate UK. This method was developed from the original VR artwork that is currently on display at the University of Greenwich’s Stephen Lawrence gallery and research involving Greenwich students, researchers and professors, and community members and patients.

As well as being short-listed by The Stage Awards 2024, the project has been used as a case study presented at the Prime Minister’s technology roundtable, won the Inclusive Innovation Award 2023 and received a special mention from the Sheffield DocFest 2023 Jury. The team are now testing its application in healthcare simulation to improve the use of effective touch and empathy in the training of health professionals like nurses by augmenting the clinical skills curriculum with XR technology, with particular focus on the care of mental health patients. 

Tickets for Within Touching Distance:
Creative Futures 2023 season ends this Sunday 17th December
Stephen Lawrence Gallery, 10 Stockwell St, London SE10 9BD