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Throughout autumn 2020,  thanks to ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND EMERGENCY RESPONSE FUNDING, Mad Alice Theatre Company worked with 48 final year medical students from Newcastle University teaching them about storytelling. 

Shelley used her performance skills as a professional actor and YEARS of storytelling experience to teach medical students how, through stories, they can connect and build a deeper relationship with the children they are treating, and how creativity can benefit and enhance their practice. It is hoped this project ultimately helps them to be caring, competent doctors of the future that recognise the significance of emotional and mental health needs and how they often compound the physical, medical needs.

The project involved medical students who are all based in Northumbria NHS Trust, reading stories to 31 children in outpatient clinics, including children in care, and in the children’s unit in NSECH Cramlington; each child  received a gifted book. Library staff in Northumbria Health Care Trust supported the project by funding some of the books. 

77 books were handed out to children. 


Shelley O'Brien, Actress & Artistic Director

Mad Alice Theatre Company

Dr Belinda Bateman, Consultant Paediatrician,

Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer Newcastle University


This project has developed in partnership with Dr Belinda Bateman, paediatrician and honorary senior clinical lecturer at Newcastle University and the Named and Designated Doctor for looked after children in North Tyneside. In addition, she is joint 5th year lead for the child health undergraduate medical student programme with Advanced Paediatric Nurse Practitioner Wendy Smith.

“Story telling is a universal way of communicating, particularly with children. Learning to communicate with children of all ages is a massive part of our development as doctors.” - Dr Belinda Bateman

Stories are a safe way for children to express feelings, understand themselves, and are fun and engaging! Children, especially, tend to open up more easily through stories; their responses reveal so much about their inner life and indeed often their current external life and their hopes, fears and dreams.

Shelley drew on her wealth of experience storytelling to children in the paediatric oncology service at the Great North Children’s Hospital through her work with Henry Dancer Days. Shelley’s storytelling technique is very much child led; children are encouraged to actively take part in the telling. In this project, she encouraged and developed student’s confidence to do the same, by sharing some of her skills, experiences and a few ‘actor’s tools’. She gave advice and learning on how to engage the child, encourage their creative and emotional response and make the story a genuine lovely two-way exchange.


This project builds on Mad Alice’s Arts Council England Emergency Funding remit of supporting some of the many vulnerable children who due to COVID-19 are struggling with more fears and worries and for whom stories can be an escape but also a way of understanding and talking about our feelings.

Children have also been signposted to Mad Alice’s Rise and Shine Saturday Virtual Storytime project, which demonstrates how important we feel stories are in making us a kinder, more empathetic people, leading to an ultimately a happier, healthier and more wholesome world!

Learning from this project also fed into our research and development process for our new show for 4-7yrs which we have been carrying out in autumn 2020 (again thanks to ACEERF) and which we hope to further develop in 2021.

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