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A Cleft In Time

An Arts Project Exploring Narratives of Cleft & Psychological Wellbeing

Published in the Lancet, 

Child & Adolescent Health. 2021


Cleft lip and/or palate (CL/P) is common. Around 1 in 700 children born in the UK are affected, and they can face many challenges growing up physically, psychologically and socially. Cleft care is unusual as it requires a multi-disciplinary team to support someone for at least two decades from birth. Such young people may have multiple treatment pathways, which often include several surgical procedures, orthodontic treatment and psychological input throughout childhood and adolescence. 



Project Aims & Objectives

Learn more about the South West Cleft Service

By utilising artistic workshops for young people with CL/P, alongside educational public engagement events, the narratives of young people with CL/P have been the focus of exploration for a novel interdisciplinary arts project I am leading in collaboration with the South West Cleft Service, the Science Gallery London and CLAPA (Cleft Lip and Palate Association), with further support from the charity Above & Beyond and the Bristol Reconstructive Prosthetics team. 


By generating interdisciplinary creative spaces, novel opportunities can be developed for young people with CL/P to open discourse, nurture a sense of belonging and sharing of experiences with healthcare professionals and peers. Furthermore, by embracing such an experimental process, arts practice may provide an accessible strategy to engage, inspire and challenge the public regarding attitudes towards CL/P.

What does the project aim to achieve?

  • To aid empowerment of young people with CL/P and positively contribute to the psychological well-being through artistic avenues.

  • Open discussion with young people to allow creative exploration of their narratives.

  • Offer a co-design structure for patient feedback collation to inform service delivery.

  • Production of new artwork for display to encourage public engagement and education in the healthcare setting regarding CL/P.

Service User Engagement

In collaboration with renowned sculptor and medical artist Eleanor Crook and Clinical Psychologist Dr Julia Cadogan, a series of art workshops funded by the charity Above and Beyond were offered to individuals of various ages with cleft lip and/or palate. These co-design artistic workshops explored personality and identity utilising wax facial sculpture and craft to allow individuals to creatively explore their journey, have fun and provide feedback on their experiences.

In addition, art activities have been provided to young people connected to CLAPA, including at the National Portrait Gallery, regional activity days and for the Children and Young People's Council. Utilising craft and fine art, these activities have enabled creative spaces to encourage fun, open discussion and meeting of other similar young people. 



& Education

Public engagement events providing interactive educational opportunities regarding CL/P with health professionals and artists were commissioned by the Science Gallery London in central London. 

These pop-up workshop experiences were in collaboration with CLAPA, Clinical Psychology at the Evelina London, King's College London and the Bristol Reconstructive Prosthetics team. Participants were encouraged to be collaborators in using dental equipment and materials to produce personalised impressions of their own hard palate to discuss and explore with health professionals regarding the impact of cleft physically and psychologically. Such public engagement culminated in the production of a collaborative art installation which was displayed in the healthcare setting at Guy's Hospital to aid public education.  

Outreach workshops with local schools furthermore engaged children in learning about cleft and using hands-on craft activities to explore the impact which it may have on other children growing up. These activities are continuing in particular with the King's College London K+ widening access program for young people exploring University opportunities.  



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