Exhale and Exchange is a pilot event series from the National Heart and Lung Institute and Royal Brompton Hospital which invites people to share their stories and experiences about breathing and the lungs in creative ways. 

This series brings together respiratory researchers,, clinicians, people affected by lung conditions and their family, friends and carers, and members of the public with each workshop taking a creative approach to sharing experience, knowledge and stories about breathing and lung health. 

The series explores the potential of arts methodologies such as singing, creative writing and visual art, to stimulate engagement and understanding between the different participants. 

Making use of the space in the Wellcome Reading Room as part of their Open Platform events we have run three workshops so far, each using a different methodology and led by a different artist facilitator.

Exhale and Exchange 1: How do your lungs feel? 

Phoene Cave introduced soundscapes, and helped us to explore how our lungs feel through making different sounds and noises. Groups of participants responded to words and images that evoked a variety of feelings, creating short sound pieces. These were then shared with the other groups and reflected upon.  One of the groups used lyrics composed by a participant, Jenny Famber:

“My lungs let me know, how I am today, with the wheeze of my chest and the cough that I rasp and the rattle of the cough, that gives to me a sweet release that brings a peaceful breeze”

Exhale and Exchange 2

Responding to words associated with difficulties in breathing, Grace Holliday introduced participants to collage, using a wide variety of different textured materials to express these feelings on small three dimensional lung constructions. During the activity, researchers, members of the public and people with respiratory diseases shared their experience with each other.  Their final collaborative creations can be seen below. 

Collages of lungs

Exhale and Exchange 3: This Brave Machine

Patients, public and researchers discovered playful and experimental poetry techniques. Together they generated new perspectives on their own breath, their relationship to it, the idea of breath and its importance in poetry. Caleb started the workshop with breath words and moved through word association and free-writing before moving on to explore these concepts and share them with the group.  A number of the participants’ work is captured below.


Caleb wrote about the workshop on his blog which you can read on the 'Could Be the Moon' website.

A selection of poems from Exhale and Exchange event

December 2017

Taking the sharpest of breaths

I spoke the text of one

thousand words using ventriloquism

My respiratory senses went blue

as I hope the words come

as I wanted


My cat listened intently and

began purring


The sun was setting when I

finished and I dashed to my

computer to send this


by Lawrence Lewis


All I need is the air pump that I breathe

Hi my life before

Remember me?


Sorry to gate crash this little sun celebration

But there are a thousand and one things to slay


Are you man or mouse enough

To face the red dragon of


Expanding till you burst


See you later

I left the air pump flowing

 By Jonathan Cohen


Dear lungs


Let’s avoid that shall we?

You are my


You invisible creatures

Mean I can sit here

Or play football

Without being dragged off to

The morgue


Where all the air gone?

There’s plenty of it outside

Yet I step into

An office

A bus

The tube

A plan

A pond

And for the life of me

I can’t find any

 By Bertie Herman-Smith


Fresh air

There’s nothing better

Why drink?

Why smoke?

Why dab, shoot or sniff

When the world’s greatest substance

Is free

Is healthy

And is just above

your lips

 By Bertie Herman-Smith


Muffled shifting

Soft steps

Breathe, breathe, snuffle

Cough and wheeze

Air sucked and squeezed

Circled in the air con

Windows doubled sealed

Bodies sink into red

Cushions on chairs

Are they Velcroed on?

Why don’t they slide?

 By Kathryn Healey


Awake for breath

No man

No child

No woman

Does walk


Who walks

But breathes



Hearts that beat

But feel



Minds that work

But think



Humanity that loves

But feels naught

 By Satyen Singh


Thank you to all the participants in each workshop for their creativity, conversation and willingness to participate. Thank you so much to our artist facilitators for their hard work and enthusiasm in keeping those conversations going. 

Phoene Cave, facilitator of Exhale & Exchange 1. Vocal coach, writer and trainer for Singing for Lung Health.

Dr Adam Lewis, co-facilitator of Exhale & Exchange 1, NHLI.

Grace Holliday, facilitator of Exhale & Exchange 2. Collage artist.

Caleb Parkin, facilitator of Exhale & Exchange 3. Poet, performer, facilitator & filmmaker AKA Could be the Moon.


Valerie Brown, Wellcome Reading Room

Dr Mike Cox, NHLI

Zahra Aidan, Royal Brompton and Harefield Foundation NHS Trust

Ellen Dowell, NHLI