Boats on an ocean

2020 – Project

(R) Researcher

Kerry Wykes

Researcher and Lecturer in Emergency Care, Coventry University

(R) Researcher

Louise Moody

Professor of Health Design and Human Factors, Coventry University

(R) Researcher

Sally Pezaro

Researcher and Lecturer in Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University

View the Artwork

We’re humans not heroes: the experiences of healthcare workers during Covid-19

Looking at the lives of healthcare workers through the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, this project explores their ‘human’ experiences – in contrast to the public and media portrayal of them as ‘heroes’.

The audio artwork is the representation of the stories, experiences and emotions of eight healthcare workers from Coventry and across the UK, gathered during an online creative workshop. From this, we identified seven themes, including the theme of the ‘hero’ narrative. While some might consider the label of ‘hero’ as praise, many of our healthcare worker participants explained that it sometimes caused feelings of guilt. A shift in focus is needed to recognise the emotional and physical toll for individuals. Adequate support is needed to help healthcare workers find meaning in their experiences.

Our aim is to raise awareness (to policy-makers and the general public) of the real experiences and challenges that healthcare workers have faced during this period. We feel our workshop approach has the potential to be evaluated for its evidence-based benefits on healthcare worker wellbeing, and we plan to pilot it in larger groups.

Instructions for listening

The piece is emotive, it is designed to be an intimate listening experience, so we suggest you listen to it somewhere quiet, ideally with headphones. Dr Liz Sparkes (Mindfulness & Compassion at Coventry University) recommends these three steps to release tension and engage with feelings of wellbeing and compassion, before/during or after your listening experience:

  1. Notice what is happening around you. Allow yourself to acknowledge what it is that is happening that is disturbing you. Not trying to change it in any way. Perhaps label it.
  2. Locate where the experience is felt within the body. Where do you feel the discomfort in the body? Perhaps the sensations are in one area, or possibly across several sites. Just notice.
  3. Begin to breathe into the area where the tension or discomfort is felt. Moving out of the mind and into the body. Just direct the breath into the area that feels tense, bringing a sense of softening. Also placing a hand on the heart area will bring a softening and soothing to the difficult experience.

We wanted to provide an opportunity for healthcare workers to express their experiences of working through the pandemic, explore these in a creative way and capture their narratives as humans and individuals, rather than ‘invincible heroes’ – Kerry Wykes


If, after listening to this audio recording, you need to talk to someone about your experiences or someone you care about,  there is advice and emotional support available from The Samaritans or call 116123 for free advice.

If you are a healthcare leader or manager, and want more advice on how to support your team, go to: or contact us if you would like to use this resource with your healthcare team.


Please contact Researcher Kerry Wykes for more details on the project, or if you would like to use the audio resource with your healthcare team (we are developing resources for this purpose) or to register your interest in future workshop opportunities. We are interested in hearing audiences responses to the piece, please tweet us using #BoatsOnAnOcean.

Download Abstract

Boats on an Ocean Research

(pdf 45.46 KB)

(A) Artist

Nick Walker


(A) Artist

Bharti Patel


(A) Artist

Charlotte Bickley

Sound Design

(A) Artist

China Plate Theatre

Andrea Pieri Gonzalez, Ed Collier, Susan Wareham, Izzy Taylor

With thanks to the healthcare worker participants whose stories were fundamental to the creation of this piece.

“We do it because our lives are interlaced. Our feelings are interlaced too. And I know there are lots of poems about love in the world, about roses and sunsets and mixtapes, but this is what love is here, and what it is now. We can’t hug to show it, and so we show it by swapping shifts.” – Extract from Boats on an Ocean

Age guidance: 12+
Content Warning: This piece contains themes of mortality and illness and is based on real life testimonies from front line NHS workers during the Covid 19 pandemic.

You can download the full script at the bottom of the page.

Nick Walker: Artist Impressions

My job was to set a series of creative writing tasks for our healthcare participants to engage with in whatever way they felt comfortable, and to take those stories and try and find some common themes, narratives or feelings that could be woven into a coherent piece of writing. This would form the basis of the audio piece.

For me, the whole experience has been incredibly rewarding and humbling, but also really uplifting at times because, in amongst the darkness of the current situation, the participants were able to find real moments of warmth and love and compassion, which was really moving for all of us involved.

It’s important that it’s a creative project working with a research project – I think the whole team has gained real insight into how our different disciplines can work well together, to enrich each other – Nick Walker

Download the full script

Boats on an Ocean

(pdf 29.20 KB)


Tell us – what you think

We hope you are enjoying this digital exhibition from Coventry Creates. We would really appreciate your thoughts and feedback about what you have experienced. This quick form will only take 1-2 minutes of your time and will help us understand how much of an impact these collaborative projects are having in our community.

Thank you!

On a scale of 1-5, tell us what you think about this project...

(1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree):

It was absorbing and held my attention.

It was well thought through and put together.

It had something new or thought-provoking to say about the world in which we live.

It has challenged me to think about my attitudes and values.

I feel inspired to seek out more information or take action.

I found this an interesting and creative way to engage with the topic.

Please write three words to describe your experience of this work.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your experience of this work?

A digital exhibition of creative work by local artists, each an interpretation of academic research from Coventry University and University of Warwick. Building on last year’s show created during the lockdown, there are 12 new projects for 2021, each aiming to change how we perceive and experience our worlds.

The collaborative commissions this year explore how Covid-19 has impacted hospice care, what museum closures mean to communities, whether artificial intelligence can create art, how we can promote respectful interactions around names, what an ideal society looks like for women of colour, and more.

Coventry Creates is part of the ongoing work by Coventry and Warwick universities in the lead up to and during the City of Culture. The University Partnership has funded over 60 creative research projects, involving many diverse Coventry organisations and local communities. The University of Warwick and Coventry University are both principal partners of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.

Arts Council England LogoCoventry City of Culture Principal Partner Logo

More information about Coventry Creates