China Plate and Coventry University present

Boats On An Ocean

We’re humans, not heroes. Exploring healthcare worker experiences of Covid-19 through arts-based research.


Run time: 10 minutes

Age: 12+

Content warnings: 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

An image of the back of an ambulance driving on a motorway, with its lights flashing.

"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

A collage image of black and white photographs, the text 'Coventry Creates' is overlaid on top.

Boats on an Ocean is the pilot artwork for the Humans Not Heroes project – click here to view the project in full.

Boats On An Ocean

Written and Directed by Nick Walker

China Plate worked with writer and director Nick Walker, actor Bharti Patel and researchers at Coventry University to facilitate an innovative arts-based research workshop, as part of the Coventry Creates initiative funded by Coventry University and the University of Warwick for Coventry City of Culture 2021.

The workshop provided a space for a representative group of healthcare workers (from Coventry and elsewhere) to reflect on and explore their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic via creative methods, including creative writing. Researchers found that even the smallest displays of compassion can make the difference to individual healthcare workers, such as small acts of kindness, caring language and being listened to, and our workshop embodied these themes.

Working with Sound Designer Charlotte Bickley, we have created an audio recording that gives a truthful account of the narrative of healthcare workers during this crisis, which is intended to act as a point of stimuli for discussion and debrief after the pandemic for healthcare workers, informing the development of additional resources to help healthcare workers reflect and recover. This recording is an intimate listening experience – encouraging empathy for healthcare workers through relatable depictions of their encounters and also promoting to healthcare workers to find their self-compassion at a time of crisis and beyond it.

Edmund Collier, Artistic Director: “China Plate are extremely excited to be involved in this new commission exploring how the arts can help NHS staff in terms of the longer term picture in relation to Covid-19. Our aim is to create a piece of audio work from the perspective of NHS workers that can be used as a jumping off point for supporting their wellbeing, specifically around the moral injury that they may be encountering in the decisions they have to make.”

Kerry Wykes, Assistant Professor in Emergency Care at Coventry University: “We aim to create an audio recording that gives a truthful account of the narrative of healthcare workers during this crisis, whilst also being a point of stimuli for discussion and debrief after the pandemic for healthcare workers, informing the development of additional resources to help healthcare workers reflect and recover.”

Supported by Coventry Creates. A joint initiative launched and funded by the University of Warwick and Coventry University, as part of The City of Culture University Partnership, to support creatives in the run up to Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.

Photo © Coventry Creates

Listen Now

Boats On An Ocean is available to listen to, as part of the Coventry Creates online digital exhibition.


There is a transcription of the audio available in our Downloads section.

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.

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.

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 there is more advice at: or contact Kerry Wykes ([email protected]) if you would like to use this resource with your healthcare team.

Researchers at Coventry University teamed up with China Plate Theatre and Coventry writer Nick Walker to create this audio artwork, based on the testimonies of healthcare workers from Coventry & elsewhere, who have worked through the COVID-19 Pandemic, as part of a research study entitled, “We’re humans, not heroes: Exploring healthcare worker experiences of COVID-19 through Arts-Based Research”.

Researcher and Lecturer in Emergency Care, Kerry Wykes, explains, “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, in contrast with the portrayal of them as ‘invincible heroes’.”

The research and script development took place concurrently during an online workshop with 8 multidisciplinary healthcare workers (Paramedic, Receptionist, Paediatric Nurse, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Anaesthetic Consultant, Healthcare Support Worker, Adult Nurse, Student Nurse) from Coventry and elsewhere.

Writer Nick Walker and a producer from China Plate led participants through creative writing and ‘character development’ activities to explore their experiences and emotions, and participants also developed self-compassion techniques supported by Coventry Uni’s Dr Liz Sparkes. Data was then analysed for common themes and narratives. We have identified 7 themes within the research and a publication of research findings is forthcoming.

Please contact Researcher Kerry Wykes ([email protected]) for more details on the project, if you would like to use the audio resource with your healthcare team, or to register your interest in future workshop opportunities.

An abstract about the research is available in our Downloads section.

Boats on an Ocean also features as a learning / reflective material in a new chapter ‘Understanding Compassion Fatigue and Burnout’ by Dr Sally Pezaro in the book ‘Health and Wellbeing at Work for Nurses and Midwives’. The full article is available to read via Google here.

Boats On An Ocean was shortlisted for a Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance 2021 Collective Power Award. The award aims to recognise how meaningful partnerships and co-productions have improved the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through culture and creativity.

Kerry Wykes – “We are delighted to be nominated for the Collective Power award. In particular at this unprecedented time for healthcare workers, we feel the arts are a way for the general public to relate to their stories and experiences. This nomination provides recognition of the importance of supporting healthcare workers as we enter the second phase of the project, working towards evidencing this arts-based intervention.”

Find out more on the Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance website.

Creative Team

A man sitting on the floor, leaning against a white brick wall, holding a notebook. He appears to be laughing at something out of view of the camera.

Nick Walker

Nick is a Perrier nominated writer, producer, and director.

Read more
  • Writer & Director | Nick Walker
  • Performer | Bharti Patel
  • Sound Designer | Charlotte Bickley
  • Participants | 8 multidisciplinary healthcare workers
  • Research Team | Kerry Wykes, Professor Louise Moody & Dr Sally Pezaro
  • Producer | China Plate

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