Art and sound helps stroke survivors on the road to recovery

Artwork by Pamela one of the stroke patients who have taken part in the Seeing Sounds project

Artwork by Pamela one of the stroke patients who have taken part in the Seeing Sounds project - Credit: Free Space Project

Stroke survivors at a Kentish Town wellbeing project boosted their dexterity and communication skills by creating artworks while listening to sound clips - including bird song and the mating call of a haddock.

The Seeing Sound project saw 17 people with aphasia, a language impairment caused by damage to the brain's left side, take part in five Zoom sessions between November 2020 and February 2021.

Participants from the Free Space Project based at Kentish Town Health Centre, and The Brain Charity in Liverpool were sent materials through the post and created dozens of artworks as they visualised sounds from the British Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, included chaffinches and tawny owls, woodland streams and the babble of seaside piers.

Artwork by Sarah as part of the Seeing Sound project

Artwork by Sarah as part of the Seeing Sound project - Credit: Free Space Project

Aphasia - often caused by a stroke - creates difficulties with reading, listening, speaking, typing or writing. But as the project developed, participants found a sense of community in speaking to fellow survivors, with some reporting a boost in confidence, mental health and the ability to speak and find words.

Alan, 73, who has right-sided weakness, improved his ability to use his left hand while creating his artworks and said meeting other people with aphasia made him “much happier”.

Another participant said: “I have fluent spoken speech but have difficulty with word retrieval, so often felt like a fraud. Meeting other people through Seeing Sound allowed me to have open, honest and frank discussions so I could turn a corner and face my own problems.”

Artist and speech and language therapist Cat Andrew who ran the sessions said making work based on what survivors could hear rather than see had huge benefits. 

Seeing Sound Project at Kentish Town Health Centre

Artwork by Phil as part of the Seeing Sound Project at Kentish Town Health Centre - Credit: Free Space Project

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"The amount of work and the quality was astonishing," she said. “Taking the pressure away to do a ‘good’ drawing by simply responding to the sound allowed people to really immerse themselves in the experience. Listening to sounds meant that language processing, which is difficult for people with aphasia, was bypassed. They could attune their ears and respond with their eyes and enjoy a full sensory creative experience without feeling frustrated by their language difficulties.”

The  artworks will be exhibited at Free Space Project, a charity that offers wellbeing projects for patients at Kentish Town Health Centre, from May 26 to July 20th, before travelling to Liverpool in October. The interactive exhibition allows viewers to scan QR codes next to the artworks and play the sound clips on their phones.

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds at he British Library, said: "I wanted to bring together a diverse selection of sounds that would help participants visualise the various habitats. Some sounds were beautiful, a few were unexpected, but, as sound is such an evocative medium, all had great potential to inspire. It was wonderful to see the collection being used for such a worthwhile project.”

View the exhibition online at: or visit in person Monday to Friday 8.30am-6.30pm at 2, Bartholomew Road, NW5. Visitors must come in pairs and wear masks.