Mural of art relating to COVID and the people's opinion


Developing arts-based resources to support an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya

About the project

One billion people make up the global population of urban poor living in informal settlements and slums (UN Stats). Informal settlements are densely populated and lack infrastructure for clean water, sanitation and waste management. As a result, it can be difficult to implement mitigation measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as hand washing, social distancing and physical isolation. And these measures may not be the highest priority. 

The overall aim of the ACT Nairobi project, led by Dr Cressida Bowyer, was to develop resources to support Mukuru, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, in the production of public health messages for reducing COVID-19 transmission. Mukuru is a densely populated community of over 500,000 inhabitants making public health measures such as social distancing challenging. Hygiene practices are therefore much more necessary during the pandemic. 

The project took place over 4 months from June-September 2020.

Global Challenges Research Fund logo

This project was funded by institutional funding from Research England QR Global Challenges Research Fund.

Key aims

  • Develop and distribute socially and culturally relevant COVID messages
  • Widen the impact of participatory arts-based methodologies in Kenya
  • Build capacity, share knowledge and enhance skills among all project participants

Our approach

Public health messages in Mukuru are typically disseminated using a process known as sensitisation. In this context, sensitisation involves raising awareness around local health and wellbeing issues and sharing public health messages via socially and culturally relevant media such as graffiti and music. Engaging and effective sensitisation campaigns are a critical factor in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in these communities.

This collaborative project helped to build capacity, share knowledge and enhance skills between creatives in Kenya and the UK. This was achieved through online workshops covering digital storytelling, cellphilming (cellphone and film production), comic creation, puppetry, music, citizen science, qualitative and quantitative data collection and evaluation methods. We consulted relevant experts during the development of the sensitisation outputs to ensure the messages were grounded in science.

Project outputs

The local partner, Mukuru Youth Initiative, and 21 community researchers are experienced in delivering public health messages. The community researchers included youth leaders and activists, school teachers, artists, musicians and filmmakers, all of whom live and/or work in Mukuru.

During the intensive 4 month project, the following content was produced:

  • 32-page comic strip
  • 4 murals
  • 71 digital stories and cellphilms
  • 12 recorded puppet skits
  • 2 songs with music videos — Kaa Rada and You Can Get It

See the digital outputs on YouTube

The digital outputs were widely shared on school and community WhatsApp groups, YouTube and other social media. 4,250 printed comics are being made available to the community via churches, libraries, youth groups, health centres, recreation centres and schools.

Community artists and youth activist groups continue to use the new techniques introduced during this project. School teachers are using the project outputs and skills training they received in their own teaching practice. Many of these methods are novel to these classroom settings and are being received with great enthusiasm. 

Through the project we gained a greater understanding of the lived experiences of slum dwellers in the COVID-19 era. It highlighted the need for creative and effective public health messaging, which will inform knowledge exchanges in the global south.


This project was funded by the University of Portsmouth and the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, through their allocation of QR GCRF funds from Research England. 

Project Partners and Advisors


  • Professor Cindy Gray, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Sarah West, Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York
  • Dr Miranda Loh, Institute of Occupational Medicine
  • Cynthia Kairu, independent social scientist
  • Mukuru Youth Initiative (MuYI)
  • Dr Melaneia Warwick, independent consultant, participatory visual research methodologies
  • Sophia Collins, public engagement consultant


Cressida Jane Bowyer Portrait

Media ready expert

Dr Cressida Bowyer

Associate Professor in Arts and Sustainability

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

PhD Supervisor

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Louis Netter Portrait

Dr Louis Netter

Senior Lecturer

School of Art, Design, and Performance

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

PhD Supervisor

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Erika Elizabeth Hughes Portrait

Dr Erika Hughes

Interim Head of School

School of Art, Design, and Performance

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

PhD Supervisor

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Matthew Roy Smith Portrait

Dr Matt Smith

Reader in Applied Theatre and Puppetry

School of Art, Design, and Performance

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

PhD Supervisor

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Miss Sayyidah Salam

Senior Project Administrator

Faculty of Science and Health

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