April Heade: The Woman behind Wellness with WNO

8 March 2024

Since March 1910, there has been an allocated day in the calendar to celebrate all the sensational women in the world. Today, on International Women’s Day 2024, we shine a light on one of the inspirational women here at Welsh National Opera, WNO Producer April Heade.

South Wales born producer; April was surrounded by the arts from a very young age. Every day of the week was filled with an arts related activity, from playing the piano and clarinet to immersing herself in films, music and her first true love, dancing, which built her confidence and shaped her as a person. Despite her childhood desire to be a spy, and the first female James (or should we say Jane) Bond, her heart was in the arts and after a stint in a local all-female publishing company, she discovered an opportunity to join Welsh National Opera. Remembering her first introduction to opera – a performance of Aida in Verona with her godmother - there was no way she could let this opportunity pass.

In 2017, she joined the Company in the Programmes and Engagement department, where she delved straight into the team’s health projects and discovered her calling in life – helping others. She was a crucial part of the hospital programme in its pilot year, managed the audio description programme, and worked on several wellbeing projects in Hong Kong, Dubai and Morocco.

I can’t put into words how passionate I am about this line of work. It’s regularly said that the arts can change lives and it’s so true. Being able to provide music in a setting which means everyone is included is incredible. Seeing how the various groups interact and react to music, there’s no feeling like it. It’s such a fulfilling role.

In March 2020, the world as we knew it changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. During this period, the importance of the arts became increasingly clear and emerging from the pandemic, NHS Wales Health Boards were eager to develop an innovative programme with Welsh National Opera to support people who were living with the long-term effects of COVID – specifically breathlessness and feelings of anxiety.

In summer 2021, three female Long COVID service leads from the NHS Wales Health Boards and WNO’s vocal specialists (who were also women) came together with April to develop the programme and in November 2021, Wellness with WNO was born.

The innovation, inspiration and commitment to person-centred care was incredible. I’m so proud to call these inspiring women my colleagues and I feel honoured to be a part of our participant’s journey. They are a very determined group of people who have left a lasting impact on me.

To date, 94% of participants who have gone through the Wellness with WNO programme have reported positive results, leading to high levels of interest from the medical world. As the first nationwide social prescription programme in Wales, April is more determined than ever to promote the work at high levels and has presented the programme to the Traumatic Stress Wales Network, British Psychological Society, various health services and international delegations and most recently, it was shared at the launch of Welsh Government’s national framework for social prescribing.

If any women out there are considering a career in arts and health, my advice would be to go for it. It’s incredibly important work and it’s an area of rapid recognition. You’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with inspiring people from all walks of life. I have learnt so much from the participants and medical professionals – including my mum who has dedicated her entire working life to the NHS. The key to success in this field is to be sympathetic, kind, and compassionate.