About this project

Empathy is often neatly summed up as ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’. It’s something people working in health and social care services need to be able to do with the people in their care – thinking about a person’s situation, understanding their perspective and providing care that meets their needs. But how often do we empathise with the people providing health and social care?

In 2016, the Health Foundation teamed up with Empathy Museum to develop a collection of stories from people working in, and using, health and social care in the UK. With each story that was shared, the individual donated a pair of their own shoes to be included in the A Mile in My Shoes collection.

An interactive shoe shop, A Mile in My Shoes invites you to step into someone else’s shoes and embark on a physical, emotional and imaginative journey to see the world through their eyes. This collection of stories showcases the remarkable contribution and challenges faced by those working in, and using, our health and social care system.

We take the shoes and stories to various locations across the UK, inviting all sorts of people to step into the life of another. You can also delve into collection online.

A photo of rows of brown shoeboxes on brown shelves

who’s behind this project?

the health foundation

The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about health and health care for people in the UK.

Our aim is a healthier population, supported by high quality health care that can be equitably accessed. From giving grants to those working at the front line to carrying out research and policy analysis, we shine a light on how to make successful change happen. We use what we know works on the ground to inform effective policymaking and vice versa.

We believe good health and health care are key to a flourishing society. Through sharing what we learn, collaborating with others and building people’s skills and knowledge, we aim to make a difference and contribute to a healthier population.

Find out more about the Health Foundation

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Empathy museum

Empathy Museum is an experiential arts space dedicated to helping us all look at the world through other people’s eyes. Using the power of dialogue and storytelling it explores how to view life from the perspective of other people in order to transform personal relationships, help tackle global challenges and open up the public conversation around empathy.

We tour our work both in the UK and internationally. This project is part of A Mile in My Shoes, our ever-growing diverse collection of shoes and stories from people all over the world.

Find out more about Empathy Museum

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Frequently asked questions

Where did the idea come from?

In 2015, Empathy Museum created the concept of an interactive empathy shoe shop and brought it to the South Bank in London. Visitors were fitted with shoes and given an audio recording of a story to listen to as they walked in someone else’s shoes along the Thames.

The Health Foundation took some colleagues on a visit to the installation. We were inspired by the nature of this storytelling approach, and were struck by how powerfully this could translate to the health and social care sector. We began work on a collaborative project with Empathy Museum to create A Mile in My Shoes: Health and Social Care. The result: a giant shoe shop housing 35 pairs of shoes, each with a unique audio story.

How did we collect the stories?

Together with Empathy Museum, the Health Foundation began to identify and collect stories and shoes from people across health and social care. We used the organisation’s professional and personal networks, and cold-calling, to find people who were interested in sharing their story.

We wanted to reflect the breadth of the sector, and share the personal and professional experiences of a diverse range of people. Our aim was to find stories that were evocative, emotive, inspirational, and shined a light on less understood or hidden roles within the system.

The stories in A Mile in My Shoes showcase how multidimensional people’s lives are: the surgeon who is also a carer, the finance director who is also a patient, the patient who is also a volunteer. It is inspiring to hear what motivates them every day, against the backdrop of some significant challenges.

Why is this important?

Every person has a story.

In the busy and challenging health and social care environment, we sometimes fail to look beyond the role and see the people delivering care every day. We believe storytelling is a powerful way to learn, understand, share and connect with each other.

By sharing these thirty-five stories, we hope to encourage greater understanding and empathy across society for people involved in the NHS and social care, while showcasing their extraordinary contribution and the difference they make to all our lives across the UK.

It struck me how often those of us working in health and social care know very little about the experiences of other people working in other parts of the system. If we don’t understand where our colleagues in other parts of the system are coming from, we will never really be able to join up our serviceswork effectively together to bring about better health and care for people living in the UK.

– Jo Bibby, Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Health Foundation

Read more about the importance of empathy in health and social care

Where is the exhibit going next?

The exhibit debuted in June 2016 at the NHS Confederation annual conference in England. Since then we’ve taken it out and about – from the Houses of Parliament to NHS events. At all events people took part enthusiastically, and told us how inspiring and moving they found the experience.

We were delighted to be able to take A Mile in My Shoes to the Palace of Westminster for a week-long exhibition in autumn 2016. We set up our shoe shop in a busy thoroughfare, where MPs, peers and the public passing by could stop and take part, and step into the shoes of one of the UK’s 3 million health and social care workers.

Having a presence at health sector events presents opportunities for leaders and decision makers to walk in someone else’s shoes while listening to their story, as well as showing their support for a creative initiative that puts the spotlight on people working in our unique health and social care system.

In 2017 we took the exhibition to London’s International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare in April, and the LISQua 34th International Conference in October.

A photo of people in a tall building, chatting in small groups and dressed smartly. Behind them is a giant shoebox with an open door on one side, large enough to walk into.