L-R Ella Heyes and Maria Mortimer

Two Edge Hill University dance graduates who used their theatrical talents to spread cheer around the wards of Aintree University Hospital have been shortlisted for a national award. 

Maria Mortimer and Ella Heyes, both aged 22, would regularly visit the hospital’s wards to lift the spirits of patients with their fun-filled performances of much-loved musical classics. 

The duo’s performances and costumes from musicals including Singin’ in the RainCalamity JaneThe Wizard of Oz and the Sound of Music quickly became a hit with patients and staff at the hospital, before the first national lockdown brought their project to a halt in 2020. 

Ella, who is from Wigan, said: “It was such an eye-opening experience to witness first-hand the impact that dance, movement and music can have on patients.  

“The arts add value to our lives, and we would often receive feedback from the nurses on how our five-minute performance would make a patient’s whole day. Hearing that made it all worthwhile.” 

Maria performing in the hospital

Maria, who is from Coventry, added: “When we initially set out on the project, our aim was to develop creativity, meaning and imagination through dance and performance in the health sector. It was such a joyous experience to be involved in, especially when the patients had their family or friends visiting, because it became a special moment for them to share together.” 

The performances formed part of Ella and Maria’s joint final year university project, Silvering Linings: Glide into Broadway, which was organised in collaboration with Performing Arts in Aintree (PARTIA), the body responsible for all arts activity within the hospital trust. 

Paula O’Malley, Founder and Arts-Coordinator at PARTIA, said: “Maria and Ella truly made a difference to our patients stay and I’d like to thank them for their hard work and commitment. I too shed a tear at their last performance, as it was very emotional to see so many patients join in and to see the joy on their faces.” 

Ella and Maria have now been shortlisted as finalists for Building Better Healthcare’s Best Collaborative Arts Project (Performance) award, which will take place in London in November, in recognition of the positive impact their performances had on patients’ wellbeing. 

Maria said: “It was such a shock when Paula told us that we had been nominated for an award – and to actually be finalists is incredible.” 

The pair both graduated from Edge Hill in 2020 but returned to the University’s campus in Ormskirk this week to celebrate their graduation day in-person.  

Ella has recently completed a PGCE and has since been offered a role as a specialist dance and drama teacher at St Peters Catholic High School in Wigan.  

She said: “I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher and that’s been my dream for as long as I can remember. I knew that Edge Hill offered a great Dance programme and that it’s also recognised for its teacher training, so it seemed the obvious choice for me, and I had a great three years there.” 

Maria is freelancing in Liverpool as a dance teacher in both private and community dance schools while also pursuing performance and creative opportunities. 

She explained: “I fully submersed myself in university life while I was at Edge Hill, I met so many fantastic people and was given performance opportunities that really helped to set me up for the real world. I was very lucky and had an amazing three years.” 

Whatever your dream role – actor, director or producer- you’ll develop your talents here at Edge Hill, exploring anything from capoeira to directing. Studying one of Edge Hill’s Dance, Drama and Musical Theatre programmes, you’ll learn creative thinking, teamwork and problem-solving skills that are valuable in any sector. And with intellectually challenging topics, specialist modules and work experience options, you’ll be ready to grasp the opportunities that await you.