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A little piece of magic in the home: Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic tours to families in Kildare and Tipperary

This year, families in Kildare and Tipperary enjoyed what one mum called ‘a little piece of magic’ when Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic visited their homes. The Pop Up Picnic is a multi-sensory performance experience created for families with young children who have complex needs. We are delighted to partner with nurses from the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation on the project.

Artists visit families in their homes, using music, sound, puppetry, movement and tactile environments to provide families with new ways of bonding with their child. The performances are tailored for each child by performer Niamh Lawlor, musician Thomas Johnston and director Joanna Williams.


I was delighted to be involved in introducing two Tipperary families to the magic, simplicity and fun of Helium’s home-based projects. Both children and parents alike were captivated and entertained by the multi-sensory performance, which seemed to resonate with, and engage children with complex needs. I loved the pared-back performance using musical instruments, singing and puppetry, sprinkled with fun and laughter which have given families precious memories and diverted them from the daily grind of caring for a sick child in the home.
Mags Naughton, Liaison Nurse, Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation

Let’s have a picnic! Hampers full of surprises in Kildare

Buzzy bees, zesty oranges, jars of honey … The project was piloted with four families in Kildare in 2016. We returned this spring to work with the families on devising a performance piece, based on learnings from phase one. This became the Pop Up Picnic and in June the creative team brought the performance to the homes of our Kildare families.

Many thanks to the families of Ailís, Jacob and Aisling who allowed us to capture the magic unfolding in their homes in this short film.

As a parent, it gives you the chance to bond with your child in a different way outside of the medical stuff, getting that chance to just forget about all that stuff and focus on the moment and enjoying that and making it as special as it can be. – Aisling’s mum


You have to tap into where the child is developmentally and she has come on in leaps and bounds. It has all brought her out of herself and her engagement and her eye contact and all of that has come on. And she may have done it anyhow but I think it has helped. – Ailís’s mum

Today Jacob’s after really opening up. You can see when you touch his hand or that he pulls away; he let [Niamh] wash his hands, he let her dry them and he touched things and he was smiling and laughing. – Jacob’s mum

Aisling takes a bit longer to process things so it allowed, in focusing on different things  – giving them that extra bit of time and making it so special – it gave her a chance to process it and take it all on board. She definitely hugely benefited from that as well as enjoying it immensely, no more than myself. – Aisling’s mum

‘Simple ideas to try at home’ in Tipperary

The Pop up Picnic visited four families with profoundly disabled young children in county Tipperary in August and September. Parents commented that it was a chance for families to participate in a fun experience as a whole family, which one expressed as being a ‘rare’ experience when living with illness, and that the Pop Up Picnic provided ‘new ways to entertain’ their child and new ways for the child’s siblings to interact and play together. Siblings were heard singing the songs from the Pop Up Picnic performance later around the house and continued the play with their less able sibling after the performers had left.

It gives you comfort knowing our kids are thought of – Parent in Tipperary

Parents enjoyed learning how to use the different senses for stimulation and saw the performance as ‘a welcome break’ from medical routines. One parent was very surprised by the length of her daughter’s attention span, describing her reaction as ‘heart-lifting.’ Other parents were surprised at how easy the multi-sensory techniques were: ‘simple ideas to try at home’.

The art of slowing down: artist reflections

Both Niamh and Thomas learned through working with the families how important it is to slow down and really feel the energy of the child, siblings, parents, and respond to that.

Niamh found that regular contact with the families was invaluable and it was very rewarding for her to see how much they also got out of the experience. The time spent devising and developing the Pop Up Picnic with Thomas and Joanna allowed for an excellent ensemble way of working.

Thomas also considered the extensive development and pilot process as vital to the project, enabling him to really interrogate his practice, to closely focus on the multi-sensory dimensions of his work and to reflect on the impact that the work was having on young children and their families.


We have become very good at improvising and responding on the floor to the young children and reading their needs and responding to them creatively which has been very inspiring and positively challenging for our work. – Performer Niamh Lawlor

Discover the magic of the Pop Up Picnic in this booklet created with the kind permission of families in Kildare:

Thank You for giving us this opportunity to be part of the magic, and I hope the project can be rolled out nationwide!  – Mags Naughton, Liaison Nurse, Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation


Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic is produced in partnership with the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation.

The Pop Up Picnic in Kildare was co-produced with Kildare County Council Arts and Wellbeing Programme & Arts Service. The project was approved by Government with support from the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Pop Up Picnic was further supported by the Arts Council, the JP McManus Charitable Foundation, Allianz Ireland, The Ireland Funds, Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Civil Service Credit Union.

Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic in Tipperary was supported by the Arts Council and The Tony Ryan Fund.

Photography by Brian Cregan.

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CHY Number: 19236
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