Keynote Speakers

This year's Spirit keynote speakers include: 

Dr Mariana Brussoni

Popping the bubble wrap for children’s health 

Most of us have childhood memories of long hours spent outdoors and away from watchful eyes of adults. The childhood of today looks very different, with more time spent indoors, supervised, in structured activities, and in front of screens.

This interactive presentation will explore the effects of changing childhoods and limited outdoor time for taking risks as part of their play on children's health and development. Participants will consider what can be done to restore balance and tools for talking to parents, educators and others about the importance of risk taking in play.

Mariana is an Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics and the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She is an investigator with the British Columbia Children’s Hospital Research Institute and Academic Scientist with the British Columbia Injury Research & Prevention Unit.

Mariana is also a board member of the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada. Trained as a developmental psychologist, Mariana investigates child injury prevention, including developmental importance of children’s risky play. She currently leads research to develop an index of the playability of the built environment; and to develop and evaluate an online tool to reframe parents’ risk perceptions with the goal of facilitating children’s access to nature-based risky play. 


Ellen Beat Hansen Sandseter

Scaryfunny: Children’s risky play in the early years

A natural part of children’s physical play involves engaging in play that is a bit scary and somewhat risky. This presentation will focus on risk taking in children’s play, why it is important for children’s experiences and development, and how it is handled in Norwegian daycare settings.

In Norwegian daycare settings one of the important values is the acknowledgement of outdoor play, with its risks, as an important part of children’s lives. Children actively seek this thrilling kind of play, and nearly all children love the quivering feeling of butterflies in their belly when they encounter something they do not know if they can manage or what the consequences of their actions will be. With a child-centered approach, Norwegian children’s own perceptions and reasoning around their engagement in risk taking will be discussed.

Ellen is a Professor in the Department of Physical Education and Health at Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education (QMUC) in Trondheim, Norway. Her primary research focus is on children’s physical play, outdoor play, and risky/thrilling play among children in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) institutions.

Ellen has also been involved in research on Norwegian children’s experiences of participation and wellbeing in Norwegian ECEC institutions, and projects about safety work, child injuries and injury prevention in Norwegian ECEC institutions.

Professor Ronan Lyons 

National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research

Ronan will talk about his work as the lead of the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research (NCPHWR) which aims to bring researchers, clinicians and policymakers together to carry out research which improves the health and wellbeing of the people of Wales.

NCPHWR is a collaboration between Swansea, Cardiff and Bangor Universities, Children in Wales and Public Health Wales NHS Trust. Researchers at the centre have a particular interest in the health and wellbeing of children. NCPHWR has supported the development of many studies that focus on the measurement of child health status, the determinants of health, inequalities in health and the effectiveness of interventions and policies to improve health and wellbeing.

Ronan graduated in medicine from Trinity College, Dublin in 1983 and after a number of years of hospital medicine specialised in public health and epidemiology. He moved to Wales in 1993 and held a number of public health physician and emergency department posts before entering academia. He is currently Professor of Public Health at Swansea University and an honorary consultant with Public Health Wales NHS Trust.

He is involved with numerous local, national and international observational and interventional studies, particularly in the fields of injury prevention and control, child health and health improvement, many of which are supported by his developments in population-wide record linkage. He holds a number of UK research positions, including Director of the Centre for the Improvement of Population Health through E-health Research (CIPHER) and Co-Director of the UKCRC funded DECIPHer Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. 

Professor Sally Holland

Access to play and leisure for all

Access to play and leisure is a priority in the Commissioner’s current three-year work programme. The priorities were informed by over 7000 children and young people aged three to eighteen in 2015. Over 800 children three to seven year olds set access to play as their top priority, while children of all ages were concerned about inequalities in society. Sally will give participants a sneak preview of some initial findings from pilot work that she and her team have been conducting this summer with children, young people and parents, listening to experiences of access to all aspects of Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Sally became Wales’ third Children’s Commissioner for Wales in April 2015. Sally is a registered social worker with experience in the statutory and voluntary sectors. Prior to taking up the post of Children’s Commissioner, she was a Professor at the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. During her time at Cardiff University, she founded and became director of CASCADE – Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre.