Art “breathes soul” into hospital building

Celebrating creativity and wellbeing at Southmead Hospital Bristol


musicians performed on wardsA festival of arts events and activities was the culmination of Southmead Hospital Bristol’s public art programme.

The three day Fresh Arts Festival brought poetic first aid, a knitting installation, model car racing, promenade theatre, music on the wards, and a programme of activities to celebrate the opening of the new building.

Director of Nursing, Sue Jones said:

“I thought it was a fantastic three days; so inspiring. The festival brought a real sense of community to the hospital and was so beneficial for patients. It was like breathing soul into the building. We’ve designed the hospital to be a healing environment, and the arts programme has made that personal for people. There were choirs singing in patients’ rooms, staff and members of the public building model cars, and patients knitting and chatting. Art can help patients to make progress. We have to keep this going – to use the arts to keep the life and community in the hospital for the benefit of patients and staff.”

The Festival was part of a wider public art programme featuring the work of nationally and internationally recognised artists to animate spaces and create special places within the hospital building and grounds, for which project leaders Willis Newson were commissioned by the developers of the new site, Carillion.

During the Fresh Arts Festival, patients, staff, visitors, families and local residents were able to experience and learn about how art is helping to create a better patient environment. Performances, workshops and activities celebrated the role that the arts are playing in bringing the building to life and connecting to the communities who use it.

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Promenade style theatre performances by Show of Strength Theatre Company drew on stories and memories of hospital life, collected from staff and local people during a series of writing workshops.

The Emergency Poet provided poetry on prescription. Poet and writer Deborah Alma offered consultations and prescribed poems – a mix of the serious, the therapeutic and the theatrical.

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Writer in residence Sue Mayfield explored the things that people need, love and care about most. Working individually with patients and visitors, together they shaped a ‘lifeline’ of poetry. Spike Printmakers set up printing presses in the hospital atrium where these poems were turned into limited edition take-home prints.

Knitiffi knitter Ali Brown worked with community groups, staff and patients in advance of the festival to create a special installation. A giant jumper – like a warm hug – greeted patients, staff and visitors at the hospital entrance. The aim of Knitiffi – or knit graffiti – is to enhance everyday objects in the environment and to bring together community groups. During the festival, Ali demonstrated the therapeutic nature of knitting by bringing together groups of people to knit and chat.

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Live musical performances by Superact and by local choirs took place on wards and in waiting areas.

The final day of the Festival was marked by staging a Speed Derby in the hospital atrium – the culmination of a series of workshops to help staff teams come together to identify with and take ownership of their new working environment. During the workshops leading up to the festival, artists Assemble and Join worked with staff and community groups to design and create their own model cars to race on a specially created track built around the building. The track has been donated to Stoke Park Schools for the school and local community to enjoy.

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Willis Newson Director Jane Willis said:

“The response of patients and staff to the choirs was one of the highlights of the three days for me. I was delighted to see how the arts are valued in the hospital and what a difference they can make to the lives of patients, staff and visitors. The choirs, in particular, had an amazing humanising effect. They really lifted spirits and opened hearts. People joined in; the music prompted toe tapping, hand holding and, of course, smiles. The arts help create community. The effect of the festival will be felt long after the music has ceased. ”

The festival was the culmination of a public art programme which involves patients, staff and the wider community. It features the permanent work of six artists in the building and surrounding grounds. Pieces of art provide moments of reflection or distraction. They lift the mood, or provoke emotional responses, encouraging empathy and understanding.

Underpinning the project is a close collaboration between North Bristol NHS Trust and its arts programme, Fresh Arts, architects Building Design Partnership (BDP), the commissioned artists, Carillion and Willis Newson.

Andrea Young, North Bristol NHS Chief Executive said:

“The art at Southmead Hospital Bristol helps to create a more aesthetically pleasing environment, which is important for people’s sense of wellbeing. There are special places where people can have a quiet moment for reflection, there are things to help you feel more cheerful and things to comfort you. The art is helping to make Southmead Hospital a better place to be for patients, visitors and staff.”

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