A better place to be

The public art programme for Southmead Hospital, Bristol

A public art programme integrated into the new Southmead Hospital Bristol shows how involving high calibre artists working alongside the hospital community can create therapeutic environments which improve the wellbeing of patients, staff and visitors.

Southmead Hospital Bristol’s public art programme features the work of nationally and internationally recognised artists to animate spaces and create special places within the hospital building and grounds. Pieces of art provide moments of reflection or distraction, lift the mood, or provoke emotional responses that encourage empathy and understanding.

Southmead Medical day garden

“The integrated approach to art plays an important role in the overall design quality of the building. I was pleased to see the abundance of thoughtfully chosen pieces of varying types and scales of artwork that help create an aesthetically pleasing and therapeutic environment. In particular it’s gratifying to see that these selections go beyond what we have come to know as “hospital art”; they genuinely challenge and touch the senses in many ways. 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.” Andrea Young, Chief Executive, North Bristol NHS Trust

Southmead hospital art works

The £1.1 million arts programme is a small part of North Bristol NHS Trust’s £430 million Southmead Hospital Bristol Private Finance Initiative (PFI) development. It builds on research which clearly demonstrates the direct benefits for patients of incorporating visual and performing arts into the hospital environment.

Project leaders Willis Newson were commissioned by the developers of the new site, Carillion. 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. This close collaboration enabled Willis Newson creatively to integrate the public art with the architecture of the building.

The building and surrounding grounds features the work of six artists as part of a wider public art programme which involves patients, staff and the wider community. A series of exhibitions by local schools and artists’ groups are shown within the hospital in specially created changing gallery spaces.Southmead hospital wall works

A three-day Fresh Arts Festival in October 2014 will mark the opening of the new hospital, celebrating the role that the arts are playing in bringing the building to life and connecting to the communities who use it.

Events will include a writer in residence working with patients and visitors, staff wellbeing workshops, live music on wards and in waiting rooms, performances by local choirs, local knitting groups coming together to demonstrate the therapeutic nature of knitting while creating a special installation for the hospital entrance, printmaking workshops run by a local studio group and the Emergency Poet, a poetry on prescription service open to all.

There will also be a live theatre show which will share memories and tell stories of working at the old Southmead and Frenchay Hospitals collected during creative writing workshops for staff run by three local artists.

The final day of the Festival will be marked by staging a Speed Derby in the hospital atrium – the culmination of a series of workshops to help staff teams from across both old sites come together to identify with and take ownership of their new working environment. During the workshops, led by artists Assemble and Join, staff designed and created their own mini cars to race on a specially created track built around the building.

Southmead staff engagement

Installation of the work of the six commissioned artists began in September 2013 and is almost complete. The final works will be installed by October 2015 when a second Festival will mark the official opening of the whole hospital site. At this time, a community arts space will open in the new hospital which will host activities to support patient and staff wellbeing. Live music and community events will also take place in a specially created outdoor space.

“Southmead Hospital merits being a stop on the grand tour of the world’s notable hospital facilities, along with Rikshospitalet in Oslo and the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.” Ken Schwarz, architectural advisor to North Bristol NHS Trust


Bristol’s Light Box Happiness Project to re-launch in October!

Bristol’s Light Box Happiness Project is delighted to announce it’s received three years continuation funding  from the  Big Lottery and will re-launch this October.

The Happiness Project engages the general public and vulnerable communities with Arts workshops that advocate applied positive psychology for the promotion of good mental health and well-being.

This Arts and Health intervention is preventative and therapeutic, bringing together mental health sufferers with the wider population in a creative exploration of what it takes to be happy.

Using the art-work they create as take-home visual cues helps participants to instigate and maintain health promoting behaviour. Underpinning health investment messages with creative activity has been a critical element of this project’s success.

Exploring ideas of home and play in a dementia care environment

What does home mean when you have dementia? If you are a migrant from another country, culture, region, or city, does your sense of ‘home’ reside in childhood memories over and above those from where you live now? Can a care home ever feel like home? How might we introduce ideas of play and playfulness into the care home environment? These are some of the questions being tackled by two internationally-renowned artists recently appointed to work on a public art programme for local care home provider, Brunelcare.

The programme is being managed by Willis Newson and we are really excited to be working with Deirdre Nelson and Eamon O’Kane to create artworks for Saffron Gardens, a new dementia care home due to open in Whitehall, Bristol, at the end of 2012.

Deidre and Eamon had a fantastic first session in the existing care home, Saffron House, this month.  They will be spending time there over the summer to get to know residents and staff and find out how best to respond to their respective briefs.

Contemporary embroiderer Deidre Nelson is tasked with researching the idea of home in how it relates to people with dementia, and to translate this into a piece of art for the care home. She plans to spend her first few days there just knitting, observing and talking to people to see what happens.

Eamon O’Kane will be exploring how people with dementia might be encouraged to play and interact with the environment of the care home. Much of his gallery-based work has also explored ideas around play and interactivity.  Here he is tasked with applying these theoretical explorations to practical use in a care home.

We’ll post more these projects here when they are complete, or you can sign up for the Willis Newson newsletter to hear more of our news.