Healing Art - how staff at the Royal Derby Hospital have created an impressive exhibition

Anna Wilson

Anna Wilson - Credit: Archant

WHEN Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust invited its staff to submit artwork for an exhibition, it discovered a hidden pool of creative talent that has taken exhibition organisers by surprise

WHEN Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust invited its staff to submit artwork for an exhibition, it discovered a hidden pool of creative talent that has taken exhibition organisers by surprise.

Wander along the corridors of the hospital and you will see photographs, paintings and sculpture that would sit happily in any art exhibition in the country and yet the 20 artists whose works are on display are all dedicated NHS workers with a day job that has to take priority over their creative activities.

But whether it’s the work of cleaners or consultants, what programme manager Laura Waters – who is Arts Programme Manager for Air Arts which is the arts programme run at the Trust – has discovered is an abundance of talent that deserves a showcase. Indeed, she believes it could be the largest staff exhibition that has ever been put up on the walls of a hospital.

She says: ‘We knew of a few artists but suspected there were many more if we scratched the surface. But it’s still a complete unknown when you do a call out to non-professional artists so we were amazed that we got so many people responding and the quality of the work was impressive.’

Art exhibitions have become a feature at the hospital and are popular with staff and visitors alike and Laura believes it helped encourage submissions. ‘The art on the walls has always intrigued staff and we have had really good feedback,’ says Laura.

‘That inspired staff to want to see their work displayed, which is why we called the exhibition “Inspire”. We also think this exhibition will then in turn inspire more people to want to take part in the future. We had more quality work than we could include and we want to have another staff exhibition in a year’s time.

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‘What’s lovely is that we now have a group of people who have got to know each other through this and we have developed a community of artists in the hospital. On the back of that we have set up staff photography workshops led by Valerie Dalling, which have also started to snowball.’

Part of Laura’s remit for the arts programme is about engagement but that has been largely with patients until now. She says: ‘It shows that they are people not just staff, that they have another side to them. It also gets them more engaged in the programme.’

The benefits of art on the hospital walls include making the building more welcoming for patients but it also ensures that the Royal Derby staff enjoy a better working environment.

Laura says: ‘One of the reasons we keep changing the artwork is for their benefit, as they are here every day. The next step is that the staff take a more active role in selecting works – with those on each ward helping to choose what they want to see in their part of the hospital. Ultimately that means the staff being involved as both artists and curators. They can have a say in how their workspace impacts on them and they have an impact on their environment.’

One of the most intriguing pieces in the exhibition is by Pip Herbert. His small herd of ‘Wee Beasties’ are sculptures which use old disposable urinals that were heading for the waste dump in an imaginative fashion. Pip spent six weeks in traction and so became well acquainted with the urinals and came up with this unique recycling idea.

Laura says: ‘A box of urinals had burst and so they weren’t able to use them and he turned them into this herd of animals. He’s also done a piece called “Fuzzy Moments”, covering a trolley with all kinds of arts and crafts bits. It’s now a roaming 3D artwork.

‘It shows just how creative people have been.’ Laura believes it also shows the untapped potential out there amongst the hospital staff. ‘Since putting on the exhibition we have seen more and more people asking if they can have their work displayed as well. Hopefully, it can become a regular feature of the programme.’

Ultimately, Laura hopes it will also encourage more staff to explore their creative side. ‘As we have seen with the adult colouring craze, creating a piece of work yourself can be very therapeutic. Working in a hospital can be very stressful so to give them the possibility of relaxing through art is another great way for the arts programme to benefit the people working here.’

The response from patients has also been very positive. Laura says: ‘There is a real sense of pride for the staff when the patients like the artwork. We talk about seeing patients as the whole person but I think that’s just as true for the staff.’

Overall, it’s a unique venture from what is a pioneering arts programme. Laura says: ‘Other hospitals have done staff work as part of an exhibition but it’s possibly unique to take the entire building and devote it to staff – we are pretty proud of that.’

The Inspire exhibition, curated by Fi Burke, can be seen at the Royal Derby Hospital until the end of February.

Carla Williams - Occupational Therapist

‘My artworks are very abstract. I like using mixed media so my pieces can feature collage, acrylics, oils, pastels – anything really. I started card making and scrap booking, very much 3D rather than picking up a paint brush. I started following a few blogs and that took me in a different direction.

‘I think art gives me a bit of balance as I can get quite lost in the process. I am never happier than when I have a paint brush in my hand. Partaking in arts and crafts gives me a great sense of calm and provides me with a positive work/life balance. I work on the same floor where my art is on display and I often wheel my patients past them but I never point them out. My work colleagues have noticed and have been very supportive.

‘What’s good about this exhibition is that you would never know there are so many creative individuals working here. As an Occupational Therapist, I understand the importance of engaging in therapeutic activities and the benefits to health and well-being this can have.’

Robert Gilchrist - Painter and decorator

‘I mainly do acrylics and water colours, everything except oil paints. I like doing landscapes and animals but I do portraits as well – a bit of everything.

‘I was one of the finalists in Derbyshire Life’s Artist of the Year a few years back and I have a painting in the Duffield Art Gallery. Art has been my main passion for as long as I can remember and I have been creating illustrations and paintings now for over 50 years. I’m really excited at the opportunity to exhibit some of my recent works here, and I love the thought of people seeing the paintings I’ve created as a labour of love over the years.

‘I draw influences for my work from nature and wildlife and I love tackling British landscapes and rural settings. The work of various artists has also inspired me over the years including Derby’s own Joseph Wright, JMW Turner and Pollyanna Pickering.’

Anna Wilson - Support Secretary

‘I use acrylics to paint animals and birds. I did art at school and thought about carrying on at university. I decided it wasn’t really for me but I have carried on with it as a hobby alongside work. I enjoy creating an accurate portrayal of the subject through attention to detail. For example, with the bird paintings I created for this exhibition, I enjoy reproducing the textures and colours in the feathers and pay particular attention to the eyes as I feel this brings the whole painting to life.

‘I am inspired by the natural world and love bringing birds and other animals to life on paper. I use photographs with really fine detail and my aim is that they look like photographs when I have finished.

‘I feel as though art can provide a distraction and time to think, as well as being relaxing. I paint out of enjoyment and particularly feel a sense of satisfaction from seeing the translation of the photograph that I am working from into my painting.’

Oliver Woodhouse - Clinical Coding Assistant

‘I love landscapes, and where I live that often means the Peak District. I have photographs of clouds in the exhibition. I was immediately drawn to the texture and the formation of the clouds below me and I felt as if I had to capture the peaceful landscape that they had created above the earth. I wanted to try to remind people to clear their minds when they can and let their thoughts pass by. I also do a bit of street photography and more recently infra-red photography – capturing a spectrum of light our eyes can’t see.

‘I got into photography at 18. I always liked it but the last couple of years I have been taking it more seriously and have been trying to push it professionally by trying to get into galleries.

‘My biggest creative inspiration is nature itself. I think there’s always something to learn from it if you know where to look. I feel that art, and creativity in general, has the power to uplift people and I think it can open people’s eyes to the beauty that’s around them and change the way they look at things which in turn can have a positive impact on their everyday lives.’

Jayne Seagrave - Senior Occupational Therapist

‘I have a series of photographs in the exhibition which are quite abstract works. I work in orthopaedics and I thought it would be nice to do something linked with the work I do and so I looked at artificial joints. I wanted to come up with a different take on something quite clinical.

‘I got interested in photography after joining a club in Derby about four years ago. It’s a hobby, I enjoy it as it takes me away from work, studying and all the other things going on in life, and focusing on creating an image helps me to clear my head of everything else. It’s nice to share my work on display rather than have it just sitting on my computer at home.’