The inspiring art project transforming Derby’s hospitals

Andrew Macara's 'Pengiun Pool, Madrid' greets those walking to outpatients clinics

Andrew Macara's 'Pengiun Pool, Madrid' greets those walking to outpatients clinics - Credit: Archant

The Royal Derby hospital is using the power of art not only to create a more welcoming environment but to transform perceptions

Arts programme amanager Laura Waters and exhibition curator Fi Burke with one of the artworks by Victoria Brown

Arts programme amanager Laura Waters and exhibition curator Fi Burke with one of the artworks by Victoria Brown - Credit: Archant

FOR visitors and patients alike hospitals can seem cold, sterile places – where you hurry along antiseptic corridors and certainly don’t want to linger.

But that’s not the case any more in Derby. Take a walk along the corridors of the Royal Derby and you will see eye-catching paintings, luminous photography and uplifting drawings.

The hospital is using the power of art not only to create a more welcoming environment but to transform perceptions.

For the artists involved it’s a chance to reach a massive audience – the busiest corridors can see 300 people an hour walking along them – and to know that their work is having a positive impact on the well-being of staff, patients and visitors.

Movement memory boxes

Movement memory boxes - Credit: Archant

Derby isn’t the first city to understand the therapeutic benefits of the arts but it’s now leading the way by not only using art works but dance, music, theatre and more to bring a new feel to the wards and public spaces.

Such has been the impact of the Derby project that it was short-listed for a Building Better Healthcare collaborative arts award for patient experience and has received praise from culture minister Ed Vaizey, who said he was ‘utterly impressed’ by the way paintings, sculpture, music and creative arts were being offered to patients and visitors at the Royal Derby Hospital.

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Currently a selection of work by 12 different artists is being displayed across all five floors of the hospital. The collection has been arranged jointly between Air Arts and the University of Derby’s Banks Mill Studios. All the artists featured are either resident or associate artists at Banks Mill Studios and the new exhibition features photography, paintings and print work.

Air Arts is Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s arts charity, taking visual art, dance, drama, poetry and music into the Royal Derby and London Road Community Hospitals.

'Oranjezon Forest, The Netherlands' by Kirstie Adamson. The piece is placed outside the Renal Wards at the Royal Derby...

'Oranjezon Forest, The Netherlands' by Kirstie Adamson. The piece is placed outside the Renal Wards at the Royal Derby Hospital - Credit: Archant

Laura Waters, the arts programme manager for Air Arts, says: ‘There are quite a few hospitals in the UK now which have an arts programme – but it’s very variable.

‘It started here with the move to the new site in 2007 when it was decided to try and enhance the environment to make it a bit more welcoming and to make it feel homely. Some pictures were put on the walls, some sculptures put in place and it has just grown and grown from there.

‘I was initially approached to put on some music in the public spaces and then we started to do some participation work in the ward areas.’

Such was the impact that three years ago support from the Arts Council was secured which has led to poetry booklets in waiting rooms and a team of lead artists delivering creative projects, working in collaboration with staff. That has resulted in storytelling, music, visual arts and drama being used to meet diverse needs.

Maison Foo as the Banishers of Boredom

Maison Foo as the Banishers of Boredom - Credit: Archant

Laura says: ‘It’s issues-based work and often uses mixed art forms. As far as we know, the level of our participation programme is unique in the country. Mostly hospitals just have pictures on the wall, or some music, we have moved to a completely different level.

‘When we first started, we almost just threw the art in to see what happened. We did it as sensitively as we could but it works so much better now as before we do anything we talk to staff about the devising of the work and the delivery. We aim to achieve a culture change on the wards, which is very exciting.’

One of the participation projects has seen Derby theatre group Maison Foo use their trademark humour and zany characters to great effect. They have created characters called the BOBs (Banishers of Boredom) to help volunteers work with patients.

‘They have used these characters and a board game as an enabler to help volunteers find a way to be with people and develop a relationship – which works beautifully,’ says Laura.

'Stables at Calke Abbey' by Mark Gordon

'Stables at Calke Abbey' by Mark Gordon - Credit: Archant

Another project has helped patients who are in hospital for an extended period.

Fi Burke, a visual artist and curator of the exhibitions, says: ‘Jen Sumner – one of the other lead artists – and I created an Imaginarium where we did different making experiences, shadow puppetry and we drew out people’s stories before playing them back to them in an imaginative way.

‘What we do often acts as a social lubricant, because often people don’t talk to each other and at the end of it they are all chatting.

‘It’s lovely to make art and have it put in exhibitions but this level of creativity is such a rewarding experience.’

Laura says the feedback has been extremely positive. ‘It has been transformational not only for patients but also for staff. The core team of artists was picked because they have an experience of working in this kind of environment and they have delivered some great work.’

Artists are now queuing up to have their work displayed in the hospital corridors.

Laura says: ‘They are reaching new audiences and getting a good reaction. The University of Derby has also done a study looking at the physiological response to people viewing art and we definitely know that it has a positive impact on well-being.’

Just as there are songs you wouldn’t play on hospital radio, the art works have to be right for the Royal Derby.

Fi says: ‘It has to be uplifting. We do sometimes get people submitting work that is slightly controversial and we don’t want that. It can be thought-provoking but in a positive way.’

Coming in the spring is a public art commission, a large scale installation from internationally-known artist Jenny Pickford, as the benefits of this kind of investment become clearer.

Laura says: ‘There is growing evidence of the power of arts in health settings. Funding is getting more and more difficult overall so it’s important that it does prove itself. The Arts Council is stretched but we hope that support continues. We aren’t NHS funded at all, it’s all charitable funding, sponsorship, donations and Lottery grants.’

An auction with lots of donated arts works from Derbyshire practitioners has also helped to boost the coffers. That will all help fuel ambitious future plans.

Laura says: ‘We want to hold a summer festival, have more interactive art works so that when people walk by they change or light up. We want a lot more happening at night, and we are exploring ideas with QUAD for some film showings, Sinfonia Viva for performances and a project with Déda.

‘We are also hoping the art will become a way-finding thing, so that people will find the car park by turning left at the giant tulip or the right at the willow sculpture.’

It’s all making a huge difference and other hospitals are taking notice.

Laura says: ‘Addenbrooke’s have come to take a look, which is quite an accolade. We are keen to share with other trusts and we also want to learn from other work that’s happening across the UK.’

Fi adds: ‘One elderly couple told me that the husband comes in regularly and has to wait for hours between treatments and they love the fact that they can wander around looking at art and for a moment or two forget the treatment. That really touches me.’

The current exhibitions will continue this year with new art work going up in January at the Royal Derby.