By Sian Kissock
Springfield University Hospital in Tooting, London, has seen an artistic transformation of its Phoenix Ward, which is now home to pieces from award-winning artists as well as the residents themselves.
Hospital Rooms is a charity founded by artists Tim A Shaw and Niamh White, which “believes in the enduring power of art to instil value, dignity and wellbeing in people. Our aim is to disrupt the barriers that limit access to art and culture for people using mental health services.” They commission museum quality artists to create inventive and compliant atmospheres for mental health units, as well as programming workshops for service users that encourage meaningful participation in artistic activities.
These first two projects at the hospital saw the team work with consultants, clinicians, therapists and the South West London Mental Health NHS Trust to ensure that all the work created was suitable for the environment. This meant taking into account any physical, logistical and hygiene concerns, such as ensuring every piece of artwork was able to be cleaned and there was no breakable glass. Up to 18 patients diagnosed with schizophrenia can reside in the Phoenix Ward at a time for up to three years, until they become independent again.
The project was funded by the charity Morris Markowe League of Friends of Springfield University Hospital, with added public funding from Arts Council England. Collaborators such as landscape artist Joh Bates, artist and photographer Sophie Clements, fashion photographer Nick Knight and Turner prize-winning Assemble were commissioned for the project, with a lot of the artwork already created by the residents in the ten two-hour workshops also on show.
Dr Emma Whicher, the Trust’s medical director, says on the Hospital Rooms website: “Being involved in a project of this kind is hugely beneficial to our patients and staff…museum quality artwork is available to our patients, which greatly contributes to their recovery and care.”
100% of service users and staff reported that the project made life on the unit better, and the charity had excellent feedback on their co-production process and fully-booked workshops, after which 88% of the 30 students said they experienced improved well-being. Many of the products used in the workshops, such as paints, are donated due to a dwindling NHS budget.
It is just one example of the positive effect that art has been seen to have on mental health rehabilitation. Arts Sisterhood UK has started running a series of art therapy classes in response to the cuts to NHS mental health services, particularly those for women. Studies into the relationship between art and mental health have shown it to increase motivation, social engagement, relaxation, concentration and self-expression, some of which the charity saw almost immediately.
HOW YOU CAN HELP HOSPITAL ROOMS: Tim A Shaw tells us fundraising is the best way to help the charity: “We have a number of people doing half marathons/Tough Mudders etc for the charity, and we have a Total Giving page), and in the future there may be volunteering opportunities. At the moment volunteering can be a bit tricky as most of the mental health units we do work on are secure and we have to limit the number of people we can take onsite and have everyone DBS checked etc.”