Artists donate work to mental health ward

A psychiatric ward in London has undergone an artistic renovation with hopes of improving patients’ wellbeing. Located in Springfield University hospital, the mental health ward is now home to various masterpieces, including work from artists such as the Turner Prize-winning Assemble and photographer Nick Knight, as well as pieces from the patients themselves.
The project is the first by the charity Hospital Rooms and, as well as the artworks, it includes  a workshop for patients to get creative and produce their own work. The project was funded by the charity Morris Markowe League of Friends of Springfield University hospital and the Arts Council England.
Initially, the idea came from artist Tim A Shaw and curator Niamh White, who wanted to do something after visiting a friend suffering from mental ill health in another hospital.
“We thought it wasn’t necessarily the right kind of environment to feel better,” said Mr Shaw. “It was cold and clinical, and from our point of view, the colours and artwork weren’t stimulating.”
Both Mr Shaw and Ms White liaised with hospital staff to make sure that the workshops and designs were suitable for the environment. This meant that artworks had to be wipe-clean and robust with no glass that could be broken. They also ensured there were no freestanding sculptures that could be damaged or thrown.
The workshops that ran till the end of 2016 introduced patients to various techniques like photography, printing and painting. Occupational therapists working on the ward now run the workshops with patients, teaching other artistic techniques.
With little NHS budget to spare, the ward relies on donated materials from its partners, like acrylic paints which can be expensive.
“We wanted to bring quality artists to co-produce with service users, psychiatrists and occupational therapists so we could create things that work, so we could elevate these environments and think about value,” explained Ms White.
Dr Emma Whicher, medical director of south west London and St George’s NHS trust acknowledges that creativity improves wellbeing. Art and the environment a person is in is crucial to a person’s emotions – if you have the right sensory stimulation then it can improve how you feel.
The patients’ artwork sits alongside work by upcoming artist Aimée Parrott as well as 12 individual images created by the Royal Opera House apprentice scene painter Michael O’Reilly. These images will sit in the unit’s quiet room.
Dr Charlotte Harrison, a consultant psychiatrist on the ward in Springfield University hospital said: “I think a lot of us in the NHS are quite pressured and it’s quite easy to become stressed and anxious and when you do that, thinking becomes more concrete and you become more irritable. You go over that optimal functioning so I think having art and beautiful things to look at to challenge your senses is really important for everyone.”