Air Arts leads the way in enhancing the hospital environment

How one NHS trust is providing in-house arts programmes to improve the lives of staff, visitors and patients

Air Arts is celebrating its tenth year

The growing evidence base for the positive impact of the arts on health and wellbeing is undisputed, but for many NHS organisations it is difficult to get projects off the ground.

Many new hospitals have had arts programmes written into the design brief, with money from the developer set aside early on.

But, after this initial investment, the momentum often drops off.

But, at Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, what started as part of a PFI redevelopment scheme, has continued for 10 years, with Air Arts celebrating the end of its first decade later this year.

Visual arts and live music is the core, the foundation on which everything else is built

The Royal Derby Hospital is the acute hospital for the region. It houses A&E, most diagnostics and imaging services, cancer services, many outpatient services, and acute inpatient wards.

In addition, the London Road Community Hospital has three wards, two of which are for rehabilitation and support mainly older patients as well as neuro-rehabilitation patietns. A number of outpatient services are also based there, including the Parkinson’s service and dermatology.

The Royal Derby opened in 2009 after services moved from the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, which London Road Hospital was initially joined to. The old hospital has now been knocked down and the land is in line for development.

Air Arts was launched as a way to ease the transition from the old hospital to the new facilities.

To mark the anniversary, we spoke to Laura Waters, arts programme co-ordinator, to find out why variety, ownership, and participation are crucial to success.

It was about supporting people during the move and to enable them to navigate the new building

“Initially using art started as a way of welcoming people to the new hospital and helped to preserve certain artefacts from the old building,” she said.

“It was about supporting people during the move and to enable them to navigate the new building.”

But this initially-short-term project quickly became much more.

“Within a few years it became very clear that more could be done, not just to make the environment more appealing, but to directly help patients, staff and visitors,” said Waters.

Artwork can help to improve the environment for staff, patients and visitors

“After exhibitions and single art installations, the next stop was live music.

“Five years ago I came to the hospital to play music. After that I was invited back to work directly with patients and to carry out engagement work.”

This kick-started a programme of participatory work that continues to this day.

You have to consider the impact it will have on a busy hospital ward. Having staff on board makes it so much easier

“We tried playing music on the wards and in day rooms, working with staff and including patients as much as possible,” Water said.

“With Arts Council funding we then developed an engagement approach.”

This had a major impact.

Waters said: “It changes the atmosphere on wards and makes a sometimes-anxious situation much more bearable.

“It’s about that one moment of interaction that makes such a difference to a person’s experience of hospital.

“We find participatory arts, whatever the medium, works for all.”

Due to the varying length of stay at its facilities, arts programmes have to be far-reaching.

“Public art exhibitions and static art, such as sculptures, have a place within a hospital environment and are a good starting point.

“We can have musicians performing in corridors, but we want them to do more. We offer them training and then they can go onto the wards. We call these people our Wandering Minstrels.

“Visual arts and live music is the core, the foundation on which everything else is built.”

Key, she said, to the success of Air Arts has been the involvement of patients and staff.

“Consultation is absolutely the way forward,” she added.

“You have to get the staff on board at the outset. They have the knowledge about how the building works, how their wards work, and what the patients need.

It changes the atmosphere on wards and makes a sometimes-anxious situation much more bearable

“If you go in as an artist thinking you know it all, you will fail.

“You have to consider the impact it will have on a busy hospital ward. Having staff on board makes it so much easier.

“We like staff to continue after we have left the wards, too, so the onus is on us to give them what they need.

“While every ward is different, art is something that can help everyone.”

Air Arts gets funding from charitable donations as well as fundraising and through grant-giving bodies such as the Arts Council.

The programme now runs two distinct strands: Welcome and Engage, both of which provide positive distraction from illness and opportunities to engage in creative activities to alleviate boredom and anxiety.

The Welcome strand includes a twice-yearly arts exhibition over an increasing number of sites and encompassing both hanging works and sculpture.

It made me feel like I was still living. It was a highlight, breaking up the monotony – taking away the focus of being ill

Weekly music performances in public spaces also help to create a welcoming atmosphere for all with a variety of styles including acoustic, woodwind, strings and voice.

The Engage strand focuses on participatory activities with patients on the wards, with events including storytelling, dance, and drumming workshops for stroke patients.

One patient said of the sessions: “It made me feel like I was still living. It was a highlight, breaking up the monotony – taking away the focus of being ill.”

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