Artists help transform mental health unit

How a far-reaching arts programme is enhancing the lives of patients at a mental health unit in London

World-class artists have helped to transform the patient environment, both inside and outside, at the Phoenix Unit at Springfield University Hospital in Tooting

World-class artists have helped to improve the environment for mental health patients at a London hospital.

It seems to me that making vulnerable patients environments pleasant and stimulating is of the utmost importance and would be conducive to recovery and recuperation

Hospital Rooms worked in collaboration with South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust to commission artists to refurbish the Phoenix Unit at Springfield University Hospital in Tooting.

A secure psychiatric rehabilitation ward, the unit houses up to 18 patients with schizophrenia.

As part of the revamp, each artist was allocated a space within the unit to renovate and they worked with clinicians, consultants, occupational therapists and other trust staff to address physical, logistical and hygiene considerations. This meant it was possible to safely install museum-quality artwork in an area for vulnerable adults.

Aimee Parrott has created a mural for the women’s lounge

Changing lives

Each installation is accompanied by a workshop, which aims to increase understanding of the artwork and encourage service users to develop their own creative practises.

The project was funded by the charity, Morris Markowe League of Friends of Springfield University Hospital, and the Arts Council England. Support has also been received from Dulux Trade, Liquitex, and Metro Imaging.

Speaking about the revamp, service user, Will, said: “I think the new design is changing the way we all live our lives on the ward.

“The art has given us all a new way to start conversations with each other and things already seem so much better.”

Dr Emma Whicher, the hospital’s medical director, added: “Being involved in a project of this kind is hugely beneficial to our patients and staff and means that museum-quality artwork is available to our patients, which greatly contributes to their recovery and care.”

As part of the improvements, London-based design collective, Assemble, created a functional noticeboard that is easy to use for staff and engaging for service users.

Meaningful

It is crafted from cedar and oak and clearly shows the schedule for the week, including details such as meal and medication times as well as listing the activities that are taking place.

The noticeboard helps with the idea that time spent at the Phoenix Unit is meaningful.

London-based design collective, Assemble, created a functional noticeboard

Other artworks include:

  • A series of photographs by Sophie Clements entitled Shall I This Time Hold You? In the games room. This dynamic collection of documents the split seconds after an explosion using ‘bullet time’ photography. They are poetic cloud-like forms, frozen in a moment of change, that are open to individual interpretation
  • Nick Knight OBE is among the world’s-most-influential and visionary photographers. He selected two of his most-iconic prints for the communal lounge area. Lily shows a model spinning around in a haute couture gown that has powder paint laced into its seams. The pink powder flies up around her creating an elevated energy. Pale Rose was made by printing a still-life image of roses onto acetate and then causing the ink to drip by exposing it to heat and water before it dried
  • Entrances and hallways were given added interest by Steve Macleod, a Scottish-born landscape photographer whose practice investigates man’s relationship with the environment and how it can be used to explore humanist subjects. He has presented a series of metaphorical works for the unit
  • In the quiet room Michael O’Reilly, an apprentice scenic painter from the Royal Opera House, has made a mural which includes a series of trompe l’oeil paintings that look three dimensional with folded edges, creases and shadows. He created images that tell stories and reference travel posters, photographs, book covers and cartoon illustration panels. The paintings are detailed and intricate, so there will constantly be new things to find in them. They are painted directly onto a subtle, soft, and warm backdrop that resembles wallpaper and features simple repeated motifs of flowers and beehives
  • Artist, Aimee Parrott, has created a mural for the women’s lounge. Originally inspired by Matisse’s Dance, the mural depicts three female figures united in a weightless fluid dance. The rest of the room has been decorated with soft warm colours, plants and handmade curtains in order to create a lived-in domestic feeling environment
  • Magnum Photos member, Mark Power, is a documentary photographer and he worked with community artist, Jo Coles, to create a collaborative response to the landscape within a one-mile radius of the hospital for the relative’s room. Power photographed urban trees while Coles acted as a kind of urban archeologist; collecting, classifying and photographing discarded, weathered objects. They created a grid of all these images and printed them onto a custom-made wallpaper
  • Tim A Shaw has transformed the communal dining room into the Phoenix Gallery, a place for the art that is created by service users. He researched displays that are created by different London museums and applied their colour schemes to the room. He also painted a series of squares, rectangles and circles onto the walls that will act as ‘frames’ for the artworks and ensure the room is full of colour. The installation will grow over time as more work is added
  • Finally, the resource room has been worked on by Gavin Turk who has designed a graphic ‘egg’ vinyl motif entitled Egg Balance. He has also painted the room in duck egg blue. He said: “The egg is a symbol of birth and death and its form occurs frequently in the history of art, most notably as a surrealist motif.”

Commenting on the impact of the programme, Hannah Spreadbury-Troy, An occupational therapist on the unit, said: “The Hospital Rooms project has brought more than ‘just art’ to the ward. It has brought much-needed energy too.

The resource room has been worked on by Gavin Turk

Recovery and recuperation

Being involved in a project of this kind is hugely beneficial to our patients and staff and means that museum-quality artwork is available to our patients, which greatly contributes to their recovery and care

“I believe that projects like this have real potential to have a positive impact on the wellbeing of mental health service users.”

And Knight said of his involvement: “Some of the most-creative and accomplished people that I have known have encountered difficulty with their mental health at one stage or another.”

“It seems to me that making vulnerable patients' environments pleasant and stimulating is of the utmost importance and would be conducive to recovery and recuperation.”

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