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“Hospital Rooms aims to disrupt the barriers that limit access to art and culture for people using secure and locked mental health services.”

We catch-up up with founders of Hospital Rooms, Niamh White and Tim Shaw, and discuss their mission to give meaning to visual art in care units.

Can you tell us why you founded Hospital rooms and how it all came about?

We founded Hospital Rooms after a close friend was sectioned under the mental health act and when we visited her, the unit was bleak and clinical. It was not at all conducive to recovery or rejuvenation and we were shocked that this was where she was at a time when she was so vulnerable. Our background is in the arts (Timis an artist and Niamh is a curator). Together we thought that we could change these spaces by bringing artists into them. We’ve learned a lot over the last 2 years and we’ve now developed a really meaningful co-production process where fantastic world class artists work in close collaboration with patients and clinical teams to reimagine what a mental health unit could be. We’re also delivering arts workshops in the units to make creative activity more available to patients. Some people are aspiring artists with abundant talents, some are encountering art for the first time and exploring what it can mean for them. We aim to not only improve the environment, but to disrupt the barriers that people face in accessing art and culture and in doing so bring about a sense of social connectedness and inclusion for some of our most vulnerable.

We think that our latest project at Eileen Skellern 1 Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for women at Maudsley Hospital, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust demonstrated the gold standard of multi disciplinary collaboration from our team, the clinical staff, the artists and our partners. In PICU, the environment is intensively managed to keep patients safe and aid recovery.

We were offered the necessary support to not let that compromise the ambitiousness of an artists vision or scale of work. The staff provided all the correct conditions to support patient engagement and were adventurous in the measures they were willing to take to facilitate artists, whether that meant making extra staff available or leaders encouraging their teams and giving advice.


How do artists get involved and work with Hospital Rooms?

We think very carefully about the artists that we invite to participate in Hospital Rooms projects. In the first instance they must have a level of professional expertise that equips them to deal with all of the regulations and restrictions we face in meeting NHS compliancy around robustness, infection control and ligature risk – this includes not having any framing, glazing, screws, free standing items or canvas. In addition, we need them to have a collaborative aspect to their practice so that they are able to engage with the communities we work with, listen to them, lead sessions with them and interpret their thoughts and ideas in imaginative ways. We also try to reflect the groups we work with for example, if it’s a women’s ward, we may think is it important to work with majority women artists. In addition, we are keen to work with artists who have used the mental health system or have a connection to it. It is important that that some of the artists are able to draw on personal experience when creating their work.

We are approached regularly by artists who would like to work with us and we’re always thrilled to hear from people. At present, our projects take place relatively slowly and so we only commission a certain number per year. As we grow, that will change!


How do you measure the impact Hospital Rooms has on the institutions and organisations you work with?

We have a range of methods to measure the impact of our work and we’re constantly working on improving them. We monitor people’s experiences before, during and after a project takes place. This is usually with the support of the clinical teams we work with. We’ve also ventured into creative means of evaluating our work. We’ve lead collage workshops with images of the ward environment,  artworks and text and asked patients to reflect on their experience through a piece of their own work. We’ve also used creative methods with staff such as a ‘Visual Matrix’, which aids conversation and brings about some rich reflections on the project.


You’ve been working closely with the Metro Imaging team for some of the installations and exhibitions, how do you find the production process and are the environments you work in challenging for installing artworks?

The environments we are working in are some of the most challenging clinical spaces. It took us 18 months to convince the first hospital to work with us because the general belief was that it just couldn’t be done. From the very beginning, Metro has worked with offered us amazing support in achieving both museum quality prints that are also suitable for these spaces, being wipe clean, scratch proof and do not need glazing or framing. Many of our other artists have worked in close collaboration with Steve and Simon to meet those goals and we were thrilled with the results they achieved. This was particularly relevant for the work of Anish Kapoor and Tamsin Relly, where all parties undertook numerous tests as they were not willing to compromise on quality for this community. Steve Macleod (Metro Imaging Director) was one of the artists on our first project, and he created a series of beautiful landscapes that were printed on dibond and vinyl. It’s inspirational.


What is the next project for you?

We have just met our funding target for a new project at a locked male rehabilitation ward in London.

We’ve recently received a great deal of press coverage, including a feature on Channel 4 News, and in response we’ve been inundated with requests from mental health units who wish to work with us. We are upping our game and working on increasing our impact and reach!


Are the artworks from Hospital Rooms projects available to purchase?

Ordinarily the artworks created for Hospital Rooms are specifically made for the units we work in and are not available to purchase. However, we have just released our very first limited edition print by Tamsin Relly, that was printed by Metro. It is a beautifully luscious scene of green forest with vibrant pink flowers, and proceeds from the sale go towards our most urgent upcoming work. These are available to buy through the Hospital Rooms website: www.hospital-rooms.com


How else can people support Hospital Rooms?

The key way that people can support Hospital Rooms is through fundraising. The need for our work is so apparent and our projects reach some of the most vulnerable members of our society. From partnerships with businesses, personal fundraising events, regular donors or sponsored activities, every penny helps us to continue our work to bring brilliant art to those who face the biggest barriers to access it.


Hospital Rooms are in residency on our Instagram gallery all this week (29th May – 3rd June), follow us to see more from this incredible organisation and their wonderful artists.

IMG © Hospital Rooms  / Projects

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