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Leading artists brighten lives of service users at mental health trust

An exciting journey to brighten the lives of people using mental health services provided by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has brought museum-quality art into an acute inpatient unit.

Leading artists have transformed rooms at the Trust's Woodlands Unit, which provides acute inpatient mental health services and is based within the Ipswich Hospital site.

Their creative endeavours were unveiled at a special launch event today (Friday, 12 April), which was attended by staff, service users and representatives from the arts and mental health charity Hospital Rooms, who led the project. During the event, people were invited to write messages of hope on one of the artworks, in an area known as 'Speaker's Corner', where service users and carers are encouraged to contribute to the art by expressing their own creativity.

Hospital Rooms commissions museum-quality artwork for mental health units in NHS hospitals and this is the first such project outside London, marking the start of the charity's work across the UK.

The artists participating in this project included visionary photographer Nick Knight OBE; BAFTA award-winning video artist Tal Rosner; and Royal Academy Schools alumni Nancy Milner.

Service users and staff at Woodlands worked with the charity to create artwork for their:

  • 136 Suite - a place of safety for those who have been detained by the police following concerns that they are suffering from a mental disorder

  • Mental Health Act Tribunal Room - which is used for hearings where a panel makes important decisions about a patient's section status

  • Three adult acute mental health review rooms - where care plans and progress are discussed by patients, carers, staff and community teams (Lark, Poppy, Avocet Wards)

  • A communal area for service users with dementia and their carers (Willows Ward)

Niamh White, from Hospital Rooms, said: "We are delighted with the outcome of this project. It has been a highly rewarding journey of discovery for us all, including for the artists who worked with service users and carers, clinicians, and the local community to transform these challenging rooms with thoughtful and inventive artworks.

"We collectively explored how our co-production process and the high-quality artworks themselves instil feelings of dignity and control in service users in very stressful situations.

"The co-production process took place through a series of tailored participatory art workshops, group discussions and multi-disciplinary events with a broad range of service users, carers and staff, as well as advocacy services."

The charity also led bid submissions for grants to Arts Council England and UK sponsors, which fund the working artists and materials.

Tara Brown, Modern Matron for NSFT in East Suffolk, led the project along with NSFT's art therapist Maggie Batchelar. Tara first read about Hospital Rooms in a national newspaper more than two years ago, and has worked with the charity ever since to get the project completed.

She said: "It has been an incredible honour to have such esteemed artists working with our Trust to create something so special, unique and therapeutic for our service users and carers, and our staff of course.

"The Hospital Rooms team have been enthusiastic from the start, engaging staff and service users in the creative process, and we have enjoyed every step of the journey.

"Mental health nurses and other care professionals are exposed to a range of emotions throughout their working days. The emotions felt and expressed by staff and service users can be soothed or exacerbated by the environment, so this needs as much consideration as the verbal and non-verbal approaches used to hear and understand each other.

"The areas we have transformed are where we might find people coming under particular tensions or stresses. Having beautiful images around creates a less clinical and more positive, warm and welcoming atmosphere and helps to give people something calming to focus on.

"Feedback from staff and service users has supported the sense that the artwork has been soothing for some, a stimulating distraction for others, and a reaffirmation of hope and creativity for others."

The Woodlands Unit incorporates a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit – Lark Ward; two acute mental health wards – Poppy and Avocet; and an older people's mental health ward, Willows. These wards collectively provide care for people with a range of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, mania, psychosis, schizophrenia, personality disorders and dementia.

Alongside this project, Fine Art students from Norwich University of the Arts and the University of Suffolk (UoS) worked with the Hospital Rooms and Woodlands team to create their own ideas for the unit.

This will culminate in an exhibition at the Waterfront Gallery in Ipswich, which runs from 29 June to 26 July with an opening event on 28 June, 6-8pm. All are welcome and it is free. 

This project was funded by Arts Council England and supported by art manufacturers Colart, who generously donated all the necessary art materials for the project through their brand Liquitex.

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