How art and culture is helping patients at Derby Hospital

Imagine a gallery with six floors and 12 public exhibition spaces; a gallery that showcases installations, musicians and theatrical performances; employs more than 7,500 staff and welcomes over 1.5 million people through its doors each year.

You’re probably not picturing your local hospital, but in Derby, the Air Arts programme has been taking visual art, dance, drama, poetry and music into the corridors, waiting rooms and wards at Royal Derby and London Road Community Hospitals.

In the film below, staff and patients explain how art and culture has become an important and valuable part of how the hospital cares for its patients, keeping them active, involving their families and lifting their spirits during often very difficult times.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chairman, Arts Council England, said: “While some rightly say there is a strong economic case to be made for public investment in the arts, the need to invest in art and culture goes far beyond this. Art and culture enriches and improves our lives; it can give us a sense of purpose, bring us great enjoyment and help us to express ourselves.

“It’s clear that at Derby Hospitals art and culture has become integral to the way staff care for patients and their relatives, often making terrible situations more bearable. Hearing how patients have benefited from and enjoyed their experiences of the Air Arts programme affirms for me the need to invest in art and culture for the benefit of our health and our wellbeing.”

A holistic approach

The Air Arts project is funded by investment from the National Lottery through the Arts Council’s Grants for the arts programme. This investment is matched by funding from Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, its commercial partners and through charitable donations made to Derby Hospitals Charity.

This financial investment means that the Air Arts programme can commission artists to produce exhibitions, events and performances that are enjoyable and entertaining for patients and their families, and which help improve people’s health and wellbeing.

Nicki Hoon, Lead Nurse for Transformation at Derby Hospitals, has been part of the clinical team responsible for making sure that when the new hospital opened in 2008 patients would benefit from a holistic approach to their care that included art and culture.

Nicki explains: “Research evidence indicated that an engaging and stimulating hospital environment can assist in quicker recovery rates for patients, as well as help with recruitment and retention of staff.

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“We are very proud that after eight years of growing and developing in synergy with us, Air Arts has helped lift the experience of our hospitals for patients, visitors and staff to a new level of excellence.“

Art in unexpected places

Over the past seven years patients and visitors who walk through the hospitals’ entrances, waiting rooms and outpatient departments have enjoyed exhibitions by over 100 artists from Derbyshire and beyond.

Huge charcoal drawings and eye catching paintings line the corridors, and in the once empty outdoor spaces between wards there are sculptures that capture the attention of passers-by while giving patients in the rooms opposite privacy.

Since the Air Arts project began, the hospital has hosted more than 50 musical performances, from harp, guitar and piano players, to ukuleles, accordions, a string quartet and a number of local choirs. As many as 1,500 patients walk through the hospital’s entrances and waiting rooms each day and hear these performances or see and experience the artwork on display.

“Everyone who comes to the hospital has the opportunity to engage with the arts programme,” explains Juliet Cooper, (former Programme Manager). “From light touch moments of beauty, humour, wonder or surprise to participation projects that work with clinical teams to weave creativity into in-patients experience of a hospital stay. The arts have an astonishing ability for patients and staff to reconnect with the individual beyond their illness.”

It’s not just music and visual art which provides a much needed distraction for patients waiting for their appointments. In over 100 places across the hospital you can pick up pamphlets of poetry.

So far there have been nine editions, featuring works by more than fifty different poets. After spending time with local poet Mike Wilson, patients being cared for in the Nightingale Macmillan palliative care unit also created a special edition of ‘Poetry in the Waiting Room’. During regular visits to the ward, Mike encouraged patients to express their thoughts and feelings through words for others to read and enjoy.

Engaging patients through art

This spring, the Air Arts team launched a new programme called Engage that focuses on giving patients and their families the opportunity not just to see and hear art, but to take part in it.

Working closely with clinical staff, the Air Arts team is beginning to create dedicated spaces on wards across the hospital where patients can spend time with their families to be creative.

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On the renal ward, a new space called ‘The Imaginarium’ gives patients the chance to spend time away from their beds to take their minds away from their treatment by using puppetry, projection and music to explore imaginative ways to tell stories using their own experiences and memories.

Theatre duo Maison Foo also bring a smile to patients’ faces with their Bobs Banishers of Boredom, and Knitting Nannas, performances. Artistic directors, Bethany and Kathryn, spend time on the wards, getting to know patients and staff and building relationships with them to make their performances and productions personal.