Hospital Rooms is a charity that commissions world class artists to work with patients and staff to radically transform mental health wards.
So far, we have undertaken a number of acclaimed projects, completed in some of the most challenging mental health settings. Hospital Rooms was co-founded by artist Tim A Shaw and curator Niamh White after a close friend was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. They were shocked to ﬁnd that the environment that she was in at this distressing time was not only cold and clinical, but also dilapidated and run down. These spaces are often unloved, uncared for, severely under-funded and not conducive to recovery. Spaces absent of cultural opportunity, creative expression, access to the outside world or any creative stimulation. Gaining access to these spaces was difficult.
Many people within the NHS said that Tim & Niamh’s ideas were too radical, risky and that the spaces they wanted to enter were too dangerous. Tim & Niamh were keen to bring art into these spaces, listen to people and work with communities in a hands-on way.
Through perseverance and working closely with the NHS, Hospital Rooms now commission artists to create incredible artwork installations in units and wards, as well as lead in-person workshops with Service Users. When the pandemic struck, we could no longer enter wards. Service users had no access to the outside world, and no access to a creative community… Everything stopped for them, and we realised that all leave had also been stopped – including family visits and therapy. People were extremely isolated but in response to that, the NHS trusts were purchasing iPads and tablets and getting WiFi on wards… for the very ﬁrst time!
Service users and wards had access to this technology, so we made the case to say that it could also be used to give people creative access. We spent a lot of time speaking to Occupational Therapists, Nurses and Activity Co-ordinators to work out how could we run workshops in the safest way possible. In the beginning our virtual workshops were extremely DIY! Using Zoom, we were working with artists remotely, and our aspiration was to maintain a high level of quality for our participants.
The artists we have leading these virtual workshops have exhibited in many of the world’s best galleries and have taught in some of the country’s best art schools. In these virtual workshops they introduce participants to their creative practice, help guide participants to create their own artworks and answer questions along the way. For our ﬁrst Digital Art School workshop we had 64 units attend… Usually we reach only 6 units in a year with in-person workshops on wards! We learnt how to make our free workshops more accessible by working with Bluebell Ward – a deaf unit extremely engaged in the Digital Art School.
The workshops are facilitated through Zoom webinar, a free platform. We have worked with creative agency CoggApp to develop a way of running the workshops using a simple, yet eﬀective set-up using laptops and mobile phones. As well as oﬀering live virtual workshops, we also create ’10-minute tutorial’ ﬁlms which can be watched back at any time via our YouTube channel. These ﬁlms also include subtitling and British Sign Language interpreting. (To date, our ‘on-demand’ ﬁlms have collectively had over 21k views on YouTube.)
Our participation numbers for the Digital Art School started decreasing significantly once again in December 2020 and through research, we learned that due to lack of funding within the NHS, the units and wards had no access to art materials for the workshops.
Through newsletters and social media, we invited staff working within mental health settings to apply for 1 of 50 free art materials boxes per term – which is something we still offer today. We made art materials available for free and the participation rate for the Digital Workshops increased by 43%. We encourage participants to upload their images to our Gallery to build our online creative community and showcase their incredible talent to the world.
In April 2021, we were nominated for a ‘Webby’ award under the category: People’s Voice, Virtual & Remote: Health & Wellness – subsequently, we won.
“Nominees like Hospital Rooms and Cogapp are setting the standard for innovation and creativity on the Internet” — Claire Graves, Executive Director of The Webby Awards.
The Digital Art School has been an overwhelming success and is now a core aspect of Hospital Rooms programming. We intend to build upon everything we have learnt this year to keep it going and make it even better for 2022. Speaking about a recent workshop, a participant who accesses mental health services regularly commented, “last week’s Lucy Sherston’s ‘leporello-making’ workshop was the best thing I have done in a mental health art class in the thirteen years I have been mental.”
The Digital Art School was primarily aimed at inpatient mental health units, as well as people accessing community mental health services. However, we are keen to broaden our audience in 2022, to include any members of the public who want to experience free, quality creative workshops, contributing to positive mental well-being, in a safe and accessible space.
We are now adapting our approach and target audience to respond to the environment we now ﬁnd ourselves in. We have since learned that the Digital Art School a still a resource being relied on by people looking to learn new skills in a safe enclosed space, experience quality art classes that they may otherwise be “priced out’ of, as well as feeling part of a creative community as a result of the long-term impacts of covid, such as loneliness and isolation.
Our aspiration is that we build national and international awareness of the benefits of creative activity for mental health and well-being, and we see the Digital Art School as a huge opportunity to do so. We want to increase the numbers of people we are able reach and positively impact, increase the people who know about us and the work that we do, and our broadest ambition is to make Hospital Rooms into a charity that is a household name.
By the end of the Digital Art School 2022, we want to have:
• Led 22 world class brilliant, live creative workshops with amazing artists
• Increased participant numbers by at least 15% (we currently reach 650 participants on average per year through our live workshops alone)
• Demonstrated increased feelings of wellbeing prior to workshop compared to after the workshop
• Increased feelings of self worth amongst participants
Our Digital Art School takes place every Thursday at 2pm – 2.45pm on Zoom webinar. It is completely free and safe to participate in, the hosts cannot see or hear the attendees. We oﬀer live closed-captioning for those hard of hearing.
Written by: Jen Cheema, Digital Content Producer, Hospital Rooms