Using the national art collection to support NHS staff wellbeing

Stephanie Roberts

Images from the National Museum of Wales installed at the University Hospital Wales Lakeside wing staff haven

Alfred Sisley’s Cliff at Penarth, evening, low tide, reproduced at Lakeside Staff Haven

John Brett's Forest Cove, Cardigan Bay, reproduced at Lakeside Staff Haven

Andrew MacCallum's Autumn Sunlight after Rain, reproduced at Lakeside Staff Haven

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened over the winter of 2020, and the pressure on NHS staff has increased, Amgueddfa Cymru took the national art collection into hospitals to provide solace for staff and patients.

Like many others, we have watched in awe – and horror - as NHS staff continue to make personal sacrifices day after day under unthinkable circumstances. We realise that we have seen only a fraction of what goes on behind-the-scenes, and have asked ourselves what can we, as a museum, do to help?

As part of Celf ar y Cyd - a suite of projects designed to find new ways for people to experience the art collection during the pandemic - we set out to work with

health boards across Wales. We wanted to give NHS staff the chance to make art part of their working day, and to decide for themselves how art can be incorporated into their work environment

Lakeside Staff Haven

At the start of February 2021, a Staff Haven facility opened at the new University Hospital Wales Lakeside wing in Cardiff. The Staff Haven is a space for hospital staff to step away from the intense working environment for a moment of respite and calm. People choose to do this in different ways and so the area is multifunctional. It includes a kitchen, shower facilities, and a quiet area where staff can decompress, read, reflect, sit alone, or be among colleagues. The entire space is a mobile-free zone.

Hospital staff were consulted about the overall design, look and feel of the Staff Haven through a poll on their internal intranet, NHS Connect. There was a strong feeling that it should have a nature theme.

Research has shown that nature and the natural world are popular themes in hospital environments, and an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests that this might be due to evolutionary psychology: healthy natural environments stimulate a positive emotional response in humans. It also suggests that the cooler blues and greens often found in nature produce more calming sensory effects than hotter tones, like reds and yellows.

When we heard about plans for the Staff Haven, we knew that we wanted to be involved – and that we had the perfect resource. The national art collection is rich in artworks that celebrate the beauty of the natural world - the difficulty was narrowing down the choice!

Selecting the works

We felt that the visual and therapeutic qualities of the images was more important than art historical significance in a hospital setting, and for our long-list we chose works that had a tranquil feel, and ones that could help ‘open out’ the space with expansive skies, and distant vistas. Many of the works are Welsh views, and included popular highlights, like Alfred Sisley’s Cliff at Penarth, evening, low tide alongside some lesser-known works, including Robert Fowler’s A Bend in the Conway . Sisley was facing ill health when he painted this scene in Penarth, and Robert Fowler too came to Wales for a period of convalescence.

We shared the long list of images with hospital staff and Grosvenor Interiors , a company specialising in healthcare interiors who had been commissioned to design the space. They narrowed the list down, choosing works which complemented one another, and avoiding anything that would be visually jarring. The colour and tonality of the artworks were important to create a sense of unity and calm, and this helped inform the final choice.

A few key colours were chosen from the artworks - a soft blue, taken from clear skies; a deeper, denim blue from moodier skyscapes; and an olive green – and these were used as the colour palette for furniture and walls. Some of the images were reproduced as floor-to-ceiling murals, others as smaller, cropped versions of the original artwork. This allowed for experimentation with scale: it was quite exciting to see a small-scale watercolour like Thomas Hornor’s The Rainbow blown up to a size that you feel you can almost step in to! Reproducing the images at such a large scale creates an immersive experience in the Haven.

We invited poets Hanan Issa and Grug Muse to write new poems in response to the project, picking up on some of the themes and motifs in the images, and these will be reproduced on the hospital walls.

The Staff Haven opened on 1 February 2021, and is now being used daily by staff working at the hospital. We hope that the images from Wales’ national collection will help make it a more pleasurable place to be, and that it brings some beauty and relief to their working days.

Funding and support

The Staff Haven at Lakeside was developed by Cardiff & Vale Health Charity, and the Employee Health and Wellbeing Service thanks to funding from a large donation made by Gareth and Emma Bale during the pandemic.

Amgueddfa Cymru support was made possible through Celf ar y Cyd. This is a series of visual arts project in collaboration with Arts Council Wales with the support of the Welsh Government, which challenges us to share the national art collection in new and innovative ways during the pandemic. The other strands of the project includes our online visual arts magazine, Cynfas, and the Celf 100 Art exhibition. Follow us on Instagram @celfarycyd for more.

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