Introducing bespoke artworks can be an excellent way to encourage people to engage with green spaces. Wildlife sculptures dotted around a woodland can entice children to wander through the trees in search of these oversized creatures. Carved logs, perhaps with words or patterns inlaid, can act as attractive seating in a courtyard garden or meadow. And painted signs help people find their way around large hospital grounds, perhaps linking up green spaces along the way.
Many of our NHS Forest sites feature art installations, and they have all become much loved aspects of these sites. Importantly, the hospitals have taken steps to ensure that staff and the wider community have a sense of connection and even ownership over these artworks, via consultations, creative workshops, or by being collaboratively produced by community members or healthcare workers.
Mental health facilities are often proactive in involving service users in the creation of artworks, such as the plant-inspired paintings at Bethlem Royal, or the Highbury Community Garden mosaics. Occupational therapy departments often have art studios and tutors, and working alongside professional artists can be a thoughtful way to produce site-specific artworks that reflect the experiences of the service users and the significance of these sites in their recovery journeys.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also inspired creativity, as ways for patients and visitors to leave messages of thanks for healthcare staff, or as a poignant way to commemorate those lost to the virus.
NHS Forest sites with art installations
Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in northwest London commissioned artist Jeni Cairns to create a metal sculpture of a giant hawthorn branch on a wall by its chemotherapy department. Donors can commission handmade blossoms, leaves or bees, for example, to adorn the branch, and after a year in situ these pieces will be given to them. The idea is that former patients, or people whose loved ones who have been treated here, can give something back to the centre.
A Memorial Garden opened in spring 2021 in Broomfield Hospital, Essex, to commemorate the many healthcare workers who were lost to Covid-19. Life-sized metal silhouettes of medical staff are a peaceful presence at the entrance to the garden, and two smaller sculptures depict a hug – a comfort so often denied by long lockdowns. Alongside these commissioned pieces is a more informal installation of small white stones. On these are written messages of thanks to medical staff, and the names of loved ones lost during the pandemic.
Art installations can also be a good way to bring diverse service users together. Highbury Community Garden, at Highbury Hospital, Nottingham, worked with a local artist to create its wall-mounted mosaics, displaying birds and flowers that can be seen on the site. Groups of patients from the adult mental health ward and those with learning difficulties collaborated to create the artworks, which were exhibited at a local gallery before being installed in the garden.