Unearthing the inside story on outside space

Southmead Hospital’s Explorer Map reimagines this Bristol site’s 19 acres of green space to raise awareness of all it can offer for staff and patients. Produced as part the hospital’s Ways to Wellbeing initiative, it builds on Southmead’s existing green space work in planting, rewilding and improving biodiversity across its grounds.

Southmead Hospital Explorer Map
Southmead Hospital Explorer Map. All rights reserved.
Consult, consult, consult

The map evolved through extensive consultation, led by Kate Targett, a Bristol-based artist and engagement specialist, working with Adrian Barclay, a designer who specialises in healthcare infographics. Kate spent a great deal of time in ‘map chats’ with staff, where drawing-based mapping activities, group consultations and site walks helped to unpack the micro-experience of Southmead’s outdoor spaces. The sheer size of the hospital, which has around 8,000 staff, presented a challenge, and Kate found it essential to be very flexible in fitting around busy ward schedules.

People need a lot of help and a really strong message that the site is for them.

Kate Targett Creator of the Explorer Map

In general, Kate says, the staff who managed to get outside for a break were few and far between. Many of the issues she uncovered were around perceived permission, with a common impression that someone else was controlling the grounds: “People need a lot of help and a really strong message that the site is for them.” The project set out to convey this through mapping, signposts, and linked nature activities. The consultation itself, says Kate, helped to give staff greater ownership of the space and led to significant changes in practice: as a result of her work some doors have been unlocked to provide quicker routes to the outdoor world.

Journeys and destinations

One of the lessons of the project has been the importance of considering not just attractive pathways but where these are headed. People need destinations. The Explorer Map marks out benches, meetings places and cafes, as well as quiet places to stop and enjoy birdsong. All are identified with specially designed icons. It also marks ‘green treasures’, such as small gardens, prized trees, areas of wildflowers and a trail of five bronze animal sculptures. Each of these creatures, the map explains, has one of the injuries that once brought the sculptor Laura Ford to the hospital with her own children. It’s an intimate record: there’s an elephant with a giant pea stuck in its trunk, and a chimpanzee with a plaster cast.

Artwork at Southmead Hospital
Artwork at Southmead Hospital. Photo: Carey Newson / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Artwork at Southmead Hospital
Artwork at Southmead Hospital. Photo: Carey Newson / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Marked walking routes, developed with the Southmead sustainability team, have descriptive names: Southmead Stroll, Horfield Hike, Peaceful Promenade. The outcomes include signposted ‘green exits’ that provide staff across the site with quick access to green spaces close to where they work. There are walking and running routes and a ‘Route to Recovery’, that was planned with physiotherapists to help patients regain mobility after surgery or building stamina in preparation for treatment.

As the project progressed, Kate put hours into ground-truthing the map – timing its walks and checking the whereabouts and convenience of its locations. Adrian created an effective graphic design for the map, with its own visual identity. The strong greens feel fresh and different, but they nevertheless follow NHS and North Bristol NHS Trust brand guidelines. The final guide is a tough piece of kit designed to be used many times. It folds down to pocket size, with a laminated card cover – something that staff can easily keep on them. Large-scale versions are displayed on prominent boards in the hospital, which also act as distribution points. At a time when many communications are purely virtual, the paper guide has been warmly received and seems to have hit its mark; after two years it is still relevant and has been reprinted.

The project was delivered through Fresh Arts, the hospital’s arts programme, with support from the sustainability team and funding from Southmead Hospital Charity. Design and production were by Marles + Barclay and research and engagement by Kate Targett.

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