Community engagement shapes hospital project

Thousands of local people responded to a call-out by award-winning photographer Simon Roberts to help create artwork for a new ward block at Bristol Royal Infirmary, sending in thousands of stunning photographs showing the very best of their city.

Patients, staff and the local community helped shape this project through workshops, talks and consultation. Using this research and images submitted by the public as inspiration Simon developed a series of photographs that have been installed as wall vinyls, printed ceiling tiles and framed images across seven floors within the new ward block.

The images, which reflect the city’s culture, landscape and history, have helped give the building a unique identity, prompted conversations and made the hospital environment feel more welcoming and less clinical.

Simon explains:

“I felt it was important to give the public an opportunity to help steer the project, given that the BRI is at the heart of Bristol’s community and that many people have an invested interest in the future of the hospital”.

Simon worked closely with the hospital staff, patients and the local community to select subjects and themes to photograph which would capture the imagination and achieve different goals for the different departments.

In the older persons assessment unit the artwork reflected the importance of water to Bristol, with a combination of new images and historical pictures used to create a safe environment which could also provide memory prompts and conversation cues for staff and patients.

The  emergency department presented a particular challenge with the observation bays containing lots of technical equipment and offering limited wall space for display. Here Simon created relaxing images of tree canopies and hot air balloons, taken from the perspective of someone looking up, and printed them directly onto the ceiling tiles? overhead.

Many patients talked of getting back into their garden or local park when they were well again. This inspired Simon to create a series of nature and green space themed images, including large format prints of trees, flowers and vegetables being grown in Bristol allotments.

All of the photographs submitted for the project are stored in a permanent online gallery. In addition to this, six themed collages have been created representing Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Bristol architecture, local people, regional landscapes and Bristol Harbourside. The collages have been made from over 2000 photographs submitted by the public and have been installed as public galleries on the different ward levels. 

The depiction of familiar local landscapes and landmarks is making the hospital a more welcoming and less stressful environment, they are encouraging conversation and exploration and are being used by some patients to help with their rehabilitation

“I find having these pictures on the wall makes the environment more approachable for patients and visitors. It makes the space feel modern, more like a hotel than a hospital! They are great for patient interaction. The patients who are getting better often set goals for themselves to walk to the next photo, then the next.” Sadie Webb Ward Clerk

Alongside the artworks in patient spaces there are also a series of prints of a vintage photograph album showing nurses from the past century at work in Bristol hospitals, which are displayed in the nurses’ work areas.

Managed by Willis Newson and funded by Above & Beyond’s Golden Gift Appeal, Simon Roberts’ project is one of a number of integrated art projects creating a positive environment for patients and staff across the redevelopment of the Bristol Royal Infirmary.