Oakwood Unit, Prospect Park Hospital: Feature walls & Photography

Art in hospital helps patient communication and lifts staff morale at Oakwood Unit, Reading. Photo by Clint Randall

Willis Newson worked with artists to help communication and improve morale for patients and staff at a rehabilitation unit at Prospect Park Hospital, Reading.

Artworks celebrating the history and culture of Reading were integrated into the interior design of the unit by Sue Hunter of Hunter Design Associates. Now the artworks have become conversation pieces that spark engagement between elderly patients, visitors and staff. As well as improving communication, the thematically-linked artworks support wayfinding.

We created the scheme to transform the unit from a purely functional environment into a more personal place, which to captures the imagination for patients, staff and visitors.

The unit, which was built under a PFI scheme around 10 years ago, had a clinical, anonymous, impersonal feel. Patients and visitors found the absence of clear landmarks confusing uninspiring.

Working with artist Linda Schwab, we led creative consultation activities with patients and staff. Through these sessions, seaside, hobbies and gardens were chosen as themes for the three wards, and Reading – the location of the Unit – was selected as an overall theme.

The artist researched images of Reading through the local library and national archives, including the Imperial War Museum. She collaged old photographs with her own designs to create vinyl feature wall panoramas and Acrovyn door panels. These act as conversation pieces and as landmarks.

Patient enjoying artwork at Prospect Park Hospital

For two areas with minimal natural light, Linda created stained glass effect light-boxes and Sue initiated a staff photographic project which generated garden images for a changing display panel.

Dementia patients often feel the urge to wander about and can forget where they are going. The artworks create journeys through the ward, encouraging exploration and conversation along the way. Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy staff use the routes as walking trails, offering patients a more creative way to measure how far they can walk.

The Unit’s activities coordinator uses the imagery to support reminiscence, or as a starting point for activities. For example, she recalled that one of the patients told her that he had been head gardener at the large house shown in one of the images. 

Inpatient Services Manager at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Cathy Mills said:

“The artworks really encourage conversation. Patients and visitors instantly identify with them. They chat about places they remember, fashions they used to wear, memories that the pictures spark.

The ward is a calmer place. When I see people in the corridors, they are enjoying themselves rather than feeling anxious and lost.”

Cathy’s mantra has always been “Be the change you wish to see!” By encouraging staff to take a person-centred approach to care, she has always led by example. Supported by Cathy, Willis Newson facilitated a partnership with the University of Reading Typography Department. Students designed a calligraphy backdrop for the Unit reception with the quotation “Be the change you wish to see!”, which embeds the ethos of the Unit into the very fabric of the building.

Designing for dementia care is becoming increasingly important. Research by the Alzheimer’s Society shows that by 2015, more than 850,000 people in the UK will be living with the condition. Willis Newson carried out an evidence review at the start of the project to ensure that new designs best supported older adults with dementia and mobility issues. Imagery was also tested through consultation sessions with patients. An evaluation of the project was also being carried out through focus groups, questionnaires and data around patient movement through the Unit. 

See further images of this project on flickr.

“Staff are calmer and happier. They are proud of where they work. It’s a pleasure to come onto the ward. And this has an impact on patients. If staff are happier, it rubs off on patients.”

Cathy Mills
Inpatient Services Manager