Patients and staff create art for new cancer unit

19 July 2011

"A way to say thank you, to give something back." This was how local artist and cancer patient Jean Miller described her donation of four prints to a new outpatient cancer care unit in Hereford. The Macmillan Renton Unit at The County Hospital was built in partnership between Macmillan Cancer Support and Wye Valley NHS Trust.  The public art strategy for the build was managed by Willis Newson.

Jean Miller took up painting at the age of 69, a defiant response to the challenge of getting older.  She is now in her 80s and was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.  Her doctor told her to "go home and paint", and painting she still is.  Painting has opened a whole series of new doors for Jean.  A book about her life and work was published in 2008, she exhibits and sells regularly, she has appeared on radio and she corresponds with people around the world about her work.  Four prints of her paintings now hang in the new unit – behind the main reception desk and in quiet rooms.  "You can put money in a box, but this is personal, something from me," she said.

Patient and staff involvement was integral to another series of artworks now hanging in the unit. They were involved in workshops to create glass panels, run by local glass artist Emma Waller.  Initial designs and storyboards demonstrated Emma's ideas and workshop participants were invited to lay out wire drawings to create their own pieces.  Well-used to working in healthcare settings,  Emma created a relaxed and open atmosphere which encouraged the exchange of stories and experiences as they worked.  Some just wanted to watch, others became very involved, dropping in between appointments throughout the day.  Staff took materials away to work on at the ends of their shifts.  "People say 'I can't do this kind of thing, I'm useless', but they can.  You just have to give them the opportunity.  Hearing their stories and seeing their enthusiasm made me feel I owed them something.  I wanted to create something really good that reflected their input," said Emma.

The Macmillan Renton Unit opened on 4th July 2011. Other artworks in the new unit include a range of beautiful external sculptural seating in Herefordshire oak by Petter Southall of itre furniture, and further glass pieces by Emma Waller and by Tamsin Abbot. A case study featuring the project will be available soon.