Southmead Hospital Bristol: Public Art Programme

Art at Southmead Hospital, Laura Ford's Landmark Sculptures

Working in partnership with North Bristol NHS Trust and their arts programme Fresh Arts, Willis Newson managed a £1.1m public art programme for the new Southmead Hospital Bristol that shows how involving high calibre artists working alongside the hospital community can create therapeutic environments which improve the wellbeing of patients, staff and visitors. 

Nationally and internationally recognised artists created work to animate spaces and create special places within the hospital building and grounds. Pieces of art provide moments of reflection or distraction, lift the mood, or provoke emotional responses that encourage empathy and understanding.
Art in hospitals, Jacqui Poncelet Ginkgo Sculptural Screens. Bottom: Peter Randall-Page Source stone water feature

"The art at Southmead Hospital Bristol helps to create a more aesthetically pleasing environment, which is important for people’s sense of wellbeing. There are special places where people can have a quiet moment for reflection; there are things to help you feel more cheerful and things to comfort you. The art is helping to make Southmead Hospital a better place to be for patients, visitors and staff.” Andrea Young, Chief Executive, North Bristol NHS Trust

The arts programme is a small part of North Bristol NHS Trust’s £430 million Southmead Hospital Bristol Private Finance Initiative (PFI) development. It builds on research which clearly demonstrates the direct benefits for patients of incorporating visual and performing arts into the hospital environment.
Underpinning the project is a close collaboration between North Bristol NHS Trust and its arts programme Fresh Arts, architects Building Design Partnership (BDP), the commissioned artists, Carillion and Willis Newson. This close collaboration enabled Willis Newson creatively to integrate the public art with the architecture of the building.
The building and surrounding grounds features the work of six artists as part of a broader public art programme which involves patients, staff and the wider community, which also included particpatory artworks. A series of exhibitions by local schools and artists’ groups are shown within the hospital in specially created changing gallery spaces. Willis Newson also supported the creation of an ongoing arts programme and the Fresh Arts Festival.



6 Installations

Jacqueline Poncelet

British artist Jacqueline Poncelet was commissioned to create a series of garden screens to provide privacy and space for quiet conversation in the Medical Day Gardens, an area which is only accessible to patients and staff.

She created a sequence of stainless steel free-standing screens depicting a pattern of ginkgo leaves, together with seating arrangements. The screens cast shadows, making patches of dappled light and provide spaces in which patients and staff may simply sit in privacy or engage with nature. The softly polished surfaces reflect ambient colour, subtly changing as the light moves over them.

Laura Ford

British artist Laura Ford created a series of new landmark artworks across the Southmead Hospital Bristol landscape. ‘Patient Patients’ are life-size bronze animals which welcome and draw people through the hospital site along key axes to the main entrance. They also contribute to the unique sense of identity for the new building and grounds.

A bear with a sore back, a prairie dog with an injured neck and an elephant with a lump in his trunk will be seen in the Lime Tree Park approach leading to the main entrance of the new hospital from Southmead Road. On the Square, outside the main entrance, will be a lion with a bandaged paw. Three monkey sculptures have been installed near the entrance to the Emergency Department on Dorian Way where they sit nursing their injured limbs.

In creating the artworks Ford's aim was to create memorable characters that would become ‘familiar friends’ to hospital users and the public.

Tobias Rehberger

German artist Tobias Rehberger created a large-scale light sculpture for the main concourse of the new building. The sculpture is inspired by the idea of time and consists of 78 suspended neon elements separated into three sculpture groupings which function as binary clocks.

Each neon element is controlled by a computer and turns on and off according to the exact time of day. This helps to give patients a sense of time passing and also helps to create a welcoming, modern space for patients and staff.

Ally Wallace

British artist Ally Wallace was commissioned to develop a new work for the Welled Courtyard of the new building. His work, ‘Coloured Discs’ is a bold and simple sculpture that introduces composition and colour into the planted landscape, creating visual interest for patients, staff and visitors who can see the courtyard from many of the hospital spaces.

The discs’ coloured surfaces are illuminated by ambient natural light and appear to change according to the viewer’s position and the nature of the light itself.

Art in hospitals Top: Tobias Rehberger Binary Clock Sculpture. Bottom Left: Mon Cirque by Jaime Hayon. Bottom Right: Coloured Discs by Ally Wallace

Jaime Hayon

Spanish artist and designer Jaime Hayon developed a series of new works to animate and connect three internal courtyards within the new Southmead Hospital Bristol. ‘Mon Cirque’, a series of sculptural groupings, has been devised to be viewed from ward blocks, consulting areas and other spaces situated around the courtyards.The ceramic vase-like forms are fun and functional, unique and unexpected.

The works have been designed to integrate with the landscape so that they animate these enclosed spaces, creating an element of surprise which brings these non-accessible spaces to life.

Peter Randall-Page

British artist Peter Randall-Page was commissioned to create a water feature for the Medical Day Gardens to encourage and enable quiet contemplation and reflection. The water feature Randall-Page created is hand-carved from a naturally eroded boulder sourced from Dartmoor. It features a carved rippling pattern in low relief and a central hole allowing the water to flow out across the entire surface, creating a peaceful impression on the viewer.

Participatory Artworks

As part of the development of Southmead Hospital, artists Davis & Jones were commissioned to establish a Staff Engagement Programme to explore and document the process of change accompanying the new development, to build relationships and encourage a sense of pride and ownership of the new space.

A thorough research approach was undertaken which included interviews with staff, spending time at the hospital and shadowing people whose job role involved moving across the two sites (e.g. porters/security).

Within this process the artists then curated a programme of projects and interventions using various artforms to engage the whole hospital community, which aimed to be intriguing and provocative, to start conversations and to create shared memories.

Staff engagement projects. Left: Davis and Jones Moveable Feast. Right: Speed Racer Derby  For example, 'Moveable Feasts' involved a pop-up breakfast tent serving food to workers at the start and end of their shifts, which gave the artists an opportunity to engage them in conversations about the transition. And 'Move' saw a film maker, photographer and oral historian working with staff across existing sites to document the move, collecting stories and memories, photographing the old buildings, documenting the move itself and then revisiting staff once they had settled in the new hospital.

The photographs and quotes from staff now form an exhibition that runs from the main atrium of the new building through a link corridor to A&E. This work, capturing the care and commitment of the staff, is a favourite with staff, patients and visitors alike. It shows the human face of the hospital and values the many unsung heroes that keep the Trust running.


Willis Newson also responded to staff requests for artwork to be installed in the Paediatric Minor Injuries Unit within the Emergency Department of the new hospital. Bristol illustrator Emily Golden Twomey was commissioned to produce friendly and colourful wall graphics for this children's area, in order to improve the patient experience for younger people in a stressful and busy part of the hospital.

Art in hospitals Left and Bottom Right: Emily Golden Artwork for the Children's Minor Injuries Unit. Top Right: Specially created gallery spaces

Fresh Arts

Fresh Arts is the ongoing arts programme for North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT). It was initially devised and established by Willis Newson to help improve patient and staff experience at the old hospital sites as part of the public art strategy for NBT. After managing the programme for a couple of years we recruited an Arts Programme Manager for NBT who maintains and extends the Fresh Arts programme across Southmead and Cossham Hospitals. During the development of the new Southmead Hospital Bristol site we commissioned the participatory Staffe Engagement Programme and created the Fresh Arts Festival as a way to celebrate the new building and the culture of care and creativity that was being developed. 

Read more about Fresh Arts here

Read more about the Fresh Arts Festival here

Fresh Arts Festival Southmead Hospital Bristol

“Southmead Hospital merits being a stop on the grand tour of the world’s notable hospital facilities, along with Rikshospitalet in Oslo and the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.” Ken Schwarz, architectural advisor to North Bristol NHS Trust 

Willis Newson was advised by Theresa Bergne of Field Art Projects on the selection of three of the artists, resulting in the appointment of Laura Ford, Jaime Hayon and Tobias Rehberger. 



The discs’ coloured surfaces are illuminated by ambient natural light and appear to change according to the viewer’s position and the nature of the light itself. 

“We have a successful, active arts programme that has begun to reap benefits for patients. Art in hospitals improves patient satisfaction, their experience of being in hospital and, ultimately, their wellbeing. That has to be a good thing for patients, staff and the wider community.”

Sue Jones
Director of Nursing and Quality, North Bristol NHS Trust