Southmead Hospital Bristol: Illustrations and Interiors

We have been working on the Spaces for Dementia project with North Bristol NHS Trust since April 2015, aiming to create a better experience at Southmead Hospital Bristol for patients with dementia, who are in the hospital for other reasons.

The first phase involved research by our Creative Director Bronwen Gwilim, which included talking to staff and undertaking one-to-one conversations and creative consultation with patients.

Key themes which emerged from the research were:

  • The individual person
  • Social & cultural needs
  • Legibility of physical environment
  • Activity & the need to keep hands and minds busy

These themes are informing a long-term strategic project to make the whole hospital more dementia-friendly.


Elgar House

The first stage of the project involves making changes to Elgar House, a rehabilitation unit which people transfer to from complex care wards if they are not yet ready to be sent home. Patients will stay in Elgar House much longer than other parts of the hospital and most are older.

It was identified that the entrance to Elgar House didn’t give a positive welcome, or sense of reassurance, as people arrived. Willis Newson proposed the installation of artwork at the entrance which would celebrate older people in a positive way, inspired by the creative consultation undertaken with patients.

We brought artist Adrian Barclay from Just Design to the project to create an artwork which celebrates Bristolian achievements and culture which the generation of people in Elgar House may have been part of – for example, imagery from industries such as chocolate, transport and aeronautics.

Illustration by Adrian Barclay for Elgar House

Linking in with the key research theme of ‘the individual person’, another aspect to the project involves creating a customisable display area for patients to personalise their space.

It is important that patients don't lose their sense of individuality while in hospital for a longer stay and become institutionalised.

Art can help increase a sense of individuality and express personality.

This helps staff not to just look at medical conditions, but to identify with patients as a whole person with a rich history, skills and connections. For example, pictures reflecting their personality, career or hobbies can act as a prompt for conversations with staff, helping them to connect with the person and reminding the patient who they are.

To achieve this we worked with furniture designer Edward Douglas to come up with an idea for a flexible, functional display space to give patients more control over their environment. His concept is a wall-mounted frame/shelf.

The frame is used to display a picture from a bank of images curated by Willis Newson and the shelf is used to display the patients’ own photographs and mementoes.

Also in Elgar House we are working with the Occupational Therapy team to improve the legibility of the kitchen space they use for patient assessments.

Currently the kitchen is entirely white - walls, cupboards, tiles, - even the kettle. We are working with Adrian Barclay to add colour and signifying imagery to help patients to understand the space better as a kitchen. For example, above the sink we are installing a colourful but realistic illustration of a typical suburban back garden, to locate it more as a kitchen.

We are adding designed vinyls onto the white tiles and adding colour to the front of drawers and cupboards to create contrast to aid patients in differentiating the different parts of the kitchen.


Brunel Building

In the Brunel Building we are working in three complex care wards. Here the majority of beds are occupied by older people with a range of conditions such as heart problems, diabetes and Parkinsons, who may also have dementia as well.

Some patients with dementia can have huge amounts of energy, despite being ill, and can need to walk. The Brunel Building has two long corridors which are currently quite featureless - there's no end point to reach, and nothing to look at along the way, so the walk can become aimless.

We are working in the space to create purposeful walking by installing wall vinyls illustrated with designs inspired by real walks in the real world: a walk in the park, along the pier or on the Downs. Patients will then be able to walk along the space and talk with staff about memories inspired by these images.


Illustration of a walk in the park

Images: Adrian Barclay - Concorde & Proposed design for A Walk In The Park


The corridors then link to a joining quiet space where we are installing illustrations which link to the mural and where people can get involved with an activity before going back to their room.

The next stage of this part of the project will be to find a team of activity volunteers to spend time with patients in the quiet room. The volunteers will work with artists to develop a set of activities – either art-based, like painting or drawing, or leisure-based, such as jigsaws or using sensory apps on iPads. Evidence shows that these types of activities in other hospitals have helped to reduce slips, trips and falls, so we are informing the volunteer scheme with research and best practice.

These first phases of work are being installed by the end of March, with the long-term strategic project continuing after this.