Guest blog: Penny Calvert, ArtCare team co-ordinator, talks about a creative approach to staff wellbeing

As an Arts in Health service, our core work is about employing quality creative activity and events to deliver a colourful and inspiring programme of projects. These projects place patients at the centre and we also believe that investing time and energy into staff wellbeing gets paid forward by reducing burn out and improving staff motivation which underpins quality patient care. For this, ArtCare uses a layered approach:

Staff arts club

We’ve had a staff arts club for over 10 years – staff and volunteers use taster sessions in a wide range of creative activities at minimal cost. Shift work prevents staff exploring creative learning, such as evening classes, due to fixed college timetables. Our monthly sessions bring like-minded people together from across the whole organisation in a 2 hour workshop delivered by professional artists. Staff shape the timetable for future sessions by completing participant feedback. Creative writing, choirs, belly dancing, drumming, ceramics and painting are just a few of the activities.

Breast Unit (featuring feedback from new patients)

The hospital itself has seen many refurbishments as it’s services change and grow. ArtCare believes patients and staff are experts in the use of these spaces and our project management is built on a co-design model where decisions are made together through creative design team sessions. Our Children’s unit, Breast unit, the Benson suite (supporting families facing death of child during pregnancy or at birth) and improvements to adult wards have all been achieved through the active and meaningful involvement of the patients and the staff who work in these areas.

Outside spaces have been transformed through staff-made group mosaics, and investment in new planting. We have plans to link these transformed spaces and create a secret garden-style trail, encouraging staff to step outside their department for a breath of fresh air.

Mosaic created during staff workshops

Over 5 years our Elevate programme (featured in a July guest blog) has been delivering delight and memorable interactions with patients, staff and visitors through a timetable of participatory sessions and vintage tea parties on wards. Staff witness their patients illuminated by music, dance and storytelling; they pause to watch, to sing, to join in and each time the ward is transformed into a unique, creative event that lifts the mood of the whole audience.

Image from the History archive – Salisbury Carnival Float by the Maternity department

In the last 2 years we’ve had tremendous staff support in a healthcare design History project. With money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and support from Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, staff, volunteers, local schools and community groups, we now have a website full of content that brings local stories alive. The project has engaged staff in research, reflects people’s own history in the development of the hospital on this site and a series of installations integrated into the hospital building has allowed us to share the unfolding information in an innovative way, outside of the usual museum format.


Staff Photography Club

Staff arts club members tell us that the sessions help them unwind from a stressful day, that they go home and try out their new skills as part of a personal project or for relaxation. They enjoy the variety of activity and the chance to talk to new people outside of their own department. They come back again and again. A photography club off shoot has grown from a staff member volunteering to coordinate sessions, supported by Hazel in ArtCare and we’re piloting a Staff Choir too.

Co-designed environments that staff are proud of, consisting of interior and exterior spaces in the hospital, engage and inspire, calm and connect people. Through our Redlynch and Pitton ward project there were significant reductions in aggressive incidents and complaints as a result. Improving environments leaves a positive impression both on patients’ experience of hospital and on the workload for staff.

One of six lifts with interiors decorated with History Collection themes

The history website, shaped by the stories and interests of both staff and the wider community, and the history-based artworks on site inspire staff across all departments. They engage with patients beyond their immediate care through something as simple as a journey in a lift and witness the support of their local community for the work they continue to deliver. The celebration of the work and achievements of the hospital in these public displays is a tangible way to celebrate the commitment and dedication of staff past and present.

Overall, ArtCare’s approach to use layers of creative activities with staff is helping to build a hospital that strives for exceptional instead of acceptable – we may be a small NHS hospital but we have big ideas and our staff are an essential part of this vision.

If you want to know more about ArtCare and our work you can visit our websites (the whole ArtCare service) (ArtCare’s healthcare history project), and see selections of what inspires us and work we’ve completed on Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter

Penny Calvert, ArtCare Team Co-ordinator.

ArtCare is funded by charitable grants and donations including The Stars Appeal.

Editor’s note: Further information and resources on arts and health visit Arts and Health South West website


One thought on “Guest blog: Penny Calvert, ArtCare team co-ordinator, talks about a creative approach to staff wellbeing

  1. An excellent piece Penny. Inspiring to read how inclusive the multi-layered, multi-faceted approach boosts the morale of staff and patients and improves their health and well-being. Well done everyone. You deserve support and recognition and I hope you get both!!

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