“I think the new design is changing the way we all live our lives on the ward. The art has given us all a new way to start conversations with each other and things already seem so much better”
Will, Service User, Phoenix Unit
“It’s things like this that make my life better.”
Owen, Recovery College Student
“Some of the most creative and accomplished people that I have known have encountered difficulty with their mental health at one stage or another. It seems to me that making vulnerable patients’ environments pleasant and stimulating is of the utmost importance and would be conducive to recovery and recuperation”
Nick Knight OBE, Photographer
Recovery College - Testimonial by Katharine Lazenby
‘I found out about the Hospital Rooms workshops from a poster in the reception area of the building where my ward is located. I was already curious about Hospital Rooms, having witnessed the remarkable transformation of the Recovery College exterior. As an inpatient on Avalon Ward in Harewood House, I was allowed daily walks in the hospital grounds and my route would take me past the Recovery College. There was something invigorating about the magical and playful way the drab old building was rejuvenated with colour and pattern. It was exciting to see it gradually bloom as each day new shapes and colours would appear. If I was walking with a friend, relative or member of staff, the Recovery College would inevitably become a talking point. It is a shame that the invaluable service provided by the Recovery College and others like it are not more widely known and recognised. Now, with its striking new exterior, the building is loud and proud, impossible to overlook - ‘We are here’, the Recovery College seems to say, ‘we can make a difference and we celebrate the work that we do’. Many times I thought about approaching the people I saw carrying pots of paint and climbing up ladders but I kept nervously putting it off until the job was completed and I’d missed my opportunity. However, I’d managed to find out a bit about the Recovery College project online, identifying Hospital Rooms as the organisation behind its make-over. So when I saw the posters advertising art workshops at the Recovery College run by Hospital Rooms I immediately registered and signed up to attend. The workshops were exactly what I’d been missing in the many months I’d spent in inpatient care. As a practising artist I’d found my own creative outlets - taking photographs in the hospital grounds whenever I was allowed out, creating collages using fragments cut from the pages of magazines - but I missed the experience of making art alongside others and the conversations that naturally developed through the process of doing so. With past experience running art activities with children at an after-school club and teaching Peer Support Work to a group of people with mental health issues, I also missed these kinds of interactions in which I could help support an individual's development, creativity and self-belief. I was keen to attend the workshops not only to participate but to learn more about Hospital Rooms and the projects Niamh and Tim had been running. It was my hope that they’d be able to give me some advice about how and where I might be able to take a more active involvement in a similar capacity, facilitating art projects with other mental health sufferers like myself.Each workshop was carefully organised, excellently prepared and impressively resourced, with plenty of materials and equipment available, all laid out ready for participants to start using straight away. The atmosphere was always warm, welcoming and supportive, with enough facilitators on hand to offer individual advice and encouragement. Instructions were clear but not restrictive - as people relaxed into the workshops and let go of some of their inhibitions their use of the materials became bolder, more playful, taking risks and experimenting with techniques they’d never tried before. Everyone was there because they wanted to be and the sense of a general willingness to ‘give it a go’ was infectious.
For me, a lack of self-confidence and a belief that what I would produce wouldn't be any good, initially inhibited at the first workshop. I wanted to let myself go but my self-critical inner voice continually undermined my attempts. What made the difference to me at that first workshop was the support of Susan Sluglett, an artist who was assisting Niamh and Tim. Susan’s acknowledgment and sympathetic understanding of my struggle, her sensitive and reassuring encouragement was exactly what I needed to help me relax and lose myself in the process of making, without overthinking or worrying whether the outcome would be good enough. From then on, I was better able to engage in the session. That first workshop and everything that followed on from it exceeded all my expectations. Once the session had drawn to a close I had an opportunity to speak with Niamh, to find out more about Hospital Rooms and to tell her about my own work and aspirations. I’d decided to take some of my work with me to show her - collages I’d made whilst on the ward and photographs I’d taken in the hospital grounds. I am generally quite private with my work and showing it to people uninvited in this way is not something I would normally do. Since the subjects of the first two workshops were collage and photography I hoped that Niamh and Tim would be interested to see my own use of these processes during the recent months of my time in hospital. Niamh could not have been more supportive, taking a genuine interest in my work and immediately suggesting ways in which I could take an active role in the forthcoming workshops. I left the Recovery College that day with a spring in my step and the small glimmers of a renewed self- confidence.
During the time I’d spent in the workshop and speaking with Niamh and Tim afterwards I hadn’t felt like a patient, that my mental health issues were an impediment to doing what I wanted to do. The fact I was still an inpatient, visiting the Recovery College with permission from my doctors, did not deter Niamh and Tim from inviting me to work alongside them, as I was convinced it would. Having spent much of the last decade in hospital, in and out for many long admissions, I have watched opportunities pass me by. Both my illness and the practicalities of the prolonged inpatient care used to treat it, kept me detached from the world, unable to become involved in the kinds of collaborative, creative, and rewarding projects that could add a sense of meaning and purpose to my life. Taking up work-related opportunities once discharged from hospital has also been difficult, complicated by the challenge of sharing with others the wider picture of your mental health needs, and the reality that these will effect how and when you are able to work. This kind of conversation is still one I find extremely difficult to have, believing deep down that others will view my circumstances and needs as problems or demands they’d rather not have to manage. Niamh and Tim, however, saw only what was possible rather than focussing on barriers in the way. When they invited me in my very first meeting with them to join them in co-facilitating their workshops, with such positive enthusiasm for the role I could play, they gave me a sense of purpose and optimism for the future, with real opportunities I could take hold of.