A journey with Hospital Rooms: The Recovery College
We first met Katharine when she attended a Hospital Rooms workshop, Katharine went on to become a valued volunteer and part of the Hospital Rooms family. You can read more about Katharine’s experience below.
“My name is Katharine and I have been working as a volunteer for Hospital Rooms for almost two years. Having spent much of the last decade as an inpatient in psychiatric hospitals, in and out for many long admissions, I have watched opportunities pass me by time and time again. When Niamh and Tim invited me to volunteer for Hospital Rooms, 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. I have developed new skills and grown in confidence, discovering that my mental health issues did not need to be an impediment to doing what I wanted to do.
I first found out about Hospital Rooms when I was an inpatient at Springfield University Hospital, southwest London. Niamh and Tim were completing their first Hospital Rooms project and I managed to persuade my doctor to allow me to attend one of the workshops they were running at the on site Recovery College.
The workshop turned out to be exactly what I’d been craving during the many months I’d spent in hospital. As a practising artist I’d found my own creative outlets - taking photographs in the hospital grounds whenever I was allowed out - but prolonged periods of inpatient care had kept me detached from the world, identified as a patient above all else. My self-belief back then was at a very low ebb but I decided to show Niamh and Tim the artwork I’d recently produced. They could not have been more supportive, taking a genuine interest in my work, immediately suggesting I help them to facilitate forthcoming workshops and asking if I would give a short presentation about my photographs at their next workshop the following week. By encouraging me to take pride in the work I’d created and providing an opportunity for me to share my creativity, as well as take an active role in supporting other workshop participants, Niamh and Tim gave me back a sense of my identity as an artist.
Since then, I have managed the charity’s Twitter account, helped facilitate inpatient workshops and corresponded with journalists. As demand for our projects increases, I have had the privilege of playing a part in Hospital Rooms’ future planning, adding my voice to discussions about how we can ensure the charity continues to flourish and grow. A particular highlight was participating in a discussion about how best the charity can evaluate its work, sitting alongside mental health professionals and researchers from the UCL Institute for Global Health. I now write a weekly Hospital Rooms blog, which gives me the chance to channel my passion for the charity and provide a more in-depth picture of the work that goes into realising our projects.
Hospital Rooms has given me opportunities to recognise the expertise I can offer as someone with lived experience of mental health services and an increasing confidence in the value of my perspective. I now sit on interview panels for mental health staff, take part in inspections of psychiatric wards, participate in advisory meetings and conferences on improving mental health services and speak publicly about my experiences as a mental health service user. I believe my work with Hospital Rooms has been hugely significant in enabling me to become less inhibited by fear of stigma or discrimination, helping me to accept and acknowledge my struggles without shame.
The hopes I had for my future back when I first met Niamh and Tim are beginning to come true. I am now a Peer Tutor at the City and Hackney Recovery College, teaching my own weekly photography course, trying to give my students the same self-belief in their abilities and potential that Niamh and Tim gave me. As well as co-founding Hospital Rooms, a number of years ago Niamh and Tim also set up the biannual Dentons Art Prize. In spring of this year I became one of thirteen artists shortlisted for the 5th Dentons Art Prize (judged by David Roberts, Anj Smith, and Patrick Morey Burrows), having submitted work which included photographs taken whilst I was still an inpatient in Springfield Hospital. I went on to win the Dentons Art Prize, one of the proudest achievements of my entire life. As I held my prize on the night of the prize-giving, my mind cast back to that first workshop with Niamh and Tim, where I nervously presented my photographs for the first time. I wouldn’t be where I am now without Hospital Rooms and I am excited to see what the future holds, for me and the charity.”