Escape Within

Many of the artists we have commissioned have created work which aims to bring the outside in, recognising patients’ limited contact with nature if they are confined to a ward and their freedom is restricted. From Sutapa Biswas’ immersive garden mural, to Julian Opie’s birds, Michael O’Reilly’s scenic painting to Steve Macleod’s landscape photography, our artists have used the natural world to transform enclosed clinical spaces in a whole variety of ways.


For our project at Eileen Skellern 1, Aimee Mullins went a step further, deciding to create an environment that not only looked like a wooded landscape but smelt like one. Wanting to bring a sense of space and distance into the ward, Aimee Mullins created an immersive picturesque landscape for the Seating Area, a scene with trees and plant life, with branches extending invitingly into the adjacent corridor. The colours are soothing and muted, with a faint misty horizon on surrounding walls and expansive sky painted on the ceiling above. The result is a space which offers a safe and reassuring retreat: both comforting enclosure and a sense of escape. To enhance the experience, Aimee has provided a pine and juniper scent that can be spritzed by staff, powerfully transporting patients outside the confines of the ward.

"Being here feels like sitting in a park" - anonymous, Eileen Skellern 1


The invigorating scent of pine can help to reduce toxins in the air, providing a potent natural remedy for headaches. In aromatherapy the scent of pine is used to improve focus, alleviate physical and mental fatigue and relieve stress. In Japan, going for a therapeutic walk in the woods is known as shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing’. Research into the practice found that participants who walked through a pine forest reported significantly lower levels of stress and depression and greater relief from anxiety. Thanks to Aimee’s creativity we hope that patients and staff at Eileen Skellern 1 will experience the same benefits. 

"The women that are here do not have the choice to be here - they've got no physical freedom whatsoever. I think what the artwork might help do is give a bit of internal psychological freedom, because you can use the space to think in a different way: it stimulates your internal world"

- Dr. Sophie Butler, Eileen Skellern 1

The pine scent provided by Aimee Mullins is decanted into small plastic bottles for staff to spritz

The pine scent provided by Aimee Mullins is decanted into small plastic bottles for staff to spritz

Interviewed by Lara Johnson-Wheeler for SHOWstudio, Dr. Sophie Butler from Eileen Skellern 1 shares the impact Hospital Rooms has had on the ward, noticing a dramatic shift in the atmosphere for both patients and staff, the project effecting not only how people feel but the way in which they work. 

Reflecting on the effect of the ward's transformation, Sophie mentions a particular interaction with a patient in Aimee Mullins' immersive pine-scented forest:

"Often the conversations that we have to have with the patients are quite challenging. Recently, when I needed this with one of our patients, I was able to give her a choice about which environment she wanted to sit in. She chose the area that looks like a forest glade and when we sat down we just took a moment and looked around, made a few comments about the art, about what it looked like. Also interestingly, we spoke about the temperature, about different senses that we were having, that there was a nice temperature there. That really set a very different tone and dynamic to the beginning of a conversation, because we started off as two human beings interacting on a level, and we could move into what needed to be done from a very different standpoint. For me, as a doctor, that was a really special thing to be able to do."

Work like this would not be possible without the generosity and support of Hospital Rooms’ friends and donors. With your help we can transform more NHS mental health care environments across the UK and give more people the opportunity to be touched and inspired by the unique and radical work that we do. Your donations really do make a difference.