Children’s hospital design: A world away from the ward

Vital Arts has been working with many acclaimed artists and designers to transform the royal London children’s hospital into a cosier place for kids.

Art has proven throughout paediatric hospitals all over the world, to be an invaluable aid for staff in either distracting or positively engaging children receiving sometimes painful and frightening treatments. Building an international reputation for producing arts programmes for the well-being of patients and staff, Vital Arts has grown into one of the UK’s leading art and health organisations.

To liven up the wards at The Royal London Children’s Hospital, Vital Arts commissioned an array of award-winning international artists and designers. The Royal London Children’s Hospital officially opened three years ago and Vital Arts has been working with 15 acclaimed artists and designers to transform the walls of the children’s wards through pioneering design within a hospital environment.

“For each area within the various hospitals, we develop an art strategy that considers the entire space and how each artwork relates to the next. Each area is curated and it is never a question of instaling random artworks. The location of the hospital, demographics of patients and treatment offered, play a role when developing an art strategy. This was especially true for the Children’s Hospital at The Royal London, which entailed a very ambitious art strategy that was developed over time,” explains Catsou Roberts, acting director at Vital Arts.

With 130 beds across five wards and covering London’s busiest paediatric accident and emergency department, The Royal London Children’s Hospital cares for more than 40,000 children each year.

“It is hugely satisfying when patients and staff respond positively to our work, and we know we have given them a wonderful artistic experience. We worked with many artists who were little known at the time but have since gone on to have international careers. The intensity of engagement, the scope of ambition, and working in such a specific context often pushes the artists we select into new artistic territories with great results,” says Roberts.

Roberts says that the most rewarding aspect of this job is knowing that with each project, Vital Arts is raising the standard of art within hospitals, and that it is offering patients and staff a cultural experience they might not otherwise have.

Textile designer Donna Wilson was one of the commissioned artists who painted the walls in Haematology ward. She says: “One of the most important things for me was to make the hospital not feel like a hospital. I wanted the patients, parents and nurses all to feel relaxed, happy and stimulated by the environment that surrounds them and by using a design you can lift the mood and well-being of the people there.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing and hearing the reactions of not just the children, but the parents too who are so pleased that the ward feels happier, colourful and less sterile and intimidating. This makes it so worthwhile and hugely rewarding for me as a designer,” explains Wilson.

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