Vital Arts, Barts Health NHS Trust’s arts organisation, was integral to the relaunch of The Royal London Hospital in its commissioning of a wide range of artists and designers to improve the look of rooms, corridors and shared spaces.
The centrepiece of the hospital’s new children’s wing was the Ann Riches Healing Space, an ‘activity space’ designed by architects Cottrell and Vermeulen in collaboration with designer Morag Myerscough. Vital Arts wanted to prevent a ‘Disneyfication’ of the environment and instead created a high-ceilinged ‘living room’ where everything in it – from chair, TV, toy globe, lampshade, to cuddly toys designed by Myerscough’s mother Betty – was supersized. The aim was to encourage interaction and play as a means to aid recovery; providing an escape for both the young patients and their families.
“Most children have a sense of ‘I’m not well’ when they’re confined to their bed space,” says senior sister paediatrics, Jo Lawler, of the new space. “Their first 24 hours might be very limited in terms of movement. Once they start being able to move a little bit, and be part of an interactive space, there’s a sense of moving on. For parents that’s really important, too.”
And each area within the space functions as an alternative zone – be it for storytelling (speakers are set underneath the chair); for movement (the lamp projects shapes onto the floor); and for game-play (the interactive TV screen takes participants into Woodland Wiggle, a charming illustrated game created by digital artist Chris O’Shea and Nexus Interactive Arts).
Around 40,000 children and their families visit The Royal London every year and within the Healing Space is the opportunity for them to feel less like they’re in a hospital, but somewhere where play, interaction and healing can all take place.