Northern Ireland hospice gets an artistic makeover

At the new Northern Ireland Hospice in north Belfast Jenny Lee discovers a wealth of colour and artwork inspired by nature and finds out more about the role art has in the hospice from artist Clare McComish

Jenny Lee
01 June, 2016 01:00

A STAINED glass window depicting the universal image of the matured dandelion flower releasing its seeds is positioned in the sanctuary quiet room of the new hospice.

Designed by glass artist Andrea Spencer, the window speaks of the cycle of nature and hope. It's just one of a number of new works inspired by the beauty of nature incorporated into the newly opened £13 million Northern Ireland Hospice in north Belfast.

The hospice encompasses an 18-bed in-patient unit and a day hospice facility. Much thought has also been given to ensuring that the new building accommodates the best in palliative care and support.

As well as architectural plans, artistic planning was integral in the design process – research shows that the arts and creativity can contribute to our health and mental wellbeing.

So, with the help of funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, an Integrated Public Arts Project was launched. A creative process from the outset, visual artist Sheelagh Colclough and creative writer Deirdre Cartmill consulted with service users, staff, relatives and local residents.

Belfast ceramic artist Clare McComish served as arts consultant on the project. Having spent eight years as Arts Care artist in residence working at the hospice, together with her experience and research into the science of artwork for health and hospice environments, she was pivotal in selecting the artists who would develop bespoke pieces that would integrate with the fabric of the building.

Founded in 1991, arts and health charity Arts Care have been working in partnership with Belfast's Health and Social Trust to positively affect the culture of healthcare settings.

The organisation is based on evidence that the benefits to self-esteem and mental well-being are linked to providing opportunities to develop new skills and creativity, which can make a challenging period in hospital a more enjoyable experience.

"There are overwhelming transformative benefits of having art within health settings either directly or by making the environment in which a person is spending a great deal of time or coming back repeatedly to receive treatment, more visually appealing with lots of natural light," says Clare.

"The general consensus of the consultation document was that people wanted an uplifting, calming environment and something that brought as much nature inside the building as possible. They wanted something that was interesting to look at, but not too much in your face. So our challenge has been trying to find that balance."

Her own commissioned, a China and Perspex bespoke lighting piece, takes inspiration from a flower bud that hasn’t opened yet, the symmetry of nature and the changing seasons.

"I wanted to create a truly beautiful piece that will lift the spirits and reduce anxiety of day hospice patients arriving through the ground-floor entrance. It is designed so their eyes will draw upward into the void. It is hoped the piece will provide intrigue and joy through the various medium applications and light dispersion," she explains.

"This building has kept its Victorian facade and yet it's a brand new state-of-the art rebuild and my piece reflects that. I've used traditional Victorian craft techniques used in Belleek pottery, yet I've married them with the latest in Perspex design and technology, with local plastics fabricator Donite Plastics."

Take a closer look at Andrea Spencer's Ebb and Flow glass window and you will see she has incorporated various pieces of text written by patients during a creative writing workshop, such as 'I am an ocean, I am a wave' and 'I am a path in which I walk'.

Diana McCormick, who wanted her work to "create distraction from pain, fear and anxiety", worked with the day hospice patients in creating her fused glass and enamel bird inspired artwork.

Alice Blackstock, who recently graduated from the University of Ulster, held workshops with bereavement groups on the making of her linen yarn storyboard which reads like a book on the walls of the adult hospice.

"I felt apprehensive at the first thought of 'hospice' but their warm embrace and care made me feel like family – like I was at home," is the text depicted on the opening scene.

As well as Ned Jackson Smyth sculptures in the hospice gardens, the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC) at Queen's University have incoporated soundscapes

into the landscaping.

"The Sonic Arts project aims to create a calm yet uplifting atmosphere, engage patients and visitors through changing sound environments and trigger sonic memories," Clare says.

"We are not allowed water features in hospitals any more because of the small risk of legionella so what we can do is the evoke the sound of waves, and the seaside through sound waves."

In an extension of services, the new hospice facility enables specialist palliative care to be extended beyond cancer to those requiring palliative care due to neurological and dementia conditions, which provide further creative workshop opportunities for Clare and her team of artists.

"The workshops are great at destigmatising the fear of hospice care, increasing self-confidence and allow users and staff to chat, be creative and try new things. Even if patients are too exhausted to actively partake they can partake passively," Clare says.

"Art provides plenty of opportunities no matter what the illness. Even with motor neurone disease, there is now technology which enables people to draw with their eye."

01 June, 2016 01:00 Life