“This is the best day I have had in a long time.”

So said a patient at the Wallingford Community Hospital after a dance session organised by Creating with Care, a programme of creative activities in Oxfordshire’s community hospitals.

Funded by Oxford Health Charity and led by arts co-ordinator Angela Conlan, the programme is now halfway through its first year of a county-wide run. The programme was initiated in Witney Community Hospital, thanks to funding from West Oxfordshire District Council, and expanded to all of the county’s community hospitals in February this year.

In the last six months the programme has brought dance, mime, film, music, visual arts, crafts, cabaret, mosaic making, photography and exhibitions to community wards in Wallingford, Witney, Didcot, Bicester, Abingdon and Oxford. There have been 16 projects with 116 sessions and over 700 attendances by patients, staff and relatives.

Most importantly, the creative activities are bringing joy and lifting spirits for patients and staff alike.

Arts co-ordinator Angela Conlan

“Almost everybody feels happier and more relaxed after an arts session. It distracts from stress and boredom. In those sessions we don’t talk about what’s wrong with you or how you are going to get home. We talk and listen, make art, or just are there to move – and be moved,” Angela described.

Communities coming together

To Angela’s delight, local communities and organisations have been eager to contribute with tutors and materials.

“In Bicester Community Hospital we ran a week long craft project in July with the Mill Arts Centre from Banbury, and Abingdon and Witney College. Patients, relatives and staff learnt new skills like weaving and mobile making. The project was the first in a series delivered by this partnership; the next one will take place in December,” said Angela.

Bicester Community Hospital also has a new arts project with funding from Cherwell District Council’s Taking Part programme. This project will use different techniques each week: fabric painting, inking, craft work and collage.

A new ten-week photography project has started at Didcot Community Hospital in partnership with the Cornerstone Arts Centre. Each week patients and staff will learn about photography and take their own photographs, leading to an exhibition of work at the Cornerstone in the autumn.

Colourful crafts in Bicester.

In September, a monthly concert series will start in Abingdon Community Hospital, funded by Vale and White Horse District Council and Oxford Health Charity. Wallingford Community Hospital will see a monthly inter-generational arts session with Paddocks Nursery.

In Oxford Creating with Care is expanding to the Sandford ward in the Fullbrook Centre where patients and staff will create a large mosaic, designed by patients and funded by Oxford City Council’s Culture Fund.

In the swing of things!

The vintage cabaret group Mary-Lou Revue will be in residence in Oxfordshire’s community hospitals over the next year, thanks to an Arts Council England project grant.

The duo will be bringing their ‘musical refreshments’ to the bedside – expect classic swing jazz and big band tunes, dazzling tap dance and Rat Pack tunes!

Mary Lou will be performing at the Witney Community HealthFest on 7th September and at the HealthFest on the 14th September at the Warneford Hospital.

Making connections

The connections with organisations and artists in the community are vital for making the Creating with Care projects happen. But organisers also hope that staff and patients will learn about what is on offer in the local community once patients are discharged. This is in line with the NHS Long Term ambitions of social prescribing: encouraging people to take up activities that enhance mood, reduce social isolation and keep the mind and body active.

Artist Becky Paton with the mosaic created at Wallingford Community Hospital.

“It is also aligned with our trust’s dementia strategy. Oxford Health wants to support people living with dementia to lead full and active lives, which is also part of the national dementia strategy from the Department of Health. Creating with Care is working to enhance wellbeing and to provide stimulating activities and opportunities to engage in the arts.

“Of course there will be lots of practical considerations, such as transport, but the first step is to know what is available and what you enjoy doing,” says Angela.

Would you like to volunteer?

Apart from professional artists, Creating with Care is powered by volunteers. Angela currently has half a dozen volunteers in her team but more are wanted, especially in Wallingford, Didcot and Abingdon. This is a varied and inspiring role where you will assist both patients and artists.

“You can help the patients to fully participate, for instance, help to cut up pieces of material if they have difficulty using scissors. You can also help with evaluation: collect quotes, take photographs and act as my eyes and ears,” Angela says.

If you are interested in this role, please email angela.conlan@ oxfordhealth.nhs.uk.