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New healing arts project partnership to boost well-being for patients

Wednesday, 02 July, 2014
New healing arts project partnership to boost well-being for patients

A unique partnership has been set up to promote the arts in hospitals and leisure centres in south east Northumberland.

Northumberland Arts Development and Blyth Valley Arts and Leisure (BVAL) have joined forces with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to set up the first reader in residence at Blyth Community Hospital as well as touring art exhibitions which will also visit Wansbeck General Hospital and leisure centres in the area.

The project, led and funded by the three organisations, is part of Northumbria Healthcare’s long-standing healing arts programme which uses art as a therapeutic medium to improve the hospital environment for patients – particularly the elderly – visitors and staff.

Caroline Beck, from writing development agency ‘New Writing North’, will be the reader in residence at Blyth Community Hospital and develop a reading and radio project through a series of active reading workshops with patients, staff and families every Wednesday from 2pm to 3pm until 4 December.

Using books and literature as a way to engage people in reflecting on their lives and telling their own stories, the project will culminate in an online archive and website.

Caroline has more than 20 years’ experience recording people’s stories for BBC radio programmes such as Radio 4’s ‘Today’, ‘Woman’s Hour’ and ‘Costing The Earth’.

Lynne Greig, modern matron at Blyth Community Hospital, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this exciting project which aims to promote and improve the well-being of our patients through the arts.

“The reader in residence project is a fantastic opportunity to build on the work already underway to improve the social interaction of our patients while celebrating the rich and diverse lives and stories of the many elderly people we care for.

“We know that reminiscing with patients or talking to them about old times can make such a difference to them and really improve their mental well-being. We look forward to working with Caroline and producing an archive we can use in the future.”

Anna Disley, of New Writing North, said: “We have found that the act of reading aloud to people in small groups unleashes a flood of memories connected to words.

“Listening to and reflecting on poems, short stories and novels, can encourage people to express thoughts and feelings that it may otherwise be difficult for them to access, so in care settings reading aloud is a particularly powerful tool.”

In addition, an art exhibition showcasing local, regional and international artists, schools, colleges and community groups, will tour the two hospitals as well as leisure centres in Blyth and Cramlington.

Stephen Pritchard from Dot to Dot Active Arts, which developed the ‘old-new curiosity shop’ in Blyth, has been appointed as co-ordinator and curator for the touring arts exhibition and new cross-sector creative venture.

Stephen said: “We want to create a touring arts system that will change the way people view art and interact with art in public spaces, as well as creating a simple structured way to carry out future exhibitions between local health, leisure and arts partners.

“The concept behind this touring scheme is exciting and ambitious. It has the potential to make a difference to healthcare and community settings by breathing art into hospitals, sports and leisure centres and beyond.

“The three organisations have a clear and engaging vision that can brighten the lives of many people.”

Brenda Longstaff, lead charity officer for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust who has helped pioneer the partnership with Joanne Burke, arts development officer at Northumberland Arts Development, said: “We believe in the power of the arts to improve the quality and well-being of life and know from research that the quality of a patient’s environment can have an impact on their recovery.

“We aim to provide environments and experiences for patients, families and staff which support the healing process and are delighted to work with Northumberland Arts Development.”