Volunteering at CW+

CW+ has been fortunate over the years to have the support of exceptional volunteers who donate their time and efforts towards making vital contributions to transforming our hospitals for patients, their families and staff. Oonagh joined CW+ earlier this year as a volunteer supporting the Arts Team as part of her degree. This week, Oonagh discusses her experience working at CW+ so far.

“In January of this year I approached CW+ and asked if there was an opportunity for me to work within their creative team as part of my Interaction Design degree. I now work on a part time basis shadowing the arts team with various projects, whilst getting an insight into current innovations happening around arts in healthcare.

My experience so far has been interesting. Having never heard of CW+ before this year, I’ve found their work to be both thought-provoking and essential in our approach to modern healthcare design. The atmosphere in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is unlike any typical clinical environment that I have seen before, with each corridor lined like a gallery displaying works from a diverse range of creatives. On my initial tour of the hospital I was taken aback by the number of famous artists whose work features. From Eduardo Paolozzi to Tracy Emin, it is evident that the NHS trust is a well-established presence in the area and much loved by the local community including it’s hub of artistic talent.

In many of the wards it is apparent that the artwork has been selected or commissioned with the patient’s purpose in mind. Rather than just placing any old art on the wall there is attention paid to what response the piece will invoke, as avoiding or setting certain connotations in a high stress environment can be extremely beneficial to the patient’s overall hospital experience. Tabatha Andrews, for example, was commissioned in 2015 and focused on creating a number of interactive furniture pieces using familiar shapes made of wood, focused specifically for those with dementia. More recently CW+ have partnered with Colchester Zoo (along with a number of others) to create The Zoo project; a 90-minute looped film that features a range of different animals to engage children in the Paediatric Outpatients and the Children’s Emergency Department.

A selection of Oonagh’s artwork inspired by CW+’s interventions at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital

Of course, it’s not only the artwork that engages patients and assists their recovery. Along with hosting workshops and performances, CW+ also ensures that patients have the facilities they need to give Chelsea and Westminster a sense of livelihood and productivity. Through spaces such as a garden, a chapel, a cinema and a school, the somewhat  clinical nature of a typical hospital is turned into, in a sense, a healing village. After finishing their treatment, patients can also be involved with the Community Bridge Programme which helps assist their journey back into society. For me, I think that this is probably one of the most important aspects of a hospital experience. The rhythm and routine of someone under care is often very different to that of their lives outside the hospital environment and to have a system in place that facilitates this change can be the key to recovery.

I feel that I have joined the team at an interesting stage of the charity’s development. With the first phases of both the ICU and NICU having recently been completed, there is much to be excited about for the future of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. For now I will be staying with CW+ until my degree picks up again in October 2020. I hope to apply the experience I will have gained by assisting with projects and studying patient environments in order to inform my coursework and final year project. After seeing the positive impact that well-being charities such as CW+ can have people’s lives I’m even considering pursuing a career in the creative health sector.”

While the Arts Programme is on hold due to COVID-19, Oonagh continues to support CW+ from home.