Building a Better Health Service


Art project creates welcoming environment

Michael Lyster with staff and patients in St James’ Hospital

Michael Lyster with staff and patients in St James’ Hospital

A unique group art felting project has been unveiled at an acute inpatient ward for older adults in St James’ Hospital.

Patients, family members and staff at the Connolly Norman Unit (CNU) spent a number of months working on the project, which was unveiled by Michael Lyster at a lovely ceremony on the ward. The project was part of a wider initiative to make the ward more comfortable for the patients. The patients primarily have difficulties with their mental health. Many may also have a diagnosis of dementia. The average stay for a patient in the ward is three to four months.

The ward environment itself is therefore hugely important for patients as it is essentially their home away from home during this time. The felting project began as part of an environmental upgrade initiative led by Breda O’Connor, CNM 11; Mathew Gibb, the Director of Dementia Services Information and Development Centre (DSIDC); and Riona Nolan, Senior Occupational Therapist. The group aimed to achieve the optimum environment for patients on the unit. The initiative set out to provide a sense of a home away home – a sense of security and familiarity.

 It was also aiming to provide a welcoming environment for the host family and visitors. They wanted to create a sense of calm by reducing agitation and distress. This involved minimal décor, no clutter and the creation of opportunities for self-soothing and meaningful distraction.  The patients, family members and other staff on the ward played a key role in the planning and implementation of these upgrades. As part of the initiative, it was decided that the ward had to become a more client-centred area. To achieve a more relaxed and open space, the sitting room was fully repainted and a faux fireplace was installed to bring a central focus and more homely feel.

“We wanted to finish it off with a beautiful piece of art. The idea of felting came about through the Occupational Therapy (OT) Art group where one client was trying her hand at felting. Our innovative art instructor, Julie Sheils, put it to the group to use felting to create our, very large, one of a kind, artwork. The clients were on board, and so it began,” explained senior occupational therapist Riona Nolan.

A focus group with clients helped identify the theme of a seascape and the colour scheme. They decided to bring back blue skies to the room that had been lost to building work.

Beautiful, pure wool was gently pulled apart and pinned into an old Foxford blanket to create the scene. Everybody got involved in this project from planning, to weekly art sessions, to group consultations until finally the piece was completed. It has been a fantastic project for us to work on as it has brought such joy and pride to the patients and their families in particular.

“The art group project facilitated clients to achieve their occupational therapy goals. These goals included; feeling motivated to get up from bed, engaging in meaningful activities and building a better daily routine. It helped clients learn to use coping strategies such as distraction and mindfulness. Some clients worked on building back their concentration and problem-solving skills while others saw it as their productive or ‘work’ time of the day. The group facilitated social interaction and built a sense of community on the ward. It also gave clients a sense of ownership over their environment.

“The group art project has brought significant improvements to mood and wellbeing to all involved as is something that will now be enjoyed by many more for years to come,” Riona added.