It’s safe to say, this time last year, nobody could have imagined we would have spent nearly twelve months in and out of various levels of lockdown. But by now, we’re all well aware of the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on us all, and no one more so than those who are on the frontline in hospitals up and down the country.
The last year has changed so much, including for us, and while our focus remains on creating better places for patients to get better, it’s now more important than ever for us to also think about how we’re able to create a better working environment for the people who are helping them on their health journey.
We were asked by Cardiff and the Vale Health Charity to create a sanctuary for their staff at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff. They wanted us to create a place away from the main ward where frontline workers could go to switch off, compose themselves after a difficult shift or to simply just stop and breathe.
The space we were given to work with was a blank canvas: a designer’s dream! It was large, open and included a kitchen area, changing rooms and a disabled toilet. There were huge windows flooding it with natural light but it was very white, empty and cold; a long way from where we wanted it to be.
Celebrating the local area
Through our initial conversations with the charity, we started to get a good idea of what they wanted: a space that was welcoming and relaxing, with a natural theme which brought the outside in. They were also keen to work with the National Museum of Wales to incorporate paintings that had a Welsh connection depicting the beautiful local landscapes that were not too far from the hospital.
Our designer, Victoria, worked closely with a team from the museum, including the Senior Curator of Historic Art, Stephanie Roberts. Melanie Wotten, Arts in Health Project Curator for Cardiff and the Vale Health Charity also provided invaluable direction along with Simone Joslyn, the Project Lead.
Stephanie curated a list of artworks from which we were able to choose our preferred images. We chose images we thought would work well together while also complementing the room as a whole. Each one is connected to nature and was chosen for its ability to take you away to a different place, allowing a person’s mind to wander and relax.
A Colour Palette that Promotes a Feeling of Calm
When we were deciding on a colour palette, we looked to the artwork that had been chosen from the catalogue Stephanie had provided. Our three chosen colours featured in all of the paintings: a soft blue, taken from clear skies; a deeper, denim blue from moodier skyscapes and clouds; and a sumptuous olive green, inspired by the landscape and trees.
The palette was used for colour blocking the walls, as either a border or strip to offset the painting. Each wall was designed to display the paintings in a different way: from full wall murals, to large scale images, as well as smaller, cropped sections of the artwork.
The colours featured again in the upholstery, bringing the room together in a cohesive and purposeful way.
Creating zones within a space
One of the requirements in the charity’s brief was for quiet areas where staff could receive counselling, talk in confidence, or just take some time away. It wasn’t immediately obvious how we were going to achieve this in such an open space but where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we’re never ones to shy away from a challenge!
With this in mind, we started to think about creating other distinct zones within the space that would diversify the way it could be used, depending on the needs of the staff, and created three different, functional areas:
- Dining chairs and café style tables – a place to eat lunch or catch up on a coffee break
- Soft armchairs and coffee tables – somewhere to stop and take a breath
- Armchairs and sofas – an area that promotes total relaxation
We introduced the two quiet areas specified in the brief by using a high privacy back on the sofas. These acted as screens to separate the back corners of the room from the rest of the space, creating a feeling of cosiness and comfort for staff while they’re using it.
As ever in the current climate, we had to consider COVID-19 and make sure the layout of the whole room complied with social distancing requirements. A space of this size would usually accommodate far more people, but it was important for us to create a wellness room that promoted the staff’s physical health as well as supporting their mental health.
Designing such a large space can be a challenge in and of itself but on this occasion, we also had to consider how we were going to stop the space from feeling empty, even though we were using less furniture than we would expect in order to maintain social distancing.
Bringing the Outside In
Faux plants were used to fill the space whilst also bringing the natural theme of the room to life, stopping it from feeling cold or clinical.
As well as complementing the aesthetic of the room, the plants also have two very important purposes: to divide the area into zones without making any of them feel closed off, and to act as acoustic barriers – much like trees in their natural outdoor environment – to help prevent noise carrying too far and disturbing the tranquillity of the room as a whole.
“My favourite part of the design process was using the three colours and determining how they would all harmonise with the chosen artwork. They allow the beautiful, traditional paintings to take centre stage and help the space feel very contemporary. Traditional and contemporary don’t always go hand in hand and originally I was unsure how it was going to work but, once we got started, I was really pleased with the results.” ~ Victoria Boulton, Designer
Whilst we’ve always known how important a healing environment can be for patients, now more than ever it’s vital that hospitals act as a supportive working environment for the amazing people who work tirelessly to look after them.
Staff wellness rooms create a sanctuary away from the main working environment of the clinical team, offering them the chance to rest, regroup and recharge, ready for whatever the next part of their day may bring.
Want to find out more about creating a wellness space in your hospital? Get in touch with the team by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 01892 600 400.