Wednesday 29 January 2014

Fun and rewarding creative sessions for young people in hospital

'Magic' Ball mini-beasts are one of my most popular felting activities and are especially good for drop-in sessions
Since 2008 I have been one of the artists who have had the privilege of working with young people while they have been in Birmingham Children’s Hospital; these creative sessions have been some of my most rewarding experiences. 

I am sensitive to people’s needs and can pick up on feelings or anxieties quickly and have an ability to put them at ease. 

I also see everyone simply as people and ideally I prefer not to say ‘young’ people or ‘older’ people. I feel that we are all people just at different stages of life. 

I work with all sorts of materials when making my own mixed media sculptures but over the years I seem to have done most of my outreach projects using the unusual medium of felt-making. I have found that felting is an amazingly versatile medium and I have developed my own methods to speed up the process - this has been especially useful when working with people with limited attention spans. I have also developed techniques which make it easier for people with limited physical abilities

Felting is a process which starts by participants first being intrigued by the wonderful range of colours of soft sheep’s wool fibres. 

When we get onto the wet part of the felting process everyone seems to get very relaxed and absorbed; the rhythmical rubbing with lovely Olive oil soapy water never fails to relax.

Making sure that we get results quickly is important too as sometimes I am working with a group of people who have very short attention spans or who have anxiety disorders. This sea themed felted wall hanging was made very speedily by a group of young people in Heathlands Ward at Parkview CAMHS clinic in Moseley, Birmingham (one of the largest Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the country).
Before and after pictures of the fishy sea themed wall-hanging
I have also worked on other wards. In one afternoon I worked with three young people on Irwin Ward and we made this wonderful space inspired sparkly wall hanging. 
Detail of space themed felted wall-hanging
I had gone all prepared to make something 'Doctor Who' inspired but when I arrived Callum (not his real name) had gone on a home visit. Being flexible and having ideas up your sleeve is pretty important when you are working in hospitals. The three young people who made this space picture came and went from the session as their energy allowed (they were all suffering from anorexia). But no matter how low in energy they were they all made a felted bangle at the end of the session too! It is always especially nice to make something that you can take home with you at the end of your time in hospital.

Getting the staff involved too is an additional reward when running creative activities in hospitals. Again at Parkview I worked with young people in Ashfield ward; there was only three in this group but they all had very different interests and needs. I was so proud of Alex who, on my second visit, made this Aston Villa felted picture. 
I made yellow pre-felt in advance of the session. This meant that Alex could trace the shape of the Aston Villa lion and then cut the shape from the pre-felt using his paper template. 
His confidence was extremely low but with the encouragement of one of the support team he managed to move from a simple felted ball to a felted picture. Raising his confidence and leaving him with something that was a concrete reminder of his abilities was exceedingly important. 

Sophie had big ambitions and worked away very quietly and made her own 3D felted cat in the same session- again one of the staff encouraged her by making his own felted cat alongside her. This was a great example of working alongside someone; just by sharing the experience you are helping them to gain confidence, you are both doing something new for the very first time. 

Two of my most admired felted wall hangings have been made by children on Ward 7, a clinical ward, in the main, Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham Children’s Hospital site. For this Summer Arts Project my brief was to engage as many patients as I could; to go to the hospital with no preconceived ideas of the theme of the wall-hangings but at the end of the day the expectation was that I would have facilitated the making of two wall-hangings which would be on permanent display in the ward and be seen by children of all ages. 

I took a selection of images along with me- Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Mario and Spongebob amongst others.

Very quickly I had a group of three girls aged about 10 and they were very keen to make a Hello Kitty themed wallhanging, I also had a student nurse in the group and she was very enthusiastic too. We worked around children going off for treatments but that can be tricky as I wanted to make sure that everyone was involved will every stage of the process.
Hello Kitty wall-hanging.
Top- dry wool fibres laid out. Bottom- after the wet felting process

With the first wall-hanging completed we were able to show more patients what we had made and in the afternoon a couple more joined my little ‘felting posse’. Believe it or not we worked from a tiny image on someone’s smart phone. I had admired her new Muppets tee-shirt (it just had Animal on it) and that was where the idea of making a muppets wall-hanging came from. It is amazing what you can do with just an image on a smart phone to work from! 

I was especially pleased that we made Miss Piggy’s necklace using circles cut from sparkly fabric. I have found that you have to go to hospital art sessions with a wide range of materials... just incase you never know what you might need!
Ward 3 - now called Ocean Ward - is  one which I have worked in on several projects in 2008, 2009 and 2012.

I am still so very proud of the felted glove puppets that were made in the All About Me project. After my first session with the young people in this ward I discovered that football was a what most of them were especially interested in. I took a note of favourite teams and players and went along to the next session armed with images printed onto cotton fabric. The young people were wowed that I even knew the players numbers (I did need to research this!) When finished, the glove puppets were able to play table-top football with the big stuffed felted ball that Amir had made in the first felting session. 
Some of the young people had dexterity problems but that didn't stop their enthusiasm and everyone was really proud of their achievements 
On Ocean ward we have made quite a range of creations, Mini-beasts, cushions, felted flowers purses and another large felted wall-hanging. 
This was based on a fantasy digital game and everyone in the group added to the design. 

Even boys like making their own special purse
Cushions and flowers made by children in Ocean Ward. Part of the 'AllAbout Me' creative sessions at Birmingham Children's Hospital
Completed wallhanging designed and made by children in Ocean Ward
Here you can see how everyone's ideas were included in the fantasy PC game wall-hanging design 
And finally, even at Christmas a stay in hospital can be made more fun; we even made our own small felted Christmas Stockings. 

It is my philosophy that everyone, whatever their abilities and personal circumstances, has the right to learn a new skill and to have the opportunity to make unique artwork of their own. My mission is, “To nurture and encourage people’s imagination and creativity in a fun and enthusiastic way”. 

I feel privileged to have been part of these young people’s lives especially during a hospital stay which will have been a challenging time in their lives and I look forward to leading more exciting creative sessions with children (and indeed people of all ages!) 

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