East Lothian Community Hospital

Building Better Healthcare Gold Award Winner 2023

Going to hospital can be stressful for patients but having a welcoming environment both inside and out can make it feel less daunting.

In realising the holistic, dementia-friendly art and environment strategy for the new East Lothian Community Hospital, we have created an inclusive, people-centred healthcare environment where nature and the arts are instrumental in improving the physical and mental wellbeing of patients, staff and visitors, having a positive healing effect.

The programme permeates the hospital building and grounds with artworks and design that draw upon the unique landscape and stories of East Lothian. It was founded on supporting and promoting the experience of patients as they navigate the physical and emotional experience of arriving, waiting, receiving treatment and staying in hospital.

Sanctuary © Lindsay Perth, photo by Lindsay Perth

Through the use of nature it aimed to inject personality and character into a clinical setting, both providing positive distracting focal points and creating a calm and soothing environment for difficult times. The end result is a spacious, light, colourful and comforting environment that supports patients through their healthcare journey and envelopes the hospital building and grounds in art, poetry and creative spaces which evoke the region’s natural world and encourage outdoor activity.

“If you feel that the holistic environment has been designed and built with care and love – like this bespoke environment which speaks of the local landscape – then it makes you feel like you will be treated with care and love as an individual.”

Mark Nixon, NEON, Commissioned artist/ designer

Drawing on elements of nature can quickly take you out of a clinical space, which can feel confined or detached from the outside world. Commissioned artists worked with patients and staff at the hospital to understand their needs and look at how they could evoke an immersion in nature.

Baralettes © Alex Allan, photo by Matthew Barnes
Baralettes © Alex Allan, photo by Matthew Barnes

The commissions are an excellent example of how using creative interventions and therapeutic art which centre around nature and the outdoors can help guide patients and families out of situations that can be distressing and momentarily give a sense of freedom and distraction. Replicating the emotional and psychological benefits of engagement with nature through art contributes to healing, recovery, and a more patient-centred approach to care. Artworks focused on:

  • The importance of ‘nature bathing’ to stimulate senses, be energising, restorative and calming, such as NEON’s Glade atrium installation as well as selected works by Katie Fowlie and Juliana Capes
  • The importance of bringing the local landscape outdoors in, such as Natalie Feather, Alicia Bruce, Sylwia Kowalczyk and Simon Crofts
  • The importance of local context of East Lothian and artworks that draw upon the unique landscape and stories of East Lothian, such as Kenny Hunter’s outdoor sculptures of local animals (pit ponies, greyhounds and rabbits).
  • Encouraging activity in the outdoor environment, such as Alex Allen’s sculptures.

It just makes you smile. People like this space because there’s interesting things to see and do when they’re in the hospital and the artwork has created that… Patients need things that are tactile; they need things to see and interact with and which bring the outdoors in.”

Miriam, Capital Project Manager

As an integral part of the capital planning process, NHS Lothian Charity’s Tonic Arts team worked with NHS Lothian patients, staff, and leading Scotland-based artists and contemporary makers to deliver a comprehensive creative programme that permeates the centre with a warm welcome, a sense of calm and create space for quiet contemplation, respite and interest. Help to meet the emotional needs of people in hospital by including them in decisions about the spaces they occupy.

When you’re in hospital as a patient, your world becomes extremely small, you’re confirmed to a quite a small space and your day’s very routine and monotonous. And to be able to go and look at a piece of work – is a respite from everything else.”

Anne, Patient and Carer

Understanding the hospital community needs and keeping these at the centre of decisions was paramount. Patient/staff-artist collaboration was central in both the commissioning and making of artworks throughout this programme. The arts strategy was developed after a public consultation (involving a series of in-person events and online questionnaires). Out of that, a series of commissioning opportunities for artists were identified at the site. A commissioning team was then put in place that included patient representatives, members of the community and staff, interviewing and selecting artists and reviewing design stages. Throughout the commissioning period all the artists worked with staff and community groups to explore ideas, identify the direction the works would take and develop detailed proposals for their sites. Including:

  • Local community: Neon collaborated with local school pupils to ensure that their design helped embed the hospital within the East Lothian community.
  • Patients: Craft Scotland supported an artists’ residency delivered by Fiona Hermse, who worked with mental health patients. Alicia Bruce also worked with patients as part of her commission.
  • Clinical and patient collaboration: Alex Allan and Physiotherapists developed a series of exercise sculptures in the grounds of the hospital.

Take a tour of the different commissions throughout the hospital

Feedback from Stakeholders

It feels pioneering that we’re building hospitals like this now that are completely holistic, delivering medical care but also treating patients like whole people.”

Kenny Hunter, Artist

Dementia and mental health needs can often mean quite a confusing and challenging time. To counter that, the art has brought a lot to making the ward a homely and welcoming environment.
I have a lot of patients who stand and look at the art throughout the day, breaking up their time of being on the ward. We have family members who are finding it very challenging that their relatives are here and they’ll mention how warm and welcoming the ward is. And the art has been a massive part of that.”

Michelle, Charge Nurse

As we’ve found out through this project, getting people outdoors to do prescribed exercise is extremely beneficial.”

Alex, Artist, Outdoor Physio Sculptures

From a physiotherapy perspective we’ve been delighted, especially so with the ramp and steps Alex created for us in the outdoor area beside our department. It is both ideal functionally and infinitely more interesting than something ‘off the shelf’… In this instance art can play a direct role in rehabilitation.”

Advanced Physiotherapy Practitioner Guy Whitehead

I was always made to feel involved; I was genuinely part of the decision making… I felt very listened to and that my comments carried as much weight as any of the other people involved.”

Anne, Patient and Carer

Scroll through to view some of the artworks and commissions:

Find out more about how we are enhancing environments and enriching patient experience by reading our case studies

In the Trees detail© John Brown, photo by cro+kow

Social and Geographic Context: Edinburgh Haematology Centre

I find myself gazing into a circular haze of blue. I could be looking at a picture of the earth, […]

Read more
Baralettes © Alex Allan, photo by Matthew Barnes ELCH

Clinical Collaboration

There’s a multitude of studies with evidence that people actually heal and repair more quickly in a creative physical environment,” […]

Read more
Horse © Kenny Hunter, photo by cro+kow

Context and Place: East Lothian

What does it mean to commission artworks for a hospital? There are certain requirements the artists and makers must consider […]

Read more
Sanctuary © Lindsay Perth, photo by Rebecca Milling

Crafting of Considered Spaces; Mindful Making

In the market town of Haddington in East Lothian, a purpose-built modern healthcare facility is operating with an innovative approach […]

Read more
The East Lothian Community Hospital Arts Environmental Strategy was commissioned by Tonic Arts and managed and curated by Arabella Harvey from Round Table Projects, with co-funded support from national body Craft Scotland.