Dominic Harbour, Loans Coordinator for Paintings in Hospitals, tells us about bringing the wellbeing benefits of nature and art to the patients and care staff at St Michael’s Hospice in Hereford.

My first experience of St Michael’s Hospice came in the 1990s after moving to the historic city of Hereford to work on the development of a new museum building to house its cathedral’s ancient treasures. It was here where I met Dr Richard Miller, a committed local GP with an interest in the holistic approach to end of life care. This, combined with his renowned fundraising skills, had paved the way for the creation of Herefordshire’s only dedicated hospice, St Michael’s, ten years earlier. It is no exaggeration to say that most people living in the county today have encountered St Michael’s Hospice in one way or another. Through their army of loyal volunteers, fundraisers and supporters; their patients and families, past and present; and their dedicated and caring clinical staff, St Michael’s Hospice is very much at the heart of this close and rural community.

In recent years Richard’s fundraising skills had been tested again in a project to repurpose the older hospice building into much needed day-care facilities and to add a high-spec timber-framed inpatient building. Today’s new facility provides private en-suite rooms, lounge and family areas, plus a terrace from which everyone can enjoy the magnificent Herefordshire countryside. It is a wonderful facility - though one that had many blank walls.

And so, it seemed fitting that (with additional support from the Herefordshire’s a Great Place and D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust) ‘the Herefordshire Countryside’ would become the theme for a new loan of artworks from Paintings in Hospitals to celebrate the breadth and quality of care provided by the hospice and its community.

I love trees and have worked in agriculture all my life. The sound of the trees when you are working alone is like music. I didn't think I would be painting today; it really has been a lot of fun.

In preparation for the selection of artworks, I was lucky enough to meet with over 120 staff, patients, volunteers and friends, leading them through a series of creative art activities. These included group discussions on the role of art in the hospice environment and the representation of nature and landscape in art.

Sticks and Stories workshop at St Michaels Hospice. A Paintings in Hospitals creative activity based on Jill Rocks The Story Stick.

As with all such conversations, contributions were diverse, personal, and often unexpected. Significant discussions focussed on the ancient and powerful symbolism of the tree - as a representation of growth and transformation, of fertility and resurrection. We enjoyed conversations about the different types of trees we each remembered, their companionship at different points in our lives. We heard tales of colourful folk traditions and considered a veritable forest made up of our own, various family trees.

Seeing how the sticks have turned out is beautiful. They are all different - everybody has made theirs differently. They show how different we all are. They are really beautiful.

These conversations helped shape a specially designed ‘Story Stick’ workshop for day patients, based around Jill Rock’s painted sculpture of the same name. In the 1990s, Jill spent time with Aboriginal artists in the Australian outback. This experience reconnected her with nature. On her return to England, Jill picked up a piece of tree bark, cleaned it, and painted it.

Jill Rock, The Story Stick (detail). Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

Jill Rock, The Story Stick (detail). Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

Jill’s The Story Stick sculpture had become a significant artwork in our earlier discussions thinking about abstract and environmental art. The Story Stick workshop is designed to encourage participants to create their own bright and colourful sticks while sharing stories of significant trees, loved ones and their own experiences of the healing power of nature.

Julian Trevelyan, Canal Holidays, 1975. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection now on display at St Michael’s Hospice.

Julian Trevelyan, Canal Holidays, 1975. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection now on display at St Michael’s Hospice.

The workshop is a fun activity to do either on your own or with your family and friends. You can try it for yourself and if you are ever near St Michael’s Hospice in Hereford, I encourage you to get in touch to make arrangements to visit them. There you will find Jill Rock’s ‘Story Stick’ welcoming you, along with a selection of 25 other tree-related, surprising, reflective, abstract, and energetic artworks displayed around this equally energetic, surprising and now colourful building.

I really enjoyed being involved. They are all such beautiful paintings and I wish we could have them all.

Find out how you can benefit from working with Paintings in Hospitals...

Dominic Harbour is a Paintings in Hospitals Loans Coordinator. His role involves organising our art loans and creative activities for health and social care providers. His career as a Curator and Arts Administrator includes partnerships with Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and The Foreign Office, plus many museums, galleries and health organisations. You can find Dominic on Twitter (@DominicPiH).