Location: Eye, Suffolk

I have never seen [this resident] so captivated and content before.

About the Project

Art in care homes can provide many opportunities for residents to use their imagination, make connections and reminisce. Arts participation offers a chance for residents to express themselves, learn a new skill (or return to an old one), and form a stronger sense of personal identity that can sometimes be diminished in care. Part of Care UK, the country's largest independent provider of care, Hartismere Place in Eye provides residential, nursing and dementia care for older people. Paintings in Hospitals was supported by the Dunhill Medical Trust to bring art and creativity into care homes in the East of England to improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable older people. We worked with the residents and staff of three Care UK care homes, including Hartismere Place.

Our project was carefully designed to support care home residents in three ways. We aimed to:

  • Provide the knowledge and confidence for residents to feel a greater sense of ownership and control over their care home environment
  • Humanise the care environment and create more meaningful visual interest for residents
  • Provide activities that promote self-expression, promote reminiscence, and reduce loneliness through social interaction.

Paintings in Hospitals sculpture-making activity with residents of Hartismere Place, Eye.

The Art and Activities

This project involved residents in the selection and curation of a new 10-artwork display at Hartismere Place. It also provided residents with the opportunity to learn and express themselves creatively in a practical artmaking workshop. We worked alongside carers to ensure that more vulnerable residents, including those who were unable to communicate verbally, could participate.

The activities took the form of:

  • An artwork selection workshop, including a group discussion about art and memories, and a vote on preferences.
  • A creative clay sculpture making workshop inspired by birds in the chosen artworks.

Roger Hardy, St Ives Seagull, 2002. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection at Hartismere Place.

Roger Hardy, St Ives Seagull, 2002. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection at Hartismere Place.

With some gentle encouragement and inspiration, residents became lively and highly engaged in the discussion workshop. They were guided through an open group chat about opinions of certain types of artwork and many participants shared memories evoked by the art they were viewing. The follow-up sculpture-making workshop provided a brand-new experience for the participants and was a happy and expressive session that set a precedent for future activities at the care home.


Feedback from residents and carers about Hartismere Place’s new artwork display and our artmaking workshop was overwhelmingly positive, with some residents and staff asking for more. Inspired by the initial artwork discussion session, our sculpture-making workshop utilised air-drying clay: something the residents had never used before and enjoyed.

Viewing the care home’s new artworks for reference, each participating resident made their very own bird sculpture, discussing the artworks, the birds, their shapes and colours as they went. A couple, who were married and both residents at the care home, discussed the birds they had seen and liked in the past. They also reminisced about their married life together and their old pet cat. The group constantly chatted to each other about what their bird sculpture was looking like. When each sculpture dried, residents were able to paint them in colour to bring them to life. It is hoped that they can then put them on display in their rooms or around the care home, should they wish.

Using clay proved to be a very effective way of enabling older individuals to express themselves, especially for people who were limited to nonverbal communication. It has also been shown to be a calming sensory experience for residents with dementia. The act of creation and the process itself is even more important than the resulting artwork in this workshop. One carer remarked that they had never seen a particular resident so absorbed and focused on a task before and, although the resident was unable to express themselves verbally, they were clearly enjoying their sculpting experience.

Frans Wesselman, Black Headed Gull. Part of the Paintings in Hospitals collection at Hartismere Place.

I like this artwork. It reminds me of my sailing days.

Next Steps

The final selection of 10 artworks that would make the biggest impact on residents’ wellbeing went on display at Hartismere Place for the following two years. After participating in the clay sculpture-making workshop with Paintings in Hospitals, carers felt more confident in leading similar such activities in the future. Options for more art engagement activities from Paintings in Hospitals, including further artmaking workshops inspired by the artworks on display, are available to ensure continued interaction and the making of meaningful connections with the residents’ new art.

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