Guest blog: Hospitals and Other Habitats by Susie Hall

Joanna Brinton, GOSH Family Arts Week

In our planet’s current state, the declaration of a climate emergency is an obvious decision to make. This is the only way for Great Ormond Street to publicly show that the hospital are seriously considering the issue of climate change and are committed to holistically caring for the future generation’s health, beyond the clinical terms. It is an opportunity for the hospital, trusted by so many to use their influence and resources in a positive manner, to spearhead the climate movement among similar healthcare organisations.”

I feel very lucky that as an arts programme we can be led by the passion of our patients. This quote, from GOSH patient Rose Dolan, and endorsed by all 25 members of our Young People's Forum, clearly shows us the way.

As our Trust moves towards declaring Climate Emergency, so too as a hospital arts programme we must follow the clear instruction from our passionate and dedicated young people.

As well as the practical aspects of reducing our own environmental impact, and becoming more sustainable (goodbye glitter!), we want to work with artists whose practice is inspired by or resonates with these themes. Whether that is exploring the use of natural materials that can still pass infection control in our public art commissions, or working with artists in our participatory programme to develop projects that help us understand the world we live in, and create a new narrative for the future. Whilst recognising the unique position of the arts to communicate climate emergency and promote sustainability – whether that’s through more environmentally friendly practices and materials, or the power of cultural engagement.

Our theme this year is ‘Biophilia’ (and no, I didn’t know what it meant before either!) – the love of nature. Our artistic planning has been inspired by the relationship between people and their environment, our innate connection to the natural world, and its positive impact on health and wellbeing. Even before Covid our hospitals could be sterile places, often very far removed from nature. There are some amazing exceptions - Alder Hey in the Park, many very lovely hospital gardens - but even so, greenery in healthcare settings is often relegated to a small unloved patch next to the smoking area. And yet we crave ‘green’ to the extent that even looking at a picture of a landscape can improve mood.

So this year we are working with artists and organisations that place the natural world at the center of their practice and are making work inspired by nature, ecology and sustainability. Some examples include; craft and wellbeing collective Head and Hands curating regular activity include weaving, natural plant dyes, wooden block printing, embroidery, wreath making, macramé and more. The aim is to focus on physical involvement in creative process, working with the hands (or other body parts), and ‘slow crafts’, as a reaction against constant consumption and throw-away products, but also as aides to mindfulness and the positive mental state of ‘flow’. With the use of natural and sustainable materials for environmental reasons, but also for their tactile and sensual connection to wellbeing.

We are considering our physical reaction to nature through workshops and performances of Anne Colvin's Imprint – a collaboration between professional and non-professional dancers (i.e. our patients, families and staff!) to choreograph work in response to wild and uncultivated environments.

At the intersection of ecology and technology we are working with artist Fabric Lenny – whose fantastical Awekids performances turn the electrical impulses of plants into playable sounds accompanied by live graphic illustration – on a project called Plant Magic.

Honeyscribe are asking staff and families to collect plants and flowers from their daily lock down walks, that they will turn into stunning lightboxes that can be brought to the bedside and moved around the hospital – a reminder of how important our connection to the outside was during the height of the pandemic, and a record of peoples’ heightened appreciation for the natural world when their access to it was restricted.

One project we would like your help with is Hospital Habitats, created by the artists Something & Son. Their work explores social and environmental issues via every day scenarios, criss-crossing the boundaries between the visual arts, architecture and activism. Through permanent installations, functional sculptures and public performance that build communities and create new ecologies.

Hospital Habitats invites young people to re-imagine their hospital as an environment for wildlife, and comes out of Something &Son’s long term project The Manuals which explores a new culture where humans create rather destroy ecosystems through our daily actions.

As part of the project we are working in partnership with The Wildlife Trusts, so that alongside understanding how the hospitals function, young people can research and understand the type of ecologies that could possibly thrive in a hospital ecosystem.

The project will lead to a series of speculative ideas for the near future that propose how GOSH, and the infrastructures and systems that underpin it, could be re-appropriated so that they support nature as well as humanity.

The project is open to all young people – please do share it with your patients and partners

Despite, or even because of Covid, we are more committed than ever to delivering these projects. ECHO, the European Children’s Hospitals Organisation, recently published their ‘Green Promise’ – based on the input of young people in hospitals across Europe. They pledge ‘…TO MAKE SUSTAINABILITY AN INTEGRAL PART OF HOW WE CARE FOR CHILDREN’, and as an art programme we pledge to make sustainability an integral part of how we create art with, and for, young people and families.


Susie Hall is Joint Head of GOSH Arts.

GOSH Arts is the award-winning arts and creativity programme at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Something & Son

Head and Hands


Fabric Lenny

IMPRINT for Our City Dances, Devil's Dyke 2019 from Anne Colvin on Vimeo.