Patients’ experiences being turned into poetry as part of Southmead Hospital project

Monday, 7 September 2015

Patients have been contributing to poems as part of an arts project at Southmead Hospital.

Lifelines has seen writer Sue Mayfield visiting patients on a range of wards and talking to them about the things they most value in life.

Following these conversations, Sue works with patients to compile 14-word ‘lifeline’ poems, which they can then keep.

Sue first started working with people in the hospital during last year’s Fresh Arts Festival. She spent time in the wards and in the atrium of the Brunel building talking to patients and visitors about the people or things they see as their lifelines and turning them into poetry.

As the Trust’s writer-in-residence Sue has been visiting Southmead Hospital once a month since January, spending time inside departments across the hospital including the Brunel building, Elgar House, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the Bright Renal Dialysis Unit and the Rosa Burden Centre.

Their poems will be displayed in the hospital as part of the Fresh Arts Festival later this month. And people who attend the two-day festival, will also have the chance to sit with Sue and work on their own poems. Patients who have been part of the project will also receive a small hand-printed booklet featuring their poem, printed and made by students from the Artists’ Books course run by UWE at Spike Print Studio who will be in the Brunel building as part of the festival.

Sue said: “We chat about the things people think of as their lifelines - the things that keep them in the game, and give them joy, meaning and hope. Sometimes it’s special people, or places or simple things, like making yourself a cup of tea or stroking the cat.

“The conversations are prompting thought and reflection and in some cases patients are connecting with a part of their life that is perhaps temporarily or permanently lost, such as those patients who have a condition or injury that affects their mobility, yet they love to walk or run or ride a horse.

“Other people have talked about staff and the quality of care they have received and how much that has mattered.”

People have shared memories, talked about their loved ones, their animals, the music they like to listen to or the things they miss from home while they are in hospital. 

And there have been times where talking to Sue has meant that patients had remembered more than they thought they were able to.

Some of the words gathered from the conversations will appear on banners during the festival, while others, chosen by hospital staff, are being incorporated into a wood panel which will go on permanent display in the atrium of the Brunel building.

Ruth Sidgwick, North Bristol NHS Trust’s Fresh Arts Manager, said: “We know that coming to hospital can be a difficult time for people and sometimes quite frightening, Sue has been able to be a filter for the emotions of the people she has been speaking to.

“They might not be able to articulate the feelings they are having through the written word or even speech in some cases but Sue can talk to them and work with them to create their own poem, which they can take away with them.”

Sue added: “There has been a lot of research about the value of arts in hospital and writing is a part of that.

“People find it useful talking through what’s been painful, what’s been difficult, what’s been wonderful.”

Tracey Lucas, Ward Sister on 32B, one of the wards where patients have taken part in Lifelines, said: “The patients who have taken part in this project from 32B have found the experience quite therapeutic.

“It has given them the opportunity to sit down and talk with Sue and they have liked being involved in making their own poem.”

 The two-day Fresh Arts Festival will highlight the role that the arts and creativity play in supporting healthcare.

It gives local people who have not yet visited the hospital the chance to take a look inside the Brunel building and see how it was designed to be a more pleasant environment for patients, staff and visitors, incorporating art to both distract and help people relax. The festival will also showcase some of the projects that patients, staff and volunteers have been involved with inside the hospital and the local community as part of the North Bristol NHS Trust Fresh Arts programme.

Fresh Arts is supported by Southmead Hospital Charity

For more information about the festival visit

Examples of patients’ Lifelines poems

  • The support of family keeping me motivated and lifting me when things are tough.
  • Being in touch with others in the same situation. You know you’re not alone.   
  • Walking by water, through woods, in open meadows full of grasses and wild flowers.  
  • Dancing is a free spirit floating on air bringing mind and body together, heavenly.        
  • I cup my hand over her. Stroking, calming, comforting. She knows I’m here. Everyday.
  • Kindness. Caring people keeping in touch. Texts every night. Phone calls asking ‘How are you?’