The Arthur Rank Hospice support adults living across Cambridgeshire with an advanced serious illness or other life limiting condition. It cares for more than 4000 patients each year at the Hospice in Cambridge, the Alan Hudson Day Care Centre in Wisbech and in patient’s own homes.

At the beginning of 2020 a community partnership began between the Arthur Rank Hospice and the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM).

At this time, the Living Well service at the Hospice offered a range of social activities and interactions for patients and carers to engage with, aiming to support their wellbeing. This offer took place at the Hospice in a large comfortably furnished room which could accommodate approximately 15 to 20 people and was supported by nursing staff and volunteers.

On a monthly basis two members from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Inclusion Team would join these sessions, taking A3 reproductions of paintings from the collection to share with the group.  Patients and carers were invited to take time to slowly look and explore the painting, before sharing their observations, thoughts and feelings about the artwork. This encouraged people to engage in group conversation and joint learning.

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown in March 2020 meant having to adapt quickly

Group sessions were transferred online via Zoom. Additionally, in response to the isolation many people experienced during the pandemic, a new group emerged for carers, who are often the partner or a family member.

One participant who came along to the carers group said,

I’ve come along today as it was highly recommended to me by my husband who loves these sessions. It is good to have the time to stop, to look and share as there’s always so much going on.

Thanks to vaccination, life is becoming a bit more normal, and in order to meet the varied needs of its patients, Arthur Rank Hospice are now offering face to face sessions at the hospice plus Zoom sessions. This enables them to engage more of their patients with the Museum’s programme.

The offer was extended to Alan Hudson Day Treatment Centre at Wisbech

This is part of the Arthur Rank Hospice and provides treatments and wellbeing support for people living in rural areas around Wisbech in north Cambridgeshire. This small purpose-built unit has a comfortable social room with double doors that open into a lovely courtyard garden.

The garden at the Alan Hudson Day Centre

Over the past two and a half years we have journeyed into many paintings together, discovering things about art and about each other, as the participants bring a broad range of personal experience and knowledge to the conversations.

We have looked at many paintings of nature covering a wide range of periods and styles, more recently focusing on themes in the ‘True to Nature’ and Hockney exhibitions. We have embraced nature and the elements through paintings of skies, intimate woodland scenes, shady streams and calm and stormy seas and mountains – by a range of artists including Constable, Turner, Corot, Joseph Wright of Derby and C. F. Sorenson, to name but a few.

A Beech Wood with Gypsies round a Campfire. Turner, Joseph Mallord William (British, 1775-1851).

Sharing our responses

We asked the question, does looking at nature in art make you feel better? To which participants responded

It’s the closest I get to nature and as such it’s priceless.

They are the kinds of places I have loved and been to many times in my life and they are the kinds of places I can no longer go to, but I can go to in my imagination.

I’ve had a frustrating day, but I feel happier now than I did when we started.

It was like the sea had come to comfort me on a difficult day.

Being born by the sea and spending time on the sea in a boat in all weathers, I love it.  I’m immediately drawn in, you can probably tell from my voice that I would love to be there.

Walking along the path near the river that would be a lovely thing to do, so peaceful.  That would be my happy place – I’d love to be there now on a day like today.

During our group conversations about the art works people have shared their likes and dislikes and their own personal life experiences. Some of the participants in the groups paint and the rest of the group have been keen to see their paintings.

Reflection by Nick Nelms, a participant of the Living Well sessions

For one artist when asked where do you paint? The response was

I paint in my bed, I’m a working-class Frida Kahlo

Another shared that seeing the use of blue in the shadows of the Impressionist paintings and especially the painting by P.W. Steer, Children paddling at Walberswick, had a big impact on him

I would never have painted it the way that I did if I hadn’t seen this painting, it’s extraordinary, the blue in the shadows. The first time I saw it I was completely blown away.

Faith Macrow a senior nurse and lead on the Living Well service said,

The sessions with the Fitzwilliam have led onto other things. The patients are now sharing their skills in Zoom sessions, such as how to create digital art, and iPads are being used in the hospice.

Virtual journeys of discovery inspire a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum

During our Zoom sessions people would ask about the Museum and if it was possible for them to visit. We began conversations about how we could extend a safe invitation for patients to come to the Museum in person and see some of the paintings we had explored together. This came to fruition in August, 2022 when the Museum opened its doors on a Monday for a group of 19 patients, their carers, plus an Arthur Rank Hospice member of staff and a volunteer. This was a momentous occasion for many people who had not visited the Museum in many years, or for some who were visiting for the first time. Experiencing the True to Nature and David Hockney exhibitions, together, as the only visitors in the galleries was very special. As was catching up socially over refreshments served in a marquee on the front lawn. Again, for many it was the first time they had seen each other in person since the pandemic.

Responses to the visit included:

There’s something very special about getting close to the actual paintings.  It was just so exciting and magical seeing how people do it.

It’s been an absolute revelation to me today.  I’m not much of an art lover, but it’s completely changed my perception just taking it all in and having it all explained to me.  It’s my first visit to an art gallery and I will definitely come back.

Being able to share my thoughts with others was very important to me.   I live alone and lots goes on up here but I have no one to share it with.

Since I’ve started seeing these paintings, I’ve learnt so much and my painting skills have developed.  I love it.

One participant who paints digitally, said about Hockney:

He’s taught me so much, looking at his iPad drawings, which is exactly one of the reasons I’m so excited to be here today visiting the museum.

A hospice member of staff shared:

It was a privilege and a pleasure to join you and our patients at the Fitzwilliam on Monday. Thank you so much for making time to give them a lovely experience. The planning and effort that clearly went into the event was much appreciated by all of us. Many thanks again for making our day.

We would like to acknowledge that this partnership has been a journey of discovery for the Fitzwilliam Museums Inclusion Team and we value the shared experiences and look forward to developing this important relationship with the hospice.