International Women’s Day: Meet your Fresh Arts team

At the heart of Southmead Hospital are 12,000 staff members who work around the clock to care for patients and their families. From domestics and doctors to porters and pharmacists, there are so many incredible people who work hard to care for you and your loved ones. Today, on International Women’s Day 2022, we’re introducing you to two of a whole host of wonderful women your generous donations support.

Our hospital arts programme was first established in 2007, and in the last 14 years, it has gone from strength to strength. Employing more than 10 artists and musicians, with a team of around 60 volunteer pianists, Fresh Arts gives patients and staff the therapeutic benefits of engaging with music, dance, creative writing, and visual arts and crafts – and at its helm, Donna and Laura.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Donna: Laura and I frequently disagree about which of us has the best job in the trust and to date, we have failed to reach an agreement on this! The Arts on Referral programme is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. It’s a six-week course to support patients with chronic conditions to better manage their wellbeing through art, and seeing their transition from week one to week six – their glowing complexions, relaxed faces – and their confidence and self-esteem grow is just magical.

Laura: Building relationships with an enormous variety of different people. Being at NBT challenges me to think about work-life in ways I never have before. In a ‘normal’ week, I might meet clinicians, volunteers, patients, children from our on-site nursery, contractors, artists – the hospital community is hugely diverse! In the end, it all boils down to relationships, and it’s never boring!

Do you have a female role model who has helped you in your career?

Donna: There are many, yet I will always start with my mum as she is my greatest influence and inspiration.  She worked at Southmead from 1960 to 1966 as a filing clerk and I enjoy showing her pictures of the buildings, telling her about how the hospital is run now, and hearing about how it used to be when she worked here.  In some respects, you could say that she should still be on the payroll; in 2020, she knitted 50 teddies for our patients and another 47 in 2022, and together with her knitting club has also made dozens of blankets and twiddle muffs too!

Today, I work with the most incredible team at NBT.  We are led by Tricia Down who is an inspiring role model and encourages us all to strive every day for the best we can achieve for our patients.  We could not have a better colleague and role model for equality, kindness, and hard work than Laura who always goes above and beyond for every person she encounters during her working day; it is quite inspirational to observe her and I learn something new from her every day.

Laura: As a child, I was the only girl in a family of boys, so I spent most of my time railing against all aspects of femininity, to the point where Mum had to bribe me into a dress for a family wedding (my face is an absolute picture in all the photos – I look furious!). Mum went to college to train to be a teacher when my brother and I were quite young. As far as I know she was one of, if not the first in the family (women or men) to get a degree, and she used to take us into college with her, which I thought was brilliant! She did all of this in spite of her own teachers saying to her that there was really no point in her studying A Levels as they would be wasted on someone destined to be a housewife or a secretary! My family is full of strong women, Mum and my Gran particularly.

From my ‘other life’ outside of the hospital, I’m really lucky to have some incredibly inspiring friends and colleagues. And at the hospital, I work on a team of amazing, strong women. If you had told my trailblazing ultra-tomboy feminist 8-year-old self that in future I would work in a team with so many women I’m not sure she would have been delighted. But the reality is brilliant!

Why is Fresh Arts important to patients, but also families and staff?

Laura: For me, the arts programme is a reminder of the human side of healthcare. Clinicians might see a completely different side of an individual in their care when they are listening to their favourite music for example, and staff value that enormously. I have seen clinicians who are hugely busy turn a ward upside down to facilitate a concert experience for some extremely poorly patients, and the joy it gave the team sharing in music together, offering a lovely experience to people, often being cared for under very challenging circumstances, that’s such a wonderful gift to be able to give. I can’t wait to be able to take live music back to wards, it can transform the feel of a space, even in very dark moments.

Thank you for your support – it makes a huge difference to our patients, their families and our staff.

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