France-Lise McGurn, Northside House photographed by Damian Griffiths. Courtesy of Hospital Rooms.

With a dedication to 'bringing the highest-quality artwork and creative activities' into mental health spaces, Hospital Rooms works with acclaimed artists to help transform the experiences of those living with the most serious mental health diagnoses.

In today's 'Five Minutes with...' interview, we speak to the charity's founders Tim A Shaw and Niamh White to discover more about Hospital Rooms' philosophy; its proudest - and most ambitious - project; and how the charity's Digital Art School will bring a free, national three-year art programme to every inpatient NHS mental health unit in England this year.

How did Hospital Rooms come about?

We founded Hospital Rooms after a close friend of ours was sectioned and admitted to a mental health hospital. When we visited her, we were taken aback by the cold and clinical environment, especially during such a vulnerable time. With a decade of experience in the arts, between us we realised we had the skills and networks to transform these spaces - and that’s what we set out to do.

In 2016, we initiated our first project at the Phoenix Unit, a rehabilitation unit for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. We collaborated with renowned artists such as Nick Knight, Gavin Turk, and Assemble, engaging both patients and staff to create site-specific artwork for the ward. The project garnered national press attention, and ever since, Hospital Rooms has been flooded with requests for projects.

What is the philosophy behind Hospital Rooms?

The philosophy behind Hospital Rooms stems from recognising the evidence that the arts can significantly contribute to maintaining a sense of personal dignity and control for patients in challenging circumstances.

Even individuals with existing creative practices often find it challenging to sustain creative outlets due to a lack of materials, capacity, or understanding.

Poor mental health affects the quality of life of millions of adults and children. Our beneficiaries are people who live with some of the most difficult mental health diagnoses. Although definitions are contentious, people with Severe Mental Illness (SMI) are commonly understood to be frequently and chronically debilitated by mental illness, and around 500,000 people are currently diagnosed with SMI (Public Health England 2022).

In response to these challenges, Hospital Rooms is dedicated to bringing the highest quality artwork and creative activities into these mental health spaces. We collaborate with acclaimed artists to catalyse a fundamental shift in the way we perceive and treat individuals facing the most difficult mental health diagnoses. As a registered charity and part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, we strive to bridge the gap and enhance the presence of art and creativity in the mental health care landscape.

Are there any projects you're particularly proud of?

The Hospital Rooms project at Springfield University Hospital pushed us as an organisation to make the most ambitious artworks we’ve ever done. We worked with over 20 artists, sometimes installing artworks standing on mobile platforms more than 15 metres high, with vastly different media (from gold leaf, to fine art photographic prints, magnetised walls and ceramics) and at scales we had never been able to realise before.

It’s also a process that rewarded us with connections, friendships and community.

The project introduced new partnerships with local cultural organisations such as ActionSpace, The Courtauld, National Opera Studio, Share Community and Studio Voltaire. From 2021 until 2022 service users and staff participated in over 100 workshops across inpatient Springfield University Hospital wards, the Recovery College and The Leon Kossoff Learning Centre at The Courtauld.

Our work at Springfield University Hospital was an opportunity to commission artwork that recognised the ethnically diverse hospital community and give a sense of ownership of the space for the service users. We worked with majority ethnically diverse artists who made artworks that were co-produced with service users during their workshops. We hope this will take a small step towards re-dressing the hierarchies that have been long entrenched in mental health institutions and empower those who are receiving care.

What's next for Hospital Rooms?

In May 2024, we’re incredibly excited to re-launch our award-winning Digital Art School - a free, national three-year art programme for every inpatient NHS mental health unit in England. The Digital Art School has been designed with and for people with Severe Mental Illness to be facilitated within inpatient wards by NHS Occupational Therapists, Occupational Therapy Apprentices, Art Therapists, Activity Coordinators, and Teachers. The programme includes instructional learning resources, featuring workshop sessions led by world-class artists, designers and creatives including Jose Carlos, Giles Deacon and Ken Nwadiogbu.

Since launching the Hospital Rooms Digital Art School during the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve already reached viewers in 33 countries

With this year’s re-launch, we’re upscaling even further with our programme of arts workshops, plus a free box of high-quality art materials, carefully curated and delivered to every one of over 650 NHS mental health wards in England.

Mental health service-users often don’t have a choice about being treated in NHS mental health wards (as they may be treated under a Section of the Mental Health Act), and they have told us they are ‘like being in a void’, ‘horrible’ and ‘frightening’ places; these environments are inadequate and not conducive to recovery. In these spaces, there are a number of access barriers to creativity including restrictions on materials and content (due to safety concerns) and a number of challenging symptoms from hearing voices, hallucinations, delusions, fatigue, chronic depression as well as various physical side effects from powerful and sometimes sedative medication. Social factors, inequalities, and structural racism also influence service-user experience.

As well as providing access to creativity and expression to mental health service users, the Digital Art School will provide a unique and unprecedented opportunity to gain an understanding of the needs, preferences and challenges of this audience, who have been historically under considered and neglected by the arts sector through our considered evaluation methodology. Our findings will be shared with the wider arts and mental health sectors, unlocking new insights and understanding.

Find out more and support the work of Hospital Rooms: or contact the Cultural Comms team on