Feeling your Dream Hospital: A creative workshop

Rebecka Fleetwood-Smith reflects upon the use of creative approaches within the ‘Feeling Your Dream Hospital’ workshop, part of the Sensing Spaces of Healthcare Project.  

The Sensing Spaces of Healthcare project involves using historical and creative approaches to explore past, present and future NHS hospital environments. The project works in collaboration with Fresh Arts, North Bristol NHS Trust and GOSH Arts, Great Ormond Street Hospital, London. We work with NHS staff, patients, and visitors to identify sensory opportunities and challenges within specific hospital environments. Over the course of the project, we will develop a range of prototypes to address specific opportunities and challenges within certain hospital environments.

Creative research methods

Inviting people to share and explore their sensory experiences of and within specific environments can be challenging, as these experiences are inherently difficult to articulate. As such, the Sensing Spaces of Healthcare project involves using creative approaches to carry out research. Creative research methods draw upon art-based and design-led practices and typically involve using ‘things’ as a prompt or a tool to carry out research (see e.g., Kara 2015; Leavy 2015; Mannay 2010, 2015; Woodward 2020). Of particular interest to the Sensing Spaces of Healthcare project are the ways in which creative approaches can support a process of defamiliarization, whereby creative practice can allow people to re-engage with and re-consider a familiar environment. For example, Mannay (2010, 2015) found that collage making supported people to express themselves in alternative ways and prompted both participants and researchers to think differently about certain environments. The creative approaches developed over the course of this project have been informed by the expertise of our hospital arts project partners (Fresh Arts and GOSH Arts) and through creative development workshops carried out with members of the public, and patient and public involvement contributors. This piece shares a specific example of our work  (please find our recent publication here to learn more about our creative research methods).

Feeling your Dream Hospital workshop

The ‘Feeling your Dream Hospital’ workshop was born out of our interest in touch in the hospital environment. It was originally anticipated that touch may be explored using fabric swatches, objects with different tactile qualities and specific items that you may find within areas of the hospital; however informal conversations with artist and physiotherapist Nicola Lidstone led us to develop a creative activity that involved using air-dry clay. The malleable quality of clay is cited as allowing people to think through their hands, to explore ideas, emotions and experiences through the material. After initial development sessions with project partners, we developed ‘Feeling your Dream Hospital’. The title of the clay activity drew upon discussions with project partners and our want to create an accessible way to think about touch in the hospital. The conceptual positioning of the workshop and the notion that we were exploring our ‘dream hospitals’ attempted to create a sense of freedom and remove possible constraints concerning, for example, the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to approach the activity.

Figure 1: Mixed-media drawing made to explore a clay form. Image credit: Rebecka Fleetwood-Smith

Feeling your Dream Hospital was held over Zoom with Great Ormond Street Hospital’s Young Person’s Advisory Group and their facilitator Deirdre Leyden, and involved working with twelve young people. Attendees were sent a pack of materials including a booklet to guide them through the process, air-dry clay, clay modelling tools, and a protective mat to work on. I led the workshop in collaboration with Nicola Lidstone. We took part in the activity together, ‘live’, via Zoom. The process of working with clay harnessed the malleability of the material, allowing us to explore touch in the hospital in a variety of ways and forms. Workshop attendees were invited to think about touch in an aspirational way, as we have found that this acts as a flexible tool with which to support imaginative, playful responses, whilst also enabling a process of reflection whereby individuals re-engage with an environment.

The young people shared their creations with Nicola and I, and we responded to the forms created. For example, we used drawings, mark making, and collated notes to create a touch ‘index’ to think through the types of touch that the young people imagined in their dream hospitals. This work resulted in the creation of a ceramic form (see Figure 2) inspired by the young people’s pieces and informed by our own experiences. For example, the shape was inspired by Nicola’s journey through the hospital as a physiotherapist. The form encompasses notions from our ‘touch index’ which included, for instance, considering touch as ‘playful’, ‘natural’ and ‘comforting’. Rather than attempt to recreate or represent specific types of touch, we embraced ambiguity.

Figure 2. Ceramic Form. Image credit Nicola Lidstone.

The ceramic form we created is not considered an outcome, or a final piece, as it will be developed further through our work with a 3D printing specialist. This iterative way of working will see the form transformed as we recreate it using various materials and exploring different weights and sizes. In the future, we will use the 3D printed forms in hospital environments, working with patients, service users, and visitors during a series of object handling workshops. The object handling sessions draw upon object elicitation and design-led approaches which typically involve inviting participants to select, handle, discuss, critique, and reflect upon a series of specific things (see e.g., Woodward, 2020). In the case of this project, the 3D printed forms will be considered tools with which to provoke intrigue, engagement, and discussion around touch in the hospital. We anticipate that these workshops will allow us to better explore experiences of touch in specific areas of the hospital.

Figure 3: Creative development timeline. Image credit: Rebecka Fleetwood-Smith

As the work is ongoing, it is not possible to share the 3D printed forms here, however it is important to note that the forms will not be considered outcomes: they will be considered things with which to explore our research questions and develop our thinking. The iterative way in which we work has been honed throughout this project; our work with patient and public contributors, members of the public, and project partners all informs and shapes our creative approach to research.

Rebecka Fleetwood-Smith is a creative researcher working in arts, design and health. She is Research Associate on Sensing Spaces of Healthcare: Rethinking the NHS Hospital. Visit her Creative Reflections blog to find out more about her practice.

Sensing Spaces of Healthcare: Rethinking the NHS Hospital is led by Dr Victoria Bates and funded by Dr Bates’ UK Research & Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship [MR/S033793/1]. The project is run in collaboration with Fresh Arts, North Bristol NHS Trust, and GOSH Arts Great Ormond Street Hospital, London. Nicola Lidstone has collaborated on this piece of work. It is wonderful to work with GOSH Young Persons’ Advisory Group for research (YPAG) and Deirdre Leyden (Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement [PPI] Lead/GOSH YPAG facilitator) – without their insights this work would not have been possible.


Kara, Helen. 2015. Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. Bristol; Chicago: Policy Press.

Leavy, Patricia. 2020. Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice. New York: The Guilford Press.

Mannay, Dawn. 2010. “Making the Familiar Strange: Can Visual Research Methods Render the Familiar Setting More Perceptible?” Qualitative Research 10 (1): 91–111. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794109348684.

Mannay, Dawn. 2015. Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Routledge.

Woodward, Sophie. 2020. Material Methods : Researching and Thinking with Things. London; Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

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