Text: The Young People's Ward

In the past, Protégé has worked with students at the hospital on a one-to-one basis - this was our first time working with a group there. This was a really important aspect of the project. As well as introducing the students to new creative techniques, we wanted to give them a space and time where they could talk to each other – and to us – relax, express themselves, and take their minds off their physical restrictions and pain.

As we learned throughout the term, students on the ward share a sense of isolation from their peers, a sense of missing out on their ordinary day-to-day lives at school and at home. The wonderful teachers and teaching assistants at the hospital school are always on a quest to create a home-away-from-home and a school-away-from-school for the students, somewhere where they can belong. Working with the hospital school staff, we wanted to contribute to this effort, Protégé style…


Text: Imagining the London Skyline

One wall of the Hospital School classroom is lined with windows, and looks out over a spectacular, twelfth floor view of the London skyline. This is the view that the young people on the ward see every day. For the first few sessions of the term, we drew on the world outside the windows as inspiration, and invited the students to use the world inside their heads to transform it in any way they wanted, to create the view of London they wanted to see. Although the view is a beautiful one, some of the students have only this to look at for months at a time, and we felt that they might appreciate an opportunity to escape from it in their minds. 

Some students liked the view the way it was and others wanted to change it, adding greenery, abstract forms and amazing colours. They created beautiful artworks in a range of media – pencil, paint, and textiles – learning a variety of techniques through which to express their ideas.

One student – who, like many of the others, is hooked up to an intravenous feed – said that she wanted to make something to cover her fluid bag, because she didn’t like the way it looked. She created a beautifully embroidered cloth cover showing an image of a building on the skyline (see slideshow below). This was an enormous challenge for this student, who participated in the sessions from her hospital bed, which nurses wheeled into the classroom, and who was completely unable to use her dominant right hand. She completed this incredibly intricate project with the help of one of the Protégé artists and by embroidering using her non-dominant hand both during and in-between sessions, in order to finish it.

Text: Working as a Group

The students who attended the sessions week-on-week varied – the size of the group varied from one or two students to six or seven. Students’ attendance depended on their physical condition and their state of mind on the day. Some students came to the first few sessions and were later discharged or moved to another hospital. Others were new to the ward, and joined us towards the end of the term.

During the first few sessions, the students worked happily and productively, but quietly, sometimes seeming nervous to share their ideas and get started with work. As the term went on though, the sessions got livelier and livelier. Students began to talk more freely and openly with each other and with the artists, and they began to work much more independence, choosing materials confidently and starting without hesitation.

In spite of shifting student attendance, a comfortable and energetic group dynamic evolved, and our sessions quickly became the best attended of any offered on the ward throughout the week. Two or three female students became regulars of the group, attending almost every week, unless they were physically unable to. Two of these students attended sessions in wheelchairs, and the other (mentioned earlier) participated from her hospital bed.

Despite these physical restrictions, and the discomfort they must have caused, these students committed themselves to attending sessions whenever possible. They seemed to get a great deal out of the sessions, becoming increasingly comfortable with us as the term went on, and sharing their thoughts and feelings through their work and conversation. 

Text: House and Home

As the term went on, the focus of the sessions shifted from the skyscrapers of London to something smaller – houses. Students transformed miniature cardboard houses using a range of materials and techniques. As in the case of the skyline, some students interpreted the brief traditionally and others more fantastically. Some worked on the exterior of the houses and others on the interior.

This was a pertinent project for the students, who were all away from their own homes, living short and long term on the ward. This stimulated some important and sometimes difficult discussions within the group. Starting from the same point – the blank, white house – it was amazing to see how divergent the results were, and what this expressed about how the students’ individual reactions to the theme. 

Text: The Festive Season

As the Christmas holidays approached, we began to introduce the students to some of the products designed, produced and sold by artists at the Protégé Boutique. These included Protégé baubles, Christmas crackers and cards. We introduced students to the specialist techniques used to create these products, and they went on to create their own personalised versions.

Christmas is a difficult time of year on the ward, as many of the young people are unable to return home for the holidays. It felt important to contribute to an attempt to distract students from their disappointments and difficulties, as well as to discuss these feelings when students felt comfortable to do so.

Students were clearly inspired by the quality of the items we showed them, and by those they created in spite of their physical restrictions. They took a great deal of pride in the results of their work, and used the items to decorate the classroom and their personal areas on the ward. This was a successful end to the term, and it was obvious to us, and to the staff at the hospital school, that the students’ confidence in their abilities had developed considerably since we arrived.