Vital Arts transforms Royal London Children’s Hospital

Since 2012, Vital Arts has been working with artists and designers to make the Royal London Children’s Hospital feel more welcoming for young visitors. The building’s transformation is now complete, with new works by illustrator Chris Haughton, textiles designer Donna Wilson and toy designers Miller Goodman.

Vital Arts is the arts organisation for Barts Health NHS Trust. Founded in 1996, it aims to improve patient experiences at hospitals by commissioning murals, installations and designs by leading creatives, and running arts participation programmes and workshiops.

We first featured the organisation’s work with Royal London’s Children’s Hospital in our April 2013 issue (read the feature here), when it unveiled an activity space featuring giant 3D characters and graphics by Morag Myerscough and a responsive digital installation by Chris O’Shea (the project was later named Best in Book in our 2014 Annual):

The activity space at the Royal London Children’s Hospital, designed by architects Cottrell and Vermeulen and designer Morag Myerscough with installation by Chris O’Shea

In 2012, the group also worked with textiles designer Ella Doran to create print designs for bed curtains and furniture featuring flowers, kites, ballons and London skylines, while Myerscough created a ‘warm welcome’ mural for a reception space, inspired by a trip to India:

Textile designs by Ella Doran

Bollywood Circus by Morag Myerscough, image by Gareth Gardner


Since then, Vital Arts has worked with a series of artsts and designers to create large-scale murals for various corridors and rooms: last month, children’s book illustrator Chris Haughton (author of Oh No, George!) created a colourful collection of creatures for the paediatric assessment and short stay unit, shown top and below, assigning a different animal rather than a number to each room.

The lion room, for example, features a lion’s face on the door, vinyl lion stickers and a framed lion rug handmade in Nepal by a fairtrade group co-founded by Haughton, and corridors are adorned with vinyl stickers of bears, cats, aardvarks and elephants as well as a monkey dressed as a doctor. There’s also a framed portrait of Haughton’s ‘hat monkey’ character:

Animals! by Chris Haughton, image by Jess Bonham

Donna Wilson painted large-scale rural scenes with wooden trees and snow-capped mountains in the haematology ward in April, and invited patients to participate by stamping patterns on to hills:

Donna Wilson, Painted Landscapes. Photography by Joe Clark

While in November, toy designers Miller Goodman (Zoe Miller and David Goodman) transformed the respiratory ward with scenes inspired by their PlayShapes range, a collection of 74 wooden shapes that can be combined to create new shapes and patterns. As well as vinyl stickers placed on walls and windows, the pair used wooden birds, flowers, monkeys and snails to add a 3D element to the space:

Miller Goodman’s Imaginary Menagerie. Photos by Jess Bonham

Product designer Tord Boontje also brightened up the critical care ward with colourful scenes of flowers, fauna and wild animals, alongside laser cut perspex shapes to add depth and shadow:

Tord Boontje, Happy Day. Image by Gar Powell-Evans

With five wards and 130 beds, the Royal London Children’s Hospital now cares for over 40,000 young people each year, and Vital Arts hopes its collaborations with various creatives will make the prospect of spending a night under its roof a little less daunting.

By woking with innovative artists and designers, it has created bright and cheerful spaces that help provide a little entertainment and distraction for patients – an initiative being practised by other hospitals in the capital and beyond (Chelsea Children’s Hospital recently worked with design studio Thomas.Matthews, while Jason Bruges studio created an interactive ‘distraction piece’ for Great Ormond Street). As well as providing a little added comfort, the results can have a significant impact on patients and families’ wellbeing during their stay, even helping aid their recovery.