Hospital Rooms at Bethlem mother and baby unit

At Seasalt, creativity is at the heart of everything we do. It’s just one of the reasons we’re so excited to be funding a transformative, artist-led project at Bethlem Mother and Baby Hospital.

Bethlem Mother and Baby hospital is a special place. Part of the NHS, mothers are admitted if they are suffering from severe mental health difficulties, either in the lead up to or wake of having a baby. In the words of Dr Trudi Seneviratne OBE, “Mums come to us from every walk of life.” The unit has a whole host of ways to care for the women who find themselves there, from psychological talking therapies and medication to massage and the arts. It’s one of the few units in the country able to keep babies with their mothers during treatment.

The hospital is rich in caring and dedicated staff, evidence-based treatment and hope for recovery. Like many medical spaces, however, the physical environment can lack character.

That’s were our partnership with Hospital Rooms comes in. We’ve worked with the charity since 2018. They believe in the power of art to both bring joy and aid recovery. Their mission is to commission extraordinary art to people in mental health units – to do this, they take a collaborative approach, engaging world-class artists to run workshops with patients and staff before creating instillations within the hospitals.

Seasalt has funded a six-month project at Bethlem. Six artists will host workshops with mums and staff before working to transform a designated space within the hospital with a unique installation.

“I am really looking forward to visiting” artist Naomi Frears told us ,“I will be meeting the women [at Bethlem] and the staff, which will inform what kind of work I make there.”

We were honoured to take a few minutes with Dr Trudi Seneviratne OBE, who has worked as a consultant at Bethlem Mother and Baby Hospital since 2000, leading their life-changing (in some cases lifesaving) work. We spoke to her about Bethlem’s work, and the difference this project will make to them.

 I’m a real believer, as everyone at Bethlem is, in the power of the arts in recovery.

Art allows people to explore their senses and what they are experiencing as part of their mental illness, in a helpful, positive way. That’s really important. People can engage in a piece of art, and communicate what’s going on for them, without necessarily needing to communicate through language and talking, which is powerful. The baby can also be part of the art-making process if the mother wants it to be, or the art process might be something they do just for themselves.

I think this is an amazing project because we don’t always have the access to art therapists and art.

Having artwork around is so therapeutic for people, for patients, for the babies, for families, and for staff – the staff can get stressed as well and they work really hard. We’ve chosen mainly communal spaces for the installations that, at the moment, are very blank or bland. For example, we’ve chosen our open plan dining area, to have something to hold people’s attention when they’re eating.

Thinking about the pieces that are finally made and whichever way the artists choose to take the work feels really exciting.

We met some of the artists recently and the work was so fantastic. I’m just really excited because they all have such different skills that they’re bringing.

 I am looking forward to the final product right at the end, but I think the most exciting part will be working with all the different artists.

During the workshops we’ll be working out how we come up with the various pieces and thinking through what might be possible. I’m looking forward to the huge collective, collaborative effort with the artists, our patients, the babies, their families (hopefully they are all able to take part depending on COVID) and the staff on the ward.

I’m hoping we can forget about the pandemic for a bit and just bring people together!

Dr Trudi Seneviratne OBE is a Consultant Adult & Perinatal Psychiatrist, Clinical Director: Psychological Medicine & Lewisham Directorate at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and is the Chair for the Perinatal Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Introducing the artists

Eileen Cooper RA, OBE

A respected artist known for her strong and passionate commitment to figuration, Eileen was the first woman to serve as Keeper of the Royal Academy. Her work is held in many public and private collections such as the Arts Council Collection; the British Museum; the Royal Collection; Victoria & Albert Museum and Walpole Library, Yale University.

Nicola Bealing

A British artist based at CAST studios in Helston, Cornwall who works in both painting and printmaking. In the last few years, Nicola has had solo exhibitions at The Foundling Museum, Matt’s Gallery, London and Salisbury Art’s Centre. Her work can be seen in the British Museum and Jerwood Contemporary Collection in Hastings.

Samuel Bassett

Samuel comes from St Ives, a Cornish town steeped in fishing and artistic heritage. His family have been there as fisherman and working on the land, mining and farming for hundreds of years. Until recently he occupied a studio above his grandfather’s former net loft at Porthmeor studios a few minutes walk from the Tate Gallery. His artworks display a boundless zeal, sharp humour and honest pathos made with creative, experimental, freedom.

Ben Sanderson

Ben was born in Coventry and works from his studio at CAST in Helston, Cornwall. A graduate of University College Falmouth, he has exhibited widely, including Cubitt Gallery, London; Tate St Ives, Cornwall; and Guest Projects, London.

Naomi Frears

A visual artist and filmmaker based at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives. She works across multiple platforms including painting, printmaking and film and is well known for her enigmatic and subtly haunting paintings.

Barby Asante

A London based artist, curator, educator and occasional DJ. Her work is concerned with the politics of place, space memory and the histories and legacies of colonialism. Asante is on the board of the Women’s Art Library and 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning. She is also a PhD Candidate in CREAM, Westminster University, London.

Inspired to get creative yourself? We’ve a host of creative workshops, including interviews with the artists, on our blog as part of Hospital Rooms’ Digital Art School. They’re free and available for everyone to enjoy.