Room for You started because two members of our team had been patients and were also friends. They started to talk about their experience of waiting for treatment in the old Northern Centre for Cancer that was part of the General Hospital. The waiting room was a huge, very quiet place with a high level of anxiety and although the staff were excellent the space was unwelcoming and it was hard place to wait in.
Conversations were had, and a vision for how it could be different, became a plan. Ali Rind was a textile artist and Mary Jennings, a counsellor and their idea was to bring these skills together for patients and their families while they were waiting….to make it a “Room for You” ,
They were supported and encouragement by the director Christine McGreal who managed to get permission and funding to run a pilot scheme. At that time many people came for radiotherapy treatment every day for 6 or 7 weeks. As you can imagine it could feel relentless and exhausting. Thankfully, today many people only come for 3 weeks but even this is a difficult thing to do.
The idea was simple, but brilliant, to provide a focus of interest in the room. Something going on, something to watch, something to take part in, or maybe a safe topic of conversation that would allow you to chat to the person sitting next to you and break the ice. Ali set up a frame to make proggy or clippy mats on in the corner of the room and this worked well because just about everyone had a memory of how they were made in their family… People would come up and look or have a go. At the same time Mary would go and talk to people waiting and invite them to get involved or have a chat. Later these stories were collected and made into a book called ‘hook into the past’ which you can buy today!
At the same time as Ali and Mary were running their pilot scheme, another artist Marcia Ley was doing an Artist Residency on the Chemotherapy ward. The idea was similar in that she encouraged people having treatment to join in if they were able, but although she had a volunteer working with her, she had no facilitator. With the help of Germaine Stanger who was the hospital art coordinator the two projects joined forces.
The project grew in scope and the range of what we offered, but we always used the model of co-working - an artist and counsellor, working together to respond to what people needed.
Today our team of artists offer a wide range of opportunities: from mosaic to silk painting, wirework to felting and many weird and wonderful things besides. Some things are made by patients and carers to take home and become a significant memento of this challenging time, and some of the things we make are a larger scale and are up on walls in the hospitals, making the space more beautiful and interesting.
Creativity provides a great distraction and enjoyment and sometimes more; an opportunity to talk.
Sometimes building a relationship where the patient or maybe their partner would lead conversation, wherever they wanted to go…often light hearted but also a safe place to talk about the difficult stuff too.
We have been funded by Northern Rock, the Big Lottery, Heritage lottery fund, Macmillan, Charlie Bear, Hospital charities, Newcastle Council and some very kind individuals and trusts.
Over the years Room for You has diversified and expanded working in hospitals and hospices all across the region, building on our knowledge and experience to establish a skilled team that we know has made a difference to many people going through cancer treatment.
Ali Rhind is an artist and one of the founder members of Room for You. Here she explains how the project began back in 2001.