Sharing moments of happiness across the Addenbrooke's community
Hospitals are busy and sometimes overwhelming places. The Addenbrooke’s Hospital site is like a small town in itself, with over 40,000 people moving around the spaces everyday. Taking Note, co-produced with Addenbrooke's Arts, began exploring how stories might connect individuals across this community in 2016 – the patients, staff, researchers, visitors, volunteers and many others who spend time there every day. These stories are all about happiness, however fleeting or seemingly insubstantial. They are about the individual moments that are recorded if we find a way to stop and take notice. Many of them are gathered below.
Since we began, we have held two pop-up events in the public areas of the hospital, curated two exhitions in the hospital itself and two in the centre of Cambridge, shared the work at conferences and events and gathered over 100 stories. In 2017 we invited four poets to spend time at the hospital and respond to the spaces there and the themes of the project - this was Poetry in moments. Jo Shapcott (winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal, 2011, and the Costa Book Award, 2010) and Cambridge based poets Kaddy Benyon, Eve Lacey and Rebecca Watts spent the autumn engaging with patients, visitors and staff. In 2018 Taking Note - Poetry in Moments, a new collection of poetry for the community, was published and on National Poetry Day 2019 two of these were unveiled as a permanent part of the Art Trail.
I wish I were well and strong, so that I could give these poems the concentrated attention that they are serious enough to deserve. But I suppose the whole point about being unwell is that one is not in one's best form as a critic. Nevertheless I can tell that these poems are serious, and they've certainly got a serious subject. The subject is life, and how it might be lost; and how it might be saved. There is brave and tender hope here; but, even deeper down, the thrill of being human. Clive James
Taking Note - poetry in moments was launched on Thursday 28th September 2017 in Addenbrooke’s Hospital. This was National Poetry Day. There was poetry handed out all day at the main entrance, with Emergency Poet Deb Alma also there prescribing poetry from her old ambulance and a free lunchtime poetry reading in the Chapel. A series of eleven free postcards sharing poems were created for the day - every in-patient received one on their lunch tray and Costa handed them out to every customer too. The project has been able to bring poetry into the hospital community on each subsequent National Poetry Day.
I just wanted to say how beautiful this is. Thankyou. More of this please. Sharon (visitor)
This has lifted me for a moment. I’ve spent most of my life inside and don’t really read poetry but I’m going to look at these when I get home. Jason (patient)
Thirty four copies have also been specially bound for the permanent collections of each of the libraires in the county of Cambridgeshire thanks to the suport of Brignell Bookbinders in Cambridge and specialist bookbinder Edlel Hopkin and her colleauges.
I walked past your exhibition every day. It made me smile. I liked the simple things - the personal moments - like the picture of the hug and the mother watching her daughter go off to school. It's just so human. You feel you are in their personal moments. Keep doing it. It's really special.
Diane (Specialist Nurse)
Being part of Taking Note has made me realise it is good to share one's experiences. I've received so many positive comments from people who have seen the exhibition. It was lovely to be able to share my story with you. I hope people can understand that being in hospital doesn't have to be a negative experience. I was thrilled to see my story as part of the exhibition and so was my husband. The project should continue. I think it will encourage patients to be more positive . Taking Note helps people to think outside the box.
Many of the stories collected to date and shared via the project Facebook page since we began are also gathered here:
We have been especially touched by hearing back from those who contributed stories about the impact on them of being involved in the project. We met Joao, a nurse, when we visited the wards for the elderly back in 2016 and his story featured in the second exhibition. It was about his baby Oliver and here he is showing Oliver the exhibition itself on two further occasions - a brilliant collection of images of Oliver growing alongside the project.
We have also heard from visitors about how the exhibitions have helped them, offering them different ways to go and be alongside people they are visiting.
I don’t like hospital environments, and after an episode at A&E in early Feb this year, I briefly passed out, probably due to heat and stress. My sister, a GP, suggested that I simply needed to become more familiar with the environment – something I didn’t intend doing anytime soon. However the opportunity came in May, when a friend Bob went to Addenbrooke’s for a major operation. He was likely to be in for some weeks, and I decided to try to visit him every other day, if possible.
On one of the early visits when I’d walk to the ward with a little trepidation, I spotted the Taking Note exhibition on the arts space in a main corridor. Each time I passed, I read a different story - about a smile, a hug, the scent of summer, a laugh with a stranger and so on. What struck me powerfully is the choice we all have to reframe our experience, however difficult, and notice the positives. I tried to do this on my visits, giving less attention to the bewildering equipment, catheters and intravenous ghastliness, and instead focused on the signs of deep and loving care in a frontier where several people were balanced between life and death.
Bob’s condition was very complex. Not only his health, but his whole wellbeing is fragile, and we have regularly talked about the Taking Note initiative. Each visit, we would both try to notice something tangibly positive – the feeling of warm sunshine on the skin, an overheard anecdote that makes us laugh; a lilting Irish accent reminding him of travels, and so on.
The Taking Note exhibition was intriguing but not intrusive, just there for us to be drawn in by curiosity or not. No pressure – simple but powerful stories that made us think; and left us with a choice about what we dwell on. It has been humbling how Bob, whose health has slowly deteriorated further, has somehow taken heart in small blessings. I guess it’s easy to do this walking by a babbling stream, but less so if you’re dying on ward L4.
That’s why we need exhibitions like these.
Taking Note was inspired by the personal experiences of Ruth Sapsed (CCI’s Director):
I’ve had a close relationship with the hospital since 2011 when I had to have emergency neurosurgery. It had to be repeated in April 2015 and I wanted to find a way to distract and comfort both myself but also family and friends as I approached the planned date. As a documenter of many of CCI’s projects, I’m used to listening out for the unexpected and surprising observations people make and it was fascinating to turn this process on myself.
I invited a group of us to create a 'Wall of Happiness' on Facebook where we shared any small positive moments we noticed in our day. People loved it. They offered all sorts - stories of delicious tastes, smells, a tree they passed as they walked to work, an old alarm clock that sits on their desk and keeps good time. One friend has since created an award winning film about happiness inspired by one of the posts. Doing this together was really joyous.
It is a huge pleasure to reimagine the Wall of Happiness as a project for the Addenbrooke’s community.
This image comes from my first stay at Addenbrooke's in 2012. I had returned to my bed to discover it freshly made by one of the staff and with my daughter’s bear (bought in by her comfort me) settled in and enjoying the computer. It made me smile and the other ladies on the ward too, but also, I like to think, whoever set it up.
Like all arts activities at Cambridge University Hospitals, this project is not funded by the NHS but is designed to support and enhance the care and experience of patients, visitors and staff to the hospital.
We acknowledge the grant we have received from the D&J Lloyd Community First Fund, a charitable fund managed by Cambridgeshire Community Foundation.
We are also grateful to Churchill College, Corpus Christi College, Girton College, Jesus College, and Trinity College for their generous support of this work.