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Unique NHS apprenticeship supports staff wellbeing during coronavirus

As the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic rumble on through our working and personal lives, one NHS apprentice is making an important and positive contribution to staff wellbeing at University College Hospital, London.

Laura Bradshaw (24), from Brixton, is the first ever Arts and Heritage apprentice recruited by the NHS. Her role is multi-faceted including curating and managing a busy exhibition programme and street gallery space, devising a therapeutic music programme for both inpatients on wards and outpatient areas, creating a staff Culture Club, and working on capital projects by charity fundraising and commissioning art installations for new centres such as the hospital’s new Proton Beam Centre.  

The coronavirus pandemic restrictions imposed in March 2020 have had an immediate impact on Laura’s role, with all planned activity ceasing due to social distancing and lockdown requirements. Rather than being furloughed, Laura has continued to work from home and, along with her manager, has switched her focus to staff rather than patients.  NHS staff have been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic for some months, particularly in London which was identified as the hotspot of the epidemic in the UK.  With massive demands on services, uncertainties around PPE, and fears about contracting the virus, staff have been under even more intense pressure than usual.

This scenario was at the centre of thinking around re-shaping the hospital’s arts and heritage service. Laura says: “We decided to develop a new staff wellbeing initiative, ‘Creative Comfort’, which is built on our existing relationships with artists who are now working from home. Sessions and activities have been designed to give staff a therapeutic and creative outlet during these difficult times, from Origami sessions held via Zoom, to artist-designed adult colouring sheets, a staff portrait service, general and specialised art sessions and more. We worked hand-in-hand with our Occupational Health team to ensure that activities would provide a useful and positive benefit to staff and be easy to access. We’ve also been very focused on fundraising income planning – developing supportive and uplifting creative plans to enable us to secure funding from the hospital and NHS charities which have been so lucky to benefit from the amazing fundraising efforts up and down the country, including by the incredible Captain Tom Moore, who raised over £32million for NHS Charities Together.”

Whilst developing these new staff-based approaches, Laura has continued to make good progress on her apprenticeship with the ongoing support from her National College Creative Industries assessor, Simon. She said, “The apprenticeship really fits so naturally with what I am doing in my role. I often find I’ve completed all the learning and competence associated with a module without realising.”

Laura’s manager, Guy Noble, UCLH Arts Curator said: “We are fortunate to have the support of UCLH Charity and our Hospital’s landlord, HMU in funding this apprenticeship. With this support Laura has been able to make a tremendous, positive impact on the lives of patients and staff. The apprenticeship has provided Laura with a thorough understanding of art and creativity’s role in our health and wellbeing and she has transformed that knowledge into practice with enthusiasm. Laura is a real asset to the team and the wider Hospital Trust.”

Laura’s journey to becoming the NHS’ first-ever Cultural and Heritage apprentice was a lengthy and sometimes difficult one and she has shown huge determination and persistence to get where she is now. Having graduated in 2017 with an English degree, Laura was by then clear that her passion lay in the field of arts and heritage. There followed two years of part-time working and volunteering on an internship with the National Trust to gain the skills and confidence she needed to apply for roles in her chosen field.  Even with her new-found skills and experience, Laura regularly came up against barriers to applying for suitable roles, with educational requirements being set at Masters degree level. Despite these set-backs, she didn’t give up and continued to actively search arts and heritage job websites until the role at University College Hospital London arose. The rest, as they say, is history!

She says; “I have gained so many skills and so much experience in my role and have had my eyes really opened to the role of arts in health. I really hope that, at the end of my apprenticeship, I will be able to move into a permanent role in this area, either here at University College Hospital London or in another community/outreach setting.”

To find out how your organisation could benefit from a cultural, arts or heritage apprentice, or how the National College Creative Industries can support you to grow your talent through apprenticeships, email apprentices@creativeindustries.ac.uk. You can hear more about Laura and the arts and heritage service at UCLH through their National Apprenticeship Week video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ouwrydmY6A.