In 2010 I was commissioned by Guys and St Thomas’s Charity to be lead artist on a groundbreaking long-term poetry project with the hospital porters. I shadowed the porters, performed to patients, and ran workshops to equip the staff with the tools to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions through poetry.
The porters play a vital role in the hospital, but one that it is often under-appreciated. The project was a fun, creative way to celebrate the good work the team already do, and their feedback made it clear that it had helped the porters feel more positive about the work they do, and how they were perceived in the wider hospital community.
“It was a life changing experience!”
“This project has helped me understand my work colleagues better – it definitely brought the team together.”
The project was opt in, and was initially greeted with a degree of uncertainty and scepticism. By the time we finished, 16 members of staff had written original poetry and I genuinely felt like a part of their team.
A regularly updated display board of their poems, pictures, and opinions, as well as genuine enthusiasm about the new creative skills being built, boosted communication within the team, and has led to a continued increase of dialogue within other areas of their work life.
Part of the project was a commission for me to write five new pieces of spoken word poetry, focusing on the porters and their roles within and experiences of the hospital. These poems were visually presented by professional artist Jess Wilson, and exhibited on a large scale in the hospital atrium – along with the poems by the porters, and are now up on permanent display in the patient transport waiting area!
Here is how the artwork of the same piece looks:
The exhibition was launched on national poetry day 2010, at a performance event featuring performances by the porters, myself and two other professional poets. For the last few weeks of the project I had been running performance skills workshops with the porters, and for them to conquer their initial fears and perform at a professional event well attended by the hospital community and covered by local media was a huge achievement.
Quotes from Porters:
“This project has changed my opinion of poetry – I even talked about the poems with my friends out of work…”
“I feel very, very proud of being involved in this project – every time I passed the atrium and saw someone was reading my poem, it makes me proud of myself!”
“Meeting and working with Simon was a real highlight. He created a good atmosphere and it was a good team building project.”
Quotes from staff and patients attending the ‘Porters Poems’ exhibition at Guys Hospital:
“What a nice surprise to find this exhibition. It made my lunch break pleasurable, and confirmed what a valuable group of people the porters are.”
“Really fantastic, moving poetry – how fantastic to get an insight into their lives in the hospital, I think I would notice them and their work more now…”
“What an uplifting exhibition!”
“After seeing the exhibition I will be conscious of the porters as people – they’re heroes!”
“The exhibition shows how thoughtful, caring and hardworking the porters are – I had not realised just how important they are to patients, I do now!”