SW Newsletter #34

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April 7th 2008

Stonefield House, St George’s Hospital, Stafford

Welcome to the Star Wards’ newsletter and a warm welcome to the new members of the Star Wards’ community including 10 wards from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, 17 wards from East Kent, and one particular ward at St Ann’s hospital, north London. Lordship Ward was the inspiration for Star Wards, following my month sectioned there 3 years ago and again came to the rescue for 9 days this Easter when my life went all haywire. Hence the unusual gap between newsletters.

Here’s the second account of my stimulating visit to the excellent St George’s Hospital in Stafford. And many congratulations to South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust for being named as Foundation Trust of the Year in the national Healthcare Financial Management Association awards.

I was very grateful for all the time OTs Kate and Joe spent describing and showing me Stonefield House’s work. I love OTs. So super-skilled, resourceful, creative and can-do.

The ward is set out over two floors, and is for people with learning disabilities, most of whom have challenging behaviour. It provides longish-term rehabilitation, with an average of about a year for 5 women and 5 men who are relatively able, with basic independence skills. Some move onto independent living but the majority into some sort of supported living. A long-term resident has come back as a 3 hours a week volunteer with the art group. The symbol system Widgit is used, and picture symbols eg for cookery – recipes with photo instructions.

The ward’s approach to working with people with challenging behaviour centres on treating each person holistically. The staff prioritise knowing what works for each individual, generally and in terms of helping them calm down. I was given an example of a very disturbed young man who wouldn’t tolerate contact with staff. The staff began by simply sitting on the bed watching him play computer games and when the client felt comfortable with that, progressing to playing the games with him.

As soon as you come in the ward, you see fabulous, vivid, professional, paintings on the wall. The ward has almost as much feel of an art gallery as of an NHS service, with attention paid to details like artwork being hung properly, exhibited as if in an art gallery. As with all ‘amateur’ artists, there’s a creative tension between validating and exhibiting work which looks – um, amateur. And there’s the added complication with people with learning disabilities that much of it can be mistaken for artwork by children.

One of the very impressive aspects of Stonefield House’s artwork is that through very clever design, clients with low-key artistic skills collectively produce truly excellent artwork. My favourite was a glorious, long rectangular painting created with inter-connecting, contrasting and complementary complex designs. Fabulous and memorable. Even a bathroom had a stunning painting, of dolphins leaping out of deliciously blue and green hued water.

A second distinctive feature of the ward is that clients are very involved in creative IT, eg making DVDs and websites, possible because Joe has a music technology degree. The clients did everything in creating the DVD eg scripting, filming, editing. Contributing to the ward website is a great way of developing literacy and computer literacy skills. The flexibility of clients being able to move in and out of working on the projects is beneficial especially as the DVD project was unusually long – about 8 months. Clients learnt new skills eg team work, scheduling, responsibility (each person had a particular role eg editor, producer), time management. The project helps clients develop different types of relationships with each other and staff.

A specialist from Culturegen, a council-based project through Arts for Health, ran an animation workshop, using plasticine for figures. A creative writer also came in, and Kate was able to continue the work afterwards as the author left templates of ideas eg how to structure a simple poem. There was a four week poetry workshop (also for community clients) in conjunction with Radio Stoke. The workshop was initiated by Radio Stoke contacting the ward, via the station’s social action programme and facilitated by a poet. As well as the poetry being broadcast and clients getting copies on CDs, participants were able to look around the station and meet DJs.

Other activities include:

  • Clients using the local college where they can try either ‘mainstream’ classes or those for people with learning disabilities.
  • Men’s and women’s groups
  • Rap workshop.
  • A therapeutic artist comes in on Friday, and artwork has included felt making, silk painting. A client won a prestigious Koestler award.

And there’s a plan to combine Kate’s creative music with Joe’s electronic music so that clients can create songs and produce in a community recording studio.

There’s training for clients to interview their own staff and training for support staff. Clients’ views are weighted – applicants will turn people down if they don’t like them, or see that the interviewee doesn’t check their understanding with them. The supporter writes down the applicants’ answers on the interviewer’s form. The process also gives new staff a good starting point about clients’ abilities which have been shown in the interview.

The clients involved early on set up the interview criteria and scoring system, eg noting eye contact, friendliness, body language. (Clients aren’t put off by people who are nervous.) There’s an official HR application form in addition to the one designed and used by clients which asks questions such as:

  • How could you help me with problems with my feelings?
  • How do you cope with problems with your feelings at work?

A former senior OT at Stonefield House is now a lecturer at Coventry University and clients are involved in teaching, and paid as, visiting lecturers. Students have to make an information poster for people with learning disabilities and clients assess the extent to which they are attracted to it and understand it. Kate, a colleague and a client are presenting a paper on interviewing at the annual COT conference in Harrogate.

My main work background is in managing residential services for people with learning disabilities and I’ve got two learning disabled foster sons. So it’s especially heartening to visit such a dynamic service where the focus is firmly on clients’ skills and preferences rather than being skewed by their problematic communication and behaviour.

For further information please contact [email protected]


All the best