Village Tales

“Now it wasn’t in my time, and it wasn’t in your time. This was in a time when birds built their nests in old men’s beards.”

Nearly 20 years ago, storyteller and musician Tim Laycock spent a couple of months collecting stories, anecdotes and songs about local villages, especially Dorset and Wiltshire, from patients on the wards. The ‘Village Tales’ project captured little tales that tell how people used to live, still do live and give a sense of shared history. We have revisited these tales and presented them to you on our website. Visit our dedicated Village Tales project page to read and listen to the tales.

Roaming D-Day archives

In May and June 2019, regular Elevate artists Stephanie and David took our historic archives onto the wards of Salisbury District Hospital. Items in the boxes comprised of photographs, plans, objects and documents. During the sessions, patients, staff and visitors explored the origins of the hospital (as a US Field Hospital built in 1942) and discussed stories, lived memories and experiences that were stimulated by their access to these historic items.

The artists described the effects of the sessions: “The conversations contained common themes; memories of wartime experiences, personal stories and reminiscence, stories about the hospital site and working there. The project revealed a deeply held connection between people and their hospital through generations of local families.”

“This project confirmed for me that archive material is a wonderful resource that needs to be shared rather than gather dust. Tangible objects, images and words enable patients to access emotion and memories they have forgotten they had.”

“The D-Day material provided an immediate way in for those who engaged with it, unlocking both local knowledge and experience with wider historical context. When we share such material we make the ordinary and seemingly unimportant have a moment to shine with significance. This makes people feel valued and appreciated.”

The artists were shadowed by Tamsin who was learning about our archives and how our artists worked with patients on busy hospital wards. She described their work and the benefit felt by those who participated. “They are incredibly skilled at engaging people when and where they are most vulnerable – ill in a hospital bed. I heard powerfully moving conversations stimulated by the archive material that had a beneficial effect beyond being a history lesson. I witnessed rather depressed and disengaged people open up like flower to become animated and energised through these conversations.”

These memories were written onto specially commissioned postcards that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. From the 7 days of sessions over 60 postcards were collected along with 26 further extended tales. ArtCare also took part in the 2019 National Armed Forces Day celebrations in Salisbury and we took our archive boxes and displayed them alongside the collected stories.

Find out more about our historical archive on our dedicated Salisbury Healthcare History website.


Headway Salisbury and South Wiltshire’s weekly Headsmart group, attended by adults who have sustained brain injuries, received a grant from Salisbury City Council to offer a Creative Arts Project over the course of two years. The project run in partnership with ArtCare’s Elevate programme started in September 2019. The creative sessions aim to increase participant’s self-esteem, allowing them the space and time to share their stories. Members of the group have the chance to listen and learn more about each other’s lives and experiences, gaining new skills and ways of working. Creative activities taking place with Elevate artists include music, singing, circle dance and a 4-week special project making personal journal boxes.

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Talking Journeys

Talking Journeys is a pilot project in partnership with The National Poetry Library and the Salisbury Spinal Rehabilitation Centre at Salisbury District Hospital. The aim of the project is to improve the experience of a hospital stay and create meaningful activity and deliver personalised, inspiring outcomes. The initial idea for these sessions has grown from several sources, but the main ‘spark’ came from observations of the Elevate sessions with David Davies.

People are admitted to the Spinal Centre at Salisbury District Hospital to undertake rehabilitation following a Spinal Cord Injury. The initial stage of their hospital stay often requires complete bed rest and may include being restricted to a single side room. It is common for people to experience isolation, low mood and boredom as well as a range of pain and limitations caused by the unique circumstance of their injury. People are admitted from a wide geographical region, stretching from the Scilly Isles and Cornwall in the west, to Gloucester in the north and Wiltshire and Hampshire, including the Isle of Wight in the east and south of the catchment area. This can often increase the isolation and disconnect from family and friends and can be compounded by the current lack of voice activated technology that could enable them to call home independently.

David Davies is working with several participants from the Spinal Centre using poetry and images as starting points and allowing participants the personal space to discover and grow. The ‘journey’ may involve further creative processes, e.g. sketching or journalling. The project also aims to increase awareness of the National Poetry Library and its resources. Visit the National Poetry Library website to find out what they have to offer.

As the project progresses we hope that participants’ may share a little of their ‘journeys’ online on our website. To be able to do this we need material that can be shared publicly. Following a request for images to artists on our mailing list, some have kindly agreed that we may use their images as part of this project. If you would like to contribute in this way please look at our opportunities page for further details.

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Mary Lou Revue

The Mary Lou Revue Vintage Cabaret have been offering musical refreshments to patients, staff and visitors at Salisbury District Hospital. Featuring a delicious selection of classic songs and magical dance moments, from the 1920s onwards, their delightful show was taken directly to patients’ bedsides, as well as the day room on Spire Ward and to Westminster Memorial Hospital, Shaftesbury. Everyone watching had the chance to choose from a variety of songs and join in with singing and moving with the use of various colourful props. Even our older patients couldn’t resist getting up to dance around the bay with staff members. Mary Lou Revue are supported by Arts Council England and Creating with Care.

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Find out more about Mary Lou revue on their website

Tor Theatre

In May 2018, Tor Theatre’s tall tale of silly smugglers and unrequited love thrilled audiences around the hospital, including patients and visitors on Sarum, Spire and Chilmark Wards. The mini-shows, linked to their main touring programme, were a collaboration with Salisbury Playhouse (now Wiltshire Creative), and were funded by the Salisbury Independent Hospital Trust. The lively show entitled ‘The Rum Tale of the Moonfleet Diamond’ contained storytelling, songs, dancing and jokes about how smugglers used to hide their contraband.

Visit Tor Theatre’s website to find out more about their work

Cathedral school

In summer 2019, Year 8 pupils from Salisbury’s Cathedral School performed music and songs at the hospital over three weekly sessions. The project was organised by the school as part of their Post Common Entrance (post 13+ exam) programme. After the exams, pupils have 4 weeks at school where they have no formal lessons, but they still have music lessons and chorister duties, so the children get involved with various community based activities. Before pupils played at the hospital, Elevate coordinator Rebecca Seymour visited them at school to tell them about the work that ArtCare does. This included an introduction to the healthcare history collection, highlighting the hospital’s World War 2 and D-day landings connections, followed by an activity making nurse and GI hats.

The performances took place in Horatio’s garden and the Stars Appeal Therapy Garden, with the music drifting up patients in bed in the wards above. The audience of patients, staff and visitors were treated to a mix of classical and popular music, all performed to a high level.

The Year 8 Organiser commented, “The experience has been incredible for all the children and has really highlighted the importance of ‘community’. We would love to continue our relationship with Elevate over the next academic year building on what we have started. Many thanks for making us feel so welcome.”


Healthpitch – ‘The Audition’

In May 2018, Healthpitch presented a light-hearted, live performance of some of the best bits of opera, featuring internationally renowned singers to an audience of hospital patients and visitors. Described by Healthpitch as ‘A jukebox opera on your doorstep’, three singers arrive for a mysterious audition. They haven’t seen each other for a long time, but when they get together they can’t help but burst into song. The performers really connected with the audience and soon had patients laughing, singing and conducting. Horatio’s garden was an ideal setting. The audience enjoyed tea and cake and were able to chat to the performers afterwards.

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Visit Healthpitch’s website for more information about their work.

Lily and the Albatross

Tall Tree Theatre’s show ‘Lily and the Albatross’ delighted patients, staff and visitors of all ages when they performed at the hospital in February 2019. With giant wooden and metal puppets and original songs the audiences were enthralled. ‘Lily and the Albatross’ is a lovely inter-generational story based around Lily, her mother and her grandfather and is set on an old fishing boat. The show was part of a fun day for families organised by ArtCare and Odstock Health and Fitness, the hospital’s on-site leisure centre. Families had the opportunity to make their own Albatross puppets, before watching the performance. Afternoon activities included swimming, bouncy castle and singing along with Elevate musician Alex Bett on his guitar. A second performance meant the Spinal Unit dining room was also temporarily transformed into a boat on the waves, as the show was taken to patients and relatives there to enjoy.

Tall Tree Theatre have recently received Arts Council funding to create a hospital ward-based version of ‘Lily and the Albatross’ to take to patients’ bedsides. They will be returning to the hospital from autumn 2019 with their adapted show. Visit Tall Tree Theatre’s website for more details about their work.

Shackleton in hospital

With funding and additional donations from various sources, separate to the main programme of ward sessions, the Elevate programme has been able to deliver theatre performances around the hospital. Tall Tree Theatre are regular visitors with their interactive puppet show Shackleton. Shackleton, a wooden dog, has been delighting patients of all ages from young children on Sarum Ward to older people on Spire Ward. Anna from Tall Tree describes her experience of transferring the show to a hospital setting.

“The response from the staff greatly supports what we do. We’re welcomed on arrival with enthusiasm, during our performances a nurse often whizzes passed saying ‘hello Shackleton, I hope you’re behaving yourself?!’ and a cleaner told us last week ‘That’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before. We all need that darling, we all need that’.

But the interactions with patients are the most special, everyone finds their own way to relate to Shackleton. Dogs are loving, they have their own personalities and are often a symbol of home, of past. Some patients watch us, smile and laugh along. Some heckle us and ask Shackleton to do tricks. Some quietly talk to him as though he’s perfectly real, telling him he’s a beautiful dog or comforting him, chatting away about their own dog who is back at home.

We see a huge variety of people each time we visit, across all ages and with different interests but we find they all have something in common; they know how to talk to a dog. As a performer in hospital I cherish the moments we create, each individual and unique to each patient or ward. People open up to us about their lives a little and they go along on the creative journey that we’re offering.

On one visit to the Children’s Ward we met a girl who had been learning Ukulele and had missed her school concert because of being in Hospital. We handed her ours and she played us, the other patients and the staff a song. Another child asked Shackleton to do huge leaps over tables, back flips and more – which of course he did!

Our aim is to bring some conversation, some joy and some fun into the wards. And to see how cheeky Shackleton can be….!”

Visit Tall Tree theatre’s website to find out more about their work.

2Faced Dance

2Faced Dance’s visit to Salisbury District Hospital in June 2019 was special in many ways. From the moment the costumed performers left the ArtCare offices, staff and visitors reacted in a positive way to them walking down the corridors, bringing smiles to faces and ‘high fiving’ the dragon.

Some very special interactions took place on Sarum Ward with children – including a whole family with 2 young children, clearly totally delighted to meet the ‘Moon’ characters and share dance moves. Nursing staff also enjoyed the entertainment and were copying dance moves in the corridor, which caused plenty of laughter.

The weather was touch and go for doing the main show outside in the afternoon, but it eventually went ahead in Horatio’s Garden, as staff and spinal patients wrapped up warm to get the full effect of the aerial work outside. Those who couldn’t brave the cold, were able to watch it from the large upstairs window and the performers, particularly the Moon, directed some of the material in their direction, so they felt included. One male patient watched the show outside from his bed, with his wife curled up next to him – very special.

The visual and audio description for the show was so well integrated that it enhanced the show for sighted and hearing audience members as well. Many of the patients hadn’t seen anything like it before and thoroughly enjoyed it, commenting that it had cheered them up and made for a special afternoon.

A huge thank you from Elevate to 2Faced Dance for embracing the day so openly with enthusiasm and total respect for hospital staff and patients and to the Stars Appeal for funding this activity.
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