Flower Sculptures for Cancer Services

Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

General Summary

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As an alternative to traditional signage, Derby Hospitals worked in close collaboration with patients and their families at the end of life cancer unit to design and create an innovative and sustainable solution to their problem of wayfinding to the unit. The resulting 10 foot high flower sculptures (Bluebell and Lily) are a bold and ambitious piece of artwork, which has changed the landscape of the hospital and changed the language used in supporting patients finding their way to cancer services.

The work was delivered in close partnership by cancer services, the arts team, capital projects and facilities management with clear aims and objectives.

The patients and staff were consulted at every stage and carefully planned focus groups enabled the work to be a true reflection of the wishes and needs of the unit. The collaborative work between departments has been replicated on projects in other hospital areas, most notably the building of a staff remembrance garden. Feedback has been gathered from patients and staff demonstrated the deeply positive impact that the process and resulting artwork has had on this group of people.



The flower sculptures came about from a request from patients and staff for better signposting to the Macmillan unit.

The building is tucked away with no visible landmarks and opposite a large car park. Directions to the unit were given as follows: Park in car park 6, cross the road, walk alongside the directors car park and turn left at the end of the wall.

Our cancer services is one of the largest in the country, where over 200 patients are treated every day, many for end of life care. This unit is sited on one of the largest hospital sites in the country, so effective signposting is crucial, particularly as many patients are distressed and very poorly.

Getting cancer patients and their visitors to the correct entrance and car park for treatments had proved problematic and increased the anxiety for patients at a very stressful time in their lives.

This project aimed to provide a more positive, reassuring welcome with clear landmarks to guide patients easily to the unit.


A consultation with the patients, staff and visitors led to the idea of sculptures as landmarks to sign the way to the unit and its car park, as an alternative to traditional signage. The hospital arts team worked with the cancer services team to form a commission panel to undertake a national call out for artists to submit proposals. Following this process, international blacksmith artist Jenny Pickford was commissioned to create the work. Jenny Pickford led focus groups for staff, patients and their relatives and carers to discover their favourite flowers and the memories behind them. Answers to 10 questions were analysed to create a project which best fitted most people’s answers. The Bluebell and Lily of the valley were the most popular responses from the groups, evoking happy memories and positive feelings, so these were chosen as the most appropriate flowers to signpost people to the unit, particularly as the brand colour of the unit is purple. Creating two sculptures enabled us to provide a signpost to the car park and entry road, and one to the unit entrance.


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The new flower sculptures make signposting clear, positive and straightforward. The flowers are over 10 feet in height, lit at night and clearly visible along the hospital loop road and entry road to cancer services. This provides clear, distinctive and beautiful signposting to the unit. The instructions are now, park opposite the bluebell and walk alongside the path towards the Lily,  the unit is on your left’ It is difficult to measure the impact in a quantitative way, and we have measured impact by gathering verbal feedback and written quotes from patients, their visitors and staff. One particular testimonial refers to a lady whose decision to end her own life was reversed thanks to the flower sculptures being part of her daily trips to the hospital. This is an incredible testament to the uplifting and positive power of this artwork and has deeply moved everyone involved in the delivery of this work.

The landscaping and lighting requirements will be monitored to ensure the sculptures continue to be clearly visible from all angles both day and night to effectively guide people to the unit entrance. The arts team will continue to develop new public art commission projects across the Trust to ensure the learning from this project can be replicated in other departments and to support wayfinding around the rest of the site. Staff in the unit will continue to use the flower sculptures as their method of signposting to the unit and to gather feedback from patients and their visitors to ensure the flowers remain appropriate to the needs of the unit. Further enhancements are now planned both in the entrance foyer and the unit itself to continue the flower theme and to provide an even more positive, reassuring welcome to the hospital and cancer services.

Relevance to Others

The flower sculptures were officially unveiled at a launch event for staff, patients and their families and was followed by an informal celebration event in the unit for patients and staff. Social media has been used to share official photos of the work and the hospital communications team have used the intranet to share pictures and information on the project with the 9,000 members of staff. The Bluebells are now the official picture of the arts programme and have been used on the cover of several Trust board reports.

This initiative is relevant to other departments to demonstrate the results which can be achieved from partnership working with patients, their families and staff. The positive impact on social interactions and collaboration between these groups was inspirational and gave many patients the opportunity to be consulted and involved in the creation of something truly beautiful and unique at a time when many opportunities are ending for them. Other healthcare settings can take inspiration from our project as a great example of collaboration to achieve something unique and meaningful for the patient groups they work with

Standing Out

True collaboration and detailed consultation with the patient group and staff has meant this project has been a significantly positive change for the unit. The collaboration with the cancer services team, the arts team, capital projects and facilities management has led to the successful design and construction of a permanent finished piece, part of the landscape of the hospital, lit and maintained by the hospital and highly effective as a way-finding piece. This has Truly brought these teams together to focus on the patient Experience Patients and their families love this work, as it gives them a sense of being welcomed and cared for before they even enter the hospital. Using local suppliers and a combination of traditional blacksmithing techniques and newer technologies has created a piece which is strong enough to withstand the elements but beautiful to look at. The leaves of the sculptures were worked with the fly press to create the veining on the steel to provide both pattern and strength to the leaf. The leaves are flexible enough to move slightly in the wind to give the sculptures an extra element of life. The glass flowers were made in Worcestershire at Top glass and the sculptures created in Hereford by Jenny.

Key Learning Points

  •  – Our lengthy process to find the right artist proved to be worthwhile as Jenny Pickford brought exactly the right combination of professionalism, understanding and collaboration to the project.
  •  – Working with patients at end of life can be something that many artists find difficult, so it is crucial to find the right partners who will be sensitive and aware of patients� needs at this time.
  •  – Working in close collaboration with both the patient groups and the staff was very rewarding and gave us a truly unique and beautiful piece of work which will last a generation.
  •  – By adding the capital projects team and the facilities management team it has built lasting relationships between the unit and the rest of the hospital which is something we are looking to replicate across the Trust when looking at new projects.
  •  – By using the Patient experience team as a conduit to this project it enabled a wider collaborative team effort because of the additional contacts they have which enhanced the project.