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Co-design and cake at the Bristol Oncology Centre

Today we facilitated a session called ‘Co-design and cake’ on the Teenage and Young Adult ward at the Bristol Oncology Centre.

With the support of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s Well-being Co-ordinator and Youth Support Co-ordinator, we gathered together as a group of patients, relatives and friends, in the bright environment of the ward’s Chat Room to enjoy afternoon tea. This was a chance for me to introduce myself and the project, and find out what the participants might think would benefit them during their hospital treatment, and what they would like to try out over the course of this pilot.

Nature is already well represented on the ward, and patients are provided with options for a range of activities when they’re feeling well enough. The Chat Room, where we were meeting, is a large, open plan communal space, with a kitchen area, table football, sofas, board games, pool table and a jukebox:

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The Chat Room, Teenage and Young Adult cancer ward, Bristol Oncology Centre
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The Chat Room, Teenage and Young Adult cancer ward, Bristol Oncology Centre

As shown in the photo above, along the main wall of The Chat Room there is a beautiful woodland frieze. These outdoor scenes also create a peaceful backdrop to the reception area, the seclusion of The Snug (for reading and quiet solitude), and the Games Room (complete with Smart TV, Xbox consoles, and a film library of DVDs):

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Reception area, Teenage and Young Adult cancer ward, Bristol Oncology Centre
The quiet space of The Snug, Teenage and Young Adult cancer ward, Bristol Oncology Centre
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Games Room, Teenage and Young Adult cancer ward, Bristol Oncology Centre

Elsewhere on the ward, there is a well-being room with mood lighting and a therapies couch for reflexology. The ward staff had previously highlighted to our project team, the well-being needs of visiting families and supporters, alongside the needs of patients themselves. Staff had talked about ‘occupational loss’ – referring to how parents, relatives and supporters would normally be spending their time, if they weren’t at the hospital. This occupational loss could quite literally be a loss of work, but also missed time with other children and family members, or the loss of holidays and so forth.

So the key research questions from staff on the TYA ward for our exploratory pilot study include these points:

  • Will the outcome be something that supporters could use, as well as patients? (For example, a recent reflexology trial, set up by the Teenage Cancer Trust, was found to benefit carers and family members almost more than the patients).
  • Can the project outcomes improve people’s experience during treatment?

The Well-being Co-ordinator recognised that it is difficult for patients to spend time out of their bedrooms for lots of reasons, but she felt there was a need to offer patients something else to do, other than to sit (or lie down) in the seclusion of their bedrooms, and in addition to the variety of activities already available. With this in mind, we decided that portability was an essential feature for any prototypes, alongside careful consideration and medical guidance regarding infection control.

Back with the group of patients and their supporters in The Chat Room, I introduced a series of questions to initiate our discussions around nature and technology, assisted by a collection of natural objects and materials, and a large selection of nature-themed images to serve as conversational prompts. Here is just a small selection of the objects and images shared today:
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Interestingly, almost as soon as the group began to talk about nature, they also started referring to the smells, sounds and other sensory aspects of being outdoors. Nearly all of the participants said that they experience nature most frequently through some kind of activity, such as walking, swimming, kayaking, sailing or sightseeing.

When asked the question, ‘Which natural world environment would you transport yourself to, if you could go anywhere?’ these were some of the group’s responses:

  • Desert – for the warmth (feeling relaxed in the heat)
  • Beach – going swimming, walking barefoot on the sand and paddling in the shallows (which was forbidden during treatment for one of the patients)
  • Woods – ideally a combination of forests, hills, meadows and freshwater lakes
  • Waterfalls and running rivers – a Canadian mountain landscape
  • Norway – snow, water, fjords, green landscape, peaceful, spellbinding environments with a chance to see the Northern Lights

With such a variety of choices for contrasting terrain, one of the patient’s fathers suggested that whatever nature and technology experiences we offer, these must be bespoke and personalised, as people’s opinions and preferences are always so individual.

The concept of nature as a means of ‘getting away from it all’ and as a form of escapism appealed to the whole group. One patient described how ‘the one thing you want when you are stressed and intimidated by all the hospital treatments and procedures, is to take your mind away from the present, so the escapism of Virtual Reality sounds very appealing’.

In discussing potential technologies, everyone in the group had said they were excited about the idea of experiencing Virtual Reality, while no one had yet had the chance to try it before…

So compelled by this really useful session, we look forward to returning to the ward in a couple of weeks time, when we will be able to offer the participants some immersive digital experiences of nature, and find out what they think of VR – in reality!