Emerge 2018-2021

Project reflections

In Spring 2021, ONCA completed delivery of Emerge, a three year, multi-strand, creative wellbeing programme for NHS staff at Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals Trust (BSUH).

ONCA was commissioned to deliver Emerge as part of CONNECT, an ambitious public art programme for the 3Ts redevelopment at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. Its aim was to improve staff morale and wellbeing at a time of transition. 

Lead artist Sarah Bennett and the ONCA team designed the Emerge programme in direct response to staff feedback. We heard that opportunities for fun, laughter and relaxation would be especially valued. We designed a programme for staff across the Trust to engage at different levels, with a range of approaches and ways to connect. The programme offered four strands:

  • Creative Wellbeing Sessions: Bespoke arts workshops managers could book for their teams, exploring themes of team building, relaxation & spaces to talk.
  • Culture Club: A staff newsletter celebrating local culture, artists and opportunities packed with fantastic competitions & discounts.
  • The Jolly Trolley: A bright, playful tea trolley touring hospital wards with performers visiting staff offering treats & jollity.
  • Little Perks: Pop up performances and experiences at hospital sites offering staff wellbeing treats & surprises including live music and massage.

Emerge wasn’t focused on creating artworks to go on the walls – instead, the programme centred on experiences that nurture wellbeing, offering opportunities to thrive whether participants considered themselves creative or not. The programme recorded more than 500 contacts with NHS staff.

Life is so serious at the moment. Work even more so. I don’t have the physical energy or mental capacity to do creative things when I get home so to have a bit of it in work time is a gift from the gods.

  • 100% of staff surveyed rated Emerge’s activities as extremely or significantly valuable to staff wellbeing
  • 69% of staff surveyed gave Emerge a five star rating for quality
  • After connecting with Emerge 94% of staff surveyed felt more connected to their colleagues and 81% felt less stressed than before they took part. 

As we delivered Emerge, the context for NHS staff and the programme shifted significantly  due to COVID-19 and delays to the transition to the new hospital. In response to this shift, we developed an additional strand, ‘Artists Celebrate the NHS’, engaging local artists through a community open call. More details here.

Emerge offered us many rich learnings through the process of designing, delivering and reflecting on an ambitious programme in a complex context. Read more in our Emerge Evaluation report. At a moment when the need to value NHS staff has never been more clear, we’re eager to share this learning. Our report explores the value and wellbeing impacts of Emerge for NHS staff and reflects on issues affecting programme delivery. We believe it may be of particular value in the field of arts and wellbeing and for future projects within the NHS. Read our Ten Key Learnings below the image gallery. 

The most valuable thing was being with my colleagues in a “normal” stress free environment away from the troubles of work… It was a wonderful day, and one that I keep bringing to mind to help me through the difficult times we are now going through. Certainly my relationships both personal and professional have improved since, and that’s helped us through the COVID crisis. 

10 Key Learnings from Emerge:

  1. There is a clear need and appetite for interventions of this kind. We didn’t encounter any staff questions about whether it was needed or whether it was good use of time or resources. 
  2. Cultural disruption appeared to be valuable. As outsiders, ONCA were able to offer external influence and changes of context for staff (e.g. doing workshops off-site).
  3. Managers play a vital role in developing the culture within teams. They are key in both making wellbeing opportunities known to staff and making time available for their teams to participate. Staff with engaged managers benefited disproportionately from Emerge.
  4. There are internal staff wellbeing champions whose vital contributions could be amplified.
  5. Competing priorities and limited capacity of Trust staff affected delivery of the project at all levels, impacting on communication and information sharing.
  6. Building and managing Emerge as an external organisation was highly resource intensive for ONCA.
  7. The programme navigated some resistance to the idea of creativity by offering staff ‘light touch’ experiences with creativity rather than more intensive or formal art experiences. It was often the intentional creative design of elements of the programme (such as the Jolly Trolley) that brought wonder and delight.
  8. People wanted to connect. Many Emerge activities provided opportunities for staff to get to know each other. Feedback expressed the value of these, and of mutual celebration – as well the lack of these within organisational culture.
  9. Good quality and care-full offers for staff were well received: we consistently heard that staff felt valued and appreciated by small gestures like high quality cakes or bespoke badges to gift one another.
  10. Joy is important and opportunities to foster it, such as those Emerge provided, can improve working relationships.

If you would like more information about Emerge or would like to discuss using any of the above resources please contact Lu-Lu Evans:


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Posted on May 17, 2021
Categories: O N C A Projects, Uncategorized
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