Using a hospital art collection to positively disrupt a patient’s routine

4 weeks, 1 day event

The Challenge

The Problem

Creating a framework for a group of NHS staff to make an ITV
Find a low-cost way to incorporate the hospital’s art collection into long-term patients’ daily hospital experience in order to improve wellbeing.

The Outcome

Four perfumes inspired by four paintings from around the hospital. They were portable so could be taken to patients in their wards, rather than them having to travel to the paintings themselves. The link between smell and memory was especially fitting for Charing cross hospital, which has the biggest dementia and stroke rehabilitation unit in London. 

  • Jo Bruton “Landing Girls” wallpaper – Vintage floral scent inspired by popular perfumes of 1950s
  • John Piper Stained Glass window – Fresh Aquatic notes with a hint of incense, evoking smells of a chapel
  • Simpson and Son’s Tiles for original Charing Cross Hospital – Apple and fruity notes, fresh cut glass, wood
  • David Mach “Visit London” – Tobacco, Leather, Rubber, Vanilla

Research and development

  • Our Methodology

    Context and restrictions

    • Can only be used for a one-day event
    • Must be low cost
    • Needs to adapt to a fast paced changing hospital environment, and easy to take down in an emergency


    For the first week, we visited the hospital, observed patients, interviewed stakeholders and did trails of the current artwork on display. This also involved a visit to the paintings archive within the hospital, which contained hundreds of stored paintings! A lot of thought had gone into the placement of the paintings within the hospital. For instance, painted tiles from the original hospital site were placed on a corridor which linked the new wards to the chapel, symbolising the transitions to new places. We also noticed that for a lot of patients, the hospital artwork was the least of their concerns as they waited for test results and appointments. We realised we needed to find a way for the work to be disruptive and engaging.

    Research about Charing Cross Hospital

    Our work is always site specific, and we wanted to create an interaction which was very meaningful to the hospital, it’s specialisms, treatments, and the patients who attend there. After a lot of research and interviewing with stakeholders, we found that Charing Cross Hospital has the largest stroke rehabilitation and dementia unit in London. Both of these are conditions which affect memory. Strangely, we found that there is a strong link between smell and memory: 80% of people who show signs of poor smell will eventually develop dementia. We knew that there was a way to link these projects together and we decided to create some perfumes.

    Perfume development

    We returned to the hospital to decide which artworks were the most accessible and recognisable. We wanted paintings which provided a diverse range of recognisable environments.


    We tried to incorporate as many sensory elements into our branding as possible, accounting for the fact that there were many patients who had different perceptions of the senses. This included:

    • Physical perfume bottles in the same shape and orientation as the original artwork
    • Scents directly mapped to the ratios in the painting e.g. a painting which had 90% apples would have 90% apple scent
    • Matching visual elements within the perfume bottles and the original paintings


    We delivered the exhibition as a stand in two locations around the hospital over 8 hour blocks. The first was in the out-patient lobby, so we were able to capture staff, patients and visitors as they entered and left the hospital. We then toured the perfumes to the stroke and rehabilitation wards and spent an hour with the patients there. Each of the scents had take home tester strips which people could take home with them as a reminder of the event.

  • The Impact

    “Since my stroke, I have not left the hospital for months. I actually loved smelling the perfume based on London dirt because I even miss the smell of pollution outside! Thank you for bringing a piece of the outside in for me. ”


    “This perfume is vintage smelling, and reminds me exactly of the sorts of scents I used to wear when I went to dances in the sixties.”


    “I have completely lost my sense of smell after a tumour. Although I can’t smell, the feeling of the bottles reminds me of perfumes I used to wear in my youth and the glamour of it all. It feels so nice to hold an object like this again”


    The Insights

    Clinical environments often strip the sensory experiences of daily life. By bringing smells of outside into the hospital in a controlled way, we create a hospital experience which is more familiar and friendly.


    • Working relationship with Imperial Health Charity
    • 5 new memories for older patients

  • If we could do this again...

    At On the Mend, we are honest about our successes and our failures. We know that we can never fix every single problem with a single interaction. Below are some of our key reflections, and things we would change if we could repeat this work:

    A more absorbable paper 

    The diffuser paper was waxy, meaning that it didn’t absorb the scents properly! Next time, we will invest in filter paper so that the scents last longer.

    Bring some plastic sheets!

    There are a lot of restrictions on what materials are allowed in hospitals in order to manage infection control. However, we would like to bring wipe down sheets and screens next time to add a bit of colour to our stall.

    Branding which had bolder and more visible text

    The tester strips were small, and we packed in too much information about the project. We also used a light text on a black background, which was harder to read. We would change this next time.


    Our stall was placed in the outpatients’ area, which is where the weekly pop-up bookshop used to be. This meant that some long-term patients and regular visitors thought that the perfumes were for sale. Next time, we would have more mobile workshops in each of the wards to avoid this.

    Impact measuring

    It would have been beneficial to leave the patients with an anonymous feedback form so they could tell us whether this project was something they would like to see again and what could be improved.

  • The outcome

  • The Team

    • Perfumery and Branding – Sophia Luu
    • Event Facilitation – Mathilda Della Torre
    • Generously supported by the Imperial Health Charity (Lucy, Kate and Delphine)