South Tees Teepee – Take time to talk

Posted on in Health improvement, Hospitals, The trust

A giant teepee has been set up at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough to give people a space where they can come together when they need it most.

The teepee is lottery funded and stands at almost 15ft tall. It arrived at James Cook on Wednesday 20 March and will stay for three months, until 12 June. It is set up at the atrium near the south entrance and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The teepee provides a break from clinical surroundings with the aim of helping to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing – whether that’s patients, visitors, carers or staff – which is as important as physical health.

Siobhan McArdle, chief executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust explains why she was so keen to bring such a unique space to the hospital.

She said: “I am personally sponsoring and piloting this project as I believe it will provide a unique space on our main hospital site, and will offer a welcome break for patients, visitors and staff to come together, to chat, relax or ‘just be’. There is no expectation, no intervention, just a time or place to be more human to each other. The teepee is part of our wider mental health and wellbeing strategy.”

Debi McKeown, nursing sister in therapeutic care at James Cook is excited about what the teepee can provide.

She said: “Medical intervention and treatment is key to recovery but sometimes non-medical intervention that will boost wellbeing offers other sources of help and support. People talking and supporting each other has a significant impact on how people recover and cope with difficult situations. This is no more so than in a major hospital like James Cook, where we have patients who are with us for a long time – and the teepee provides them with an opportunity to be in a surrounding that’s not clinical.

“The teepee is a comfortable space furnished with comfy chairs, cushions and rugs and takes people out of the hospital environment. It gives people a break in more comfortable surrounds; either for visitors who may be visiting very unwell patients or staff who need support in their own health and wellbeing, given some of the difficult jobs they have looking after patients.”

The teepee has been provided to the hospital by Camerados, a social movement who believe that you beat tough times by getting two things: friends and purpose. And that the best way to get this is for people experiencing difficult times to help others in the same situation.

Founder of Camerados, Maff Potts, explains what the teepee can offer those who use it. He said: “The teepee acts as a ‘public living room’. It’s for everyone. It is a space where people can go and make connections and share experiences with people you’ve never met before, to help them through difficulties or to help encourage you both or just to listen.”

“We’re delighted to bring the teepee to Teesside. It’s ground-breaking. James Cook is only the third hospital in UK to have the teepee. 15,000 people used the Teepee during its stay in Blackpool Victoria Hospital – and numbers are up for the second teepee in Rotherham Hospital. Amazingly, 50% of those people were hospital staff, who often used it as a space to go for a short moment away from the hectic hospital environment.

“We want to show how people coming together in a shared space can work in a hospital environment and show other hospitals how they can do the same.”

Camerados already have a presence in Middlesbrough. Camerados ‘Boro, run a weekly community lounge at Bar Zero and Off the Ground Coffee in the town centre.

Hannah Roderick, communications officer at Middlesbrough Voluntary Development Agency (MVDA), was part of a small team of local people to bring the social movement to Middlesbrough.

She said: “We have experienced first-hand the benefits of having such a space available to people who need it most. Having an environment like the teepee available in James Cook is really exciting for the town. It will greatly benefit hospital staff and visitors and is a really special opportunity for them to become a Camerado!”

Debi explains how the teepee is meant to be an interactive experience. She said: “We’d like to encourage people using the space to share their stories – although this is not compulsory! There are postcards dotted around inside the teepee that people can fill in to leave messages or to capture their reflections. These can then either be pegged around the interior of the structure or posted into the Camerados post box.

“I know the teepee has been used in a couple of other hospitals and the feedback was that it had a hugely positive effect on both patient experience and staff wellbeing. They felt it helped to make the hospital a better place to work, a more supportive place to get better, and a more welcoming place to visit.

“I want lots of people to come and use our very own South Tees Teepee!”