The Royal Marsden Arts Programme

The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity raises money solely to support The Royal Marsden, a world-leading cancer centre that cares for 55,000 people every year while conducting world-leading research.



The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity raises money solely to support The Royal Marsden, a world-leading cancer centre that cares for 55,000 people every year while conducting world-leading research. Thanks to generous philanthropic support, the Charity is able to invest in new equipment and facilities to increase the hospital’s capacity and vastly improve environments for patients. The Charity also funds The Royal Marsden’s ground-breaking research into earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments, and holistic patient care. The innovative work carried out at The Royal Marsden influences how patients are treated in the UK and world-wide.

As part of our commitment to provide the best possible environment and service for our patients we have recently established a new Arts Programme at the hospital. Providing opportunities to engage with the arts within healthcare environments is known to be beneficial for cancer patients. However, this level of service is above and beyond the scope of core NHS funding. We are therefore fundraising to help us develop the Arts Programme at The Royal Marsden.

The need

There is a well-documented link between access to art in hospitals and patient wellbeing. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry in July 2017 stated that ‘the arts can make a significant contribution to addressing a number of the pressing issues faced by our health and social care systems’.[1] The Inquiry found that:

  • Visual and performing arts in healthcare environments help reduce sickness, anxiety and stress
  • Arts engagement helps healthcare staff to improve their health and wellbeing and that of their patients
  • Participatory arts help to relieve anxiety, depression and stress both within and outside of work

A review of 52 trials investigating the relationship between musical interventions and the physical and psychological effects of cancer[2] found that musical interventions were associated with modest reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure and modest to moderate reductions in fatigue; by far the largest physical effect was on pain reduction.[3] Art has been seen to relax cancer patients and make them feel better physically, with technical satisfaction, aesthetic beauty and pleasure being implicated in the reduction of symptoms.[4] With these findings in mind, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity is fundraising to develop a more comprehensive Arts Programme in order to better support cancer patients.







The Arts Programme at The Royal Marsden

Until recently, the Arts Programme at The Royal Marsden was committee-led and mainly focussed on managing a portfolio of owned and leased art pieces. Ben Hartley was appointed as The Royal Marsden’s Art Officer in 2017. Ben is a sociology, psychology and nursing graduate with twenty years’ clinical experience who has studied coaching, fine art and health services research at postgraduate level. He has also has master’s degree in business administration.

Ben has been working part time to develop a more evidence-based and collaborative arts programme. This will enable us to provide better art experiences for our patients, while also improving the wellbeing of our staff and providing the support they need to provide the best possible care. We are now seeking to attain long term funding in order to develop and grow the Arts Programme over the next three years.

"I am privileged to be able to bring my creative skills and experience as a nurse to the Arts Officer role. At The Royal Marsden we work in exceptional spaces with people who have unique needs.  I want to provide staff, patients and visitors – some of whom may be by chance – a variety of opportunities to engage with the environment in artful ways. Evidence shows that doing this can make us all healthier. I also want to offer an alternative ground for discussion and reflection through the arts programme. An example of this is my current research, which explores ways of encouraging people living with cancer to communicate and improve their experience of our care by participating in art curating."

Progress to date

Ben’s first priority was to move away from the lease agreements previously entered into for a number of art pieces around the hospital. Instead, Ben is working with local artists to deliver commissions, exhibitions and artist residencies at the hospital and also developing relationships with donors in order to encourage art donations. Ending the lease agreements will free up the Art Programme’s funds, allowing investment in maintaining the hospital’s own collection of donated works. This is a more sustainable and cost effective way of providing art experiences for our patients and staff. Several new pieces of artwork have already been secured and the hospital’s collection will continue to grow over the coming years as we received further donations and establish new partnerships with other organisations.

In addition to developing the hospital’s collection, Ben has begun delivering and evaluating programmes aimed at increasing patient and staff participation in art. These include:

  1. Establishing rotating exhibitions of emerging artists in the hospital
  2. Increasing opportunities for music participation
  3. Organising artist in residence projects for long stay patients
  4. Delivering arts workshops and for staff and commissioning projects with staff

Programme evaluation to date

Ben is also evaluating the impact of these projects on staff and patients and is working towards publishing his findings in peer-reviewed journals, as a member of the Applied Health Research team at the hospital.

Ben presented a paper at the UK Oncology Nursing Society (UKONS) Conference in 2018, evaluating the success of a voluntary workshop and an arts appreciation walk that were held for Royal Marsden staff. The paper found that a mixture of professions joined the voluntary drawing workshop and 100% of attendees felt they were quite or extremely likely to attend another workshop.

Similarly the art appreciation walk revealed a similar appetite for engagement with 100% of those attending wanting to be involved in similar future activities.

Moving forward

Over the next three years Ben will continue developing collaborative projects that transform the environment and experience for people living with and beyond cancer, their friends and families, and our staff, through arts participation.

Ben plans to:

  1. Extend engagement in the Art Programme to three times more patients and staff across both our Sutton and our Chelsea sites, by employing four project volunteers
  2. Reform the hospital’s arts participation activity by encouraging artist residencies and commissions, and investing in new infrastructure including exhibition facilities and a new collection management system
  3. Move the arts programme towards best practice standards set by Arts Council UK
  4. Share evaluation of our Programme through conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications.

How the Arts Programme will help our patients

Investing in and developing our Arts Programme will enable the hospital to act on recommendations made by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry. This is especially important at The Royal Marsden because the severity of cancer, and the intensive nature of treatments for this disease, mean that many of our patients spend a significant amount of their time at the hospital.

Under Ben’s leadership the two new Arts Programme volunteers will help transform the environment within The Royal Marsden. Better availability of art activities for patients and staff to either enjoy as an observer, or to participate in themselves, will enhance the service that we can provide cancer patients. This will improve patient wellbeing and has potential to reduce recovery times as a result. All our work will be evaluated and the findings will be used to inform future programme delivery, meaning that patients will benefit more and more each year.

Phoebe’s story

Phoebe was studying communication, media and culture at Oxford Brookes when she was diagnosed with Grade 2 Frontal Glioma and Epilepsy. She had to drop out in order to receive treatment and was feeling depressed. She got involved in a pilot arts participation project called Art Codes which was organised by Ben and our Youth Support Co-ordinator Ella Hallpike. Phoebe tells her story below:

"I got involved in Art Codes because I had nothing going on in my life I was really alone and depressed as I’d had to drop out of uni I’d piled on weight and lost about 2/3rds of my hair.  It made such a difference going into The Royal Marsden and just meeting people going through what I’d been through and for the first time in years I felt I was surrounded by people who understood me and what I’d gone through.’

It was such a great experience felt like I learnt so much from it all - I’d never really heard of Art Codes before and it felt amazing when it was all done seeing our work on the board and Ella gave us all the prints and like our own print in a frame was so nice. I really enjoyed meeting the team who were creating it for us because they treated us all with so much respect and really listened to our ideas. I asked if they could make the codes look like our cancer cells and they did and it felt amazing like this team of highly accomplished people had actually listened to my ideas. When everything in my life was awful it made me feel special.

Art Codes really built my confidence up again and made me believe in myself again after struggling with my diagnoses and feeling so alone. I feel really lucky I was allowed to participate in this experience – projects like these are really important. When you feel you don’t have any work or education it gives you something to care about. One of my friends who was doing Art Codes with us, Celina, passed away but she’d written her story about her diagnosis and her design was made, so although she’s no longer with us, part of her will always live on. I have lost quite a few friends along this treatment journey and they have all had their stories published and it means a lot to know they won’t be forgotten."


We are asking for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity supporters to consider making arts-focused donations. This would help to fund our expanding Arts Programme, enabling The Royal Marsden to bring better care and support to cancer patients, while also evaluating the effectiveness of specific projects that we deliver.

Working together we will be able to create more opportunities to engage in the arts across the hospital. In this way your support would directly enhance the environment within which patients receive their treatment, improving their overall wellbeing and potentially reducing their sickness, anxiety and stress.

We would be delighted to discuss recognising a gift at this level by naming the volunteer roles at The Royal Marsden and exhibitions, artist residencies or commissions held during this time in your honour. We would also mention your support in any academic papers or presentations that are produced as part of this the Art’s Programme should this be appropriate.

[1] All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry (2017), Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing - Second Edition.

[2] Bradt, J., Dileo, C., Grocke, D. & Magill, L. (2011). ‘Music Interventions for Improving Psychological and Physical Outcomes in Cancer Patients’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews; and Bradt, J., Shim, M. & Goodill, S. W. (2015) ‘Dance/Movement Therapy for Improving Psychological and Physical Outcomes in Cancer Patients’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

[3] Lin, M-H., Moh, S-L., Kuo, Y-C. & Wu, P-Y. (2012) ‘Art Therapy for Terminal Cancer Patients in a Hospice Palliative Care Unit in Taiwan’, Palliative and Supportive Care, 10 (1), pp. 51–57.

[4] Lefèvre, C., Ledoux, M. & Filbert, M. (2015). ‘Art Therapy Among Palliative Cancer Patients: Aesthetic dimensions and impacts on symptoms’, Palliative and Supportive Care, 0, pp. 1–5.