At MCM we are all for brightening up hallways and other communal areas, to make them feel more familiar and homely. Anything is better than bland hallways, right?
In one of the hallways of a care home I was working with a few years ago it was decided to decorate one long hallway wall with a mural depicting scenes and characters from the film ‘A Wizard of Oz.’ Where this idea came from remained a mystery and although it was well executed, it puzzled me from my first viewing. What was it about? What relevance did it have to the people living there? Again, it was a big improvement on how it looked previously, but I felt an opportunity had been missed.
Other places I have been to have incorporated outdoor scenes to varying degrees of success. Murals of nature and farm animals certainly went down well in a care home in the far south of Ireland, but not so much in a care home in Bristol.
In the former place, people would talk about the jobs they did, their experiences as children and sometimes just the sheer beauty of it all. In the latter, people seemed to like it more than the bland hallways, but you got the impression that they wondered too what it was all about.
The rationale for trying to bring the outside, in seems simple. Often in the UK, it’s seen to be ‘difficult’ for people to get outside and enjoy nature. Surely, it’s easier and safer to bring it indoors. It’s too wet, too cold, too windy out there. Certainly, I have never seen a deliberate attempt to bring those elements of the ‘great outdoors,’ ‘indoors’ at a care home.
But pastoral themed hallways should never be used as an excuse for people not needing to go outside.
Careful thought needs to be given before bringing the Great Outdoors inside. Are pastoral scenes always desirable? In Ireland, the care home was on the edge of a village and the scenes depicted in hallways related directly to what was around. There were also objects for people to look at and hold linked to the scenes painted in the hallways.
Thinking about it now, in Ireland it was real. In Bristol, it seemed an irrelevant ideal. The countryside scenes seemed to depict a place out of reach and far away. In terms of objects, what had been put there, had often been put away.
By the way, don’t get me wrong. I really like Bristol. It has great character and beauty, so why wasn’t it depicted in this care home?
When we want to bring the outside in, it doesn’t just have to work on a sensory level but also on a cultural level too.
I was born in Liverpool. I would like to think the hallways in a care home I lived in would need to be decorated with pictures of home, not just the docks or Anfield football stadium, but the terraced street I first lived in and then the suburban close so familiar in many British cities. For us city dwellers, what would be the ‘Great Outdoor’ items to fill the hallways? A plastic football, a skateboard, bus tickets, the newspaper we got from the shop, supermarket shelves? They may not look pretty, but I think they would make sense to me.