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Hospital Programme

New: Family Activities: Playful Portraits
Discover more about the Gallery’s Collection and these brilliant people whilst having fun! You will find things to do, draw and make, as well as links to extra resources.

Get creative

About the Programme

The National Portrait Gallery is committed to supporting and promoting health and wellbeing through the creative arts. To date, over 20,000 young people and their families have been involved through the Gallery’s partnerships with London children’s hospitals. This second year of a three year project, kindly funded by Delancey and DIL Trust UK, has allowed the Gallery to continue to design and deliver high quality free art workshops across London hospitals, building on over 15 years of practice in the field. The four current partner hospitals are Evelina London Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Newham University Hospital and The Royal London Hospital.

The current project, entitled Playful Portraits, commenced in September 2017 and runs until 2020. The project delivers creative art workshops lead by a team of experienced artists, familiar with responding to the needs of young people in hospitals. Working in close collaboration with hospital staff including play therapists, nursing staff and hospital teachers ensures appropriate provision tailored to the needs of each individual setting. Workshops offered to young people include photography, animation, sculpture, textiles, printing, collage, painting, craft and drawing activities. The programme gives children, young people and their families an opportunity to access the Gallery’s Collection of portraits and enjoy an associated activity whilst they are undergoing hospital treatment, either as day cases or on a longer-term basis. Activities take place on the ward, activity centres or by the bedside. Siblings and families also benefit as they are welcome to join in, bringing welcome relief to all from the challenges that a hospital stay can bring.

“I enjoyed being creative today. I felt free.”
Young person, Newham University Hospital.

Attending National Portrait Gallery workshops at Great Ormond Street Hospital Activity Centre made the big difference for us staying in hospital. My daughter said ‘I love this hospital!’ She used the activity centre a lot and I could concentrate on helping her brother getting better after major spinal surgery.”
Parent, Great Ormond Street Hospital

By sharing the Collection, children and young people discover personal stories of inspiration and intrigue that may help them better understand the world around them, and indeed themselves. The portraits represent the rich identity and diversity of Britain, past and present, and encourage young people to question and respond to ideas and issues through creative activities. The portraits are the starting point for each workshop, which this year fall under the thematic umbrella of Rebels Believers and Dreamers. The workshops are accompanied by a beautifully illustrated activity book serving as an extension to activities and as a reminder of the day and offer children and young people the opportunity to play, make, read, learn, imagine, write and create. The activities are designed to be flexible and respond to all ages.

Playful Portraits Activity Book

We are delighted to launch a new activity book for all young people at our partner sites. Designed by award-winning illustrator Quinton Winter, the activity book explores 12 people in the Gallery’s Collection: Malala Yousafzai, Dorothy Hodgkin, Zaha Hadid, Harold Moody, the Brontë Sisters, Octavia Hill, Noor Khan, David Weir, William Blake, Ben Whishaw, Barabara Hepworth and Nick Park. All Rebels, Believers and Dreamers, the book enables young people to discover and respond creatively to a wide range of inspiring people past and present who have demonstrated resilience to achieve their dreams. It shares their inspirational stories and includes games, art and craft activities. Examples include a code-cracking task related to Noor Khan’s life as a secret agent and a board game inspired by Paralympian David Weir’s training regime in Richmond Park.

The activity book forms a fundamental part of the programme, enabling us to reach as many young people and their families as possible. Andrew Wieland, Hospital Teacher at the Royal London Hospital says that the activity books are:

“…a fantastic resource, not only to be used during the workshops, but also for young people and their family who may have been unable to attend the workshop. They allow the workshops to have a bigger impact as they encourage follow up work and are relevant after a child has been discharged. They encourage philosophical discussion, which really supports the hospital schools Philosophy for Children (P4C) approach. A great distraction for children undergoing a medical procedure and a really good resource for patients confined to their bed.”

This is the third activity book created by National Portrait Gallery in collaboration with our partners. Previous titles are My Superheroes and My Magical Journeys. All three can be downloaded from the Resources section below.


Download all three of our free activity books here:

Playful Portraits

Playful Portraits

Playful Portraits, 2019; our most recent activity book designed by award winning illustrator Quinton Winter. This book takes as its theme Rebels, Believers and Dreamers, and includes contemporary sitters Mala Yousafzi, David Weir and Ben Whishaw, alongside historical sitters such as Octavia Hill and William Blake. With thanks to funding from Delancey, Get Living and DIL Trust UK.

Download PDF (19.6mb)

My Magical Journeys

My Magical Journeys

My Magical Journeys, 2017-18; a specially commissioned activity book of portraits and illustrations inspired by favourite writers such as Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Douglas Adams and Malorie Blackman. With thanks to funding from DIL Trust UK and the Aman Foundation UK.

Download PDF (11.1mb)

My Superheroes

My Superheroes

My Superheroes, 2012; the Gallery’s first hospital activity book illustrated by Marion Deuchars including the following sitters: Sir Francis Drake, Michael Faraday, Mary Seacole, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and Emmeline Pankhurst. With thanks to funding from the 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, CHK Charities Limited, PF Charitable Trust and the Gallery’s own superhero staff who ran the 2012 London Marathon to help raise funds.

Download PDF (4.15mb)

Online Resources and Guidance for Arts Practitioners

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry Report Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing

National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing: a voice and resource for arts and health activity.

London Arts in Health Forum is a membership organisation which aims to develop the role of culture in wellbeing and to promote and support arts in health activity across London and nationally.

Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report; what is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? World Health Organization, 2019.

Art and Well-Being; Toward a Culture of Health; a free guide for artists, creative organizers, health providers, funders, policy-makers and communities responding to threats to well-being.

Arts for Health and Wellbeing; an evaluation framework, Public Health England.

King’s Cultural Community: bringing together students, staff and alumni at King’s College London who engage with arts and culture.

National Portrait Gallery’s Working with Hospital Schools: A Practical Toolkit 2008

Some of the language described in this resource is now out of date but it still provides practical ideas for creative arts programming in a hospital setting. The framework was developed in 2008 after a one-year creative project working in partnership with Evelina Hospital School, The Children’s Hospital School at Great Ormond Street Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital School and University College London Hospital School. The project responded to the Gallery's Pop Art Portraits exhibition with the young people working together with artists and animators to create and animate their own pop-art portraits. This toolkit evaluates the project approach and offers advice, notes and activities.

Download the PDF (724kb)


Duchess of Cambridge visits Hospitals Programme at Evelina London

On 28 January 2020 we were privileged to have a very special visitor to the programme at Evelina Hospital. The Duchess of Cambridge, who is Patron of both the National Portrait Gallery and Evelina London, joined children receiving care at the hospital as they took part in art activities alongside family members. The workshops, led by artists Chloe Cooper, Marysa Dowling, Jessica Rosenfield and Angela Wright, were inspired by Ben Whishaw’s portrait from the Gallery’s Collection. Based on a stage set illustrated by Quinton Winter from the new activity book, children created their own decorated theatre with a self-portrait puppet and cast of characters.

The Duchess joined in with a group workshop as well as visiting a one-to-one session by the bedside, demonstrating the model for the programme. If a child is unable to leave the ward to participate in a session, the artist will go to them. The workshops are flexible and inclusive, ensuring as many children and young people as possible can take part.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London said: “It is an honour to share with our Patron, The Duchess of Cambridge, the vital work we do at Evelina London and other children’s hospitals in the capital. We are immensely proud of our Hospital Schools programme, which demonstrates the positive impact art and creativity can have on health and wellbeing, and enables us to share our Collection with those who may not have had the opportunity to experience it previously.”

Marian Ridley, Director of Evelina London added that they were 'proud' to host the visit, saying, “Art is an invaluable therapy for children and young people while they are in hospital, not only to develop their creativity but, but provide enjoyment that alleviates anxieties which they may be feeling.”