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Hidden stories of mental health care in Nottinghamshire revealed by new online exhibition

The stories of Nottinghamshire people who lived and worked through the transition from mental hospitals to care in the community in the 1990s have been revealed through a new project which has curated their voices into an online exhibition.

An old photo of Mapperley hospital and grounds
A view of the former psychiatric hospital in Mapperley, Notts, in 1970

Led by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Hidden Memories of Nottingham Mental Healthcare has explored and documented the heritage of early community care in Nottingham following the Community Care Act of 1990.

Nottingham has a significant tradition of innovation in mental health care provision, such as the introduction of the open-door policy at Mapperley Hospital in 1952 and the first community mental health team in the 1980s as part of the transition from asylum to community care. Yet little is known about how this innovation has impacted on service users, their families and the professionals delivering care.

Dr Verusca Calabria from the School of Social Sciences at NTU and a team of MA Museum and Heritage students from the University’s School of Arts and Humanities remotely collected 17 oral histories from retired nurses, social workers, carers and local community members who have memories of the closure of the county’s former mental health institutions, such as Saxondale and Mapperley hospitals, and the move to community care provision.

The testimonies celebrate the hidden legacy of mental health care in Nottinghamshire while also providing important insights and reflections on the changing dimension of care practices that can help to influence positive changes in modern mental health policy.

Dr Verusca Calabria, research fellow in the Social Work and Health Care department, said: “These institutions, once known as lunatic asylums, certainly had many elements that we would not want to bring back to modern healthcare. However, my doctoral study and this subsequent heritage project have thrown some light on the therapeutic aspects of care provided in the old system that were valued by many, such as having access to a place of safety and the extensive park-like grounds within the old psychiatric institutions during a mental health crisis and convalescence. Participants in this project also stressed the importance of having time to build positive staff-patient relationships, while retired staff reported having more time to dedicate to patient care. Many of these benefits were lost in the move to community care.”

Present day Mapperley Hospital turned into flats
The wards of Mapperley Hospital have been turned into flats since the transition to community care

Sharing his memories as part of the project, a former psychiatric nurse who worked at Mapperley Hospital in the mid-1980s recalled: “After the closure of the mental hospitals, a lot of us thought that people were neglected in the community as there were many gaps in provision.” Another former member of staff, who worked as an administrator at Mapperley Hospital in the same period and went on to train as a social worker, recalled: “The hospital gave people with serious, long-term mental ill health some security, so it was quite hard for a lot of them when they were moved out.”

Dr Verusca added: “It is important to reflect on these complex historical elements of mental health care so that we can learn from these stories and experiences, and also so that we can document the legacy of early community care in Nottingham before it is lost. I would like to thank all of the interviewees who came forward to share their stories with us.”

The online exhibition on the Hidden Memories website is organised in three main themes: care in the mental hospitals, transition to community care, and early care in the community. It will be used as a teaching and learning resource in undergraduate and postgraduate social and health care, education and history courses at NTU, the University of Huddersfield and the University of Lincoln.

The oral histories, alongside personal photographs and newspaper clippings offered by participants, will be deposited at Nottingham Central Library in the autumn, creating a public resource for future generations.

It is still possible to share memories of the transition to community care via the project blog. If you would like to do so, please email. Follow the project on Twitter via @HealthMemories to hear about future developments.

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    About the department of Social Work and Health Care, Nottingham Trent University

    The department of Social Work, Care and Communities at Nottingham Trent University is a lead member of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire D2N2 Teaching Partnership and Academy for Excellence, a top 20 ranked Social Work programme with 100% NSS student satisfaction (2018). Our dynamic team are committed to excellence and innovation in teaching and research, including impact in our local communities.

    Follow @SocialWorkNTU on Twitter

    About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

    Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.

    Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2020 National Student Survey, above the sector average of 83%.

Hidden stories of mental health care in Nottinghamshire revealed by new online exhibition

Published on 9 March 2021
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Arts and Humanities; School of Social Sciences

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