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Art exhibition shines spotlight on mental health

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Mrs Robb's Conversation
Mrs Robb's Conversation shows a photo from a patient’s casebook, to accompany an exhibition sound recording - based on one of the first Asylum transcriptions to feature the voice of a patient.

New artwork co-created by patients at Bellsdyke Hospital, inspired by patients of over a century ago, will be exhibited at the University of Stirling.

'Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars' is an artistic response to materials from the Stirling District Asylum Archive – housed by the University Archive - and reveals the indiscriminate nature of mental illness.

Sound recordings and printed artworks have been produced by artist Sharon Quigley in collaboration with a group of patients and staff at the now-named Bellsdyke Hospital. They have delved behind the case notes, patients' letters and admission books to explore the identities of Asylum patients from 1906-14.

Hundreds of people were admitted to the Larbert-based Asylum during this time, including workers from Forth Valley's industrial and agricultural sectors.

NHS Forth Valley Endowments funded the project, developed in partnership by Artlink Central - a charity providing arts experiences within the NHS to improve patients' experiences and environments - and the University of Stirling Art Collection and Archive. The University Archive houses the Asylum records as part of its wider NHS Forth Valley historical archive.

The exhibition also includes a piece illustrating the botanical roots of medical terminology, inspired by a later tree survey of the Bellsdyke estate.

'Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars' will be on display at Forth Valley Royal Hospital’s Atrium from 7 August to 1 January, 2016, then at the Art Collection in the University of Stirling's Pathfoot Building from 23 January to 27 May, 2016.

Sarah Bromage, Deputy Curator of the University of Stirling’s Art Collection said: "The idea for this exhibition was sparked by the University receiving over 150 years of archive NHS materials relating to hospital care and treatment in Forth Valley.

"The Asylum records - brought to life through these innovative and thought-provoking works - are among the larger Forth Valley health board archive now publicly accessible through our archive reading room.

"We are delighted that as part of the project’s legacy, a commissioned exhibition piece will be added to the University’s Art Collection."

Artist Sharon Quigley said: "After a period of research within the archive I embarked on a journey with residents, working in small groups or one-to-one, exploring our creative common language.

"Through discussion, recollection, drawing and sound recording we set out to produce a new archive which would reassert the patients' voice. This new archive charts the people and the grounds of the hospital, past and present, whilst creating a response to its fascinating history and environment."

Lorraine Robertson, NHS Forth Valley Service Manager for Specialist Mental Health and Head of Mental Health Nursing said: "This commission shines a light on a portion of the archived history of mental health services in Stirling, and shows how much mental health facilities have changed since 1865.

"I'd also like to thank our current staff and patients who have been involved in creating artwork for this fascinating exhibition.”

Catherine Middleton Findlay, Artlink Central Artistic Programmer, said: "We were delighted to be approached by Sharon Quigley and the University to develop this creative exploration of the archive, and through our unique relationship with NHS Forth Valley, to be able to offer an opportunity for patients and staff to become involved in the artistic response alongside her."

Media enquiries to Esther Hutcheson, Communications Officer on 01786 466 640 or


Notes for editors
Background information

Stirling District Asylum opened to patients in 1869. It was established by Stirling District Lunacy Board under an 1858 Act of Parliament enabling district asylums to be built and maintained by county authorities. Following the Mental Health (Scotland) Act, 1960 the name Bellsdyke Hospital was adopted.

NHS Forth Valley transferred its historical archives to the University of Stirling in 2012. These include the now UNESCO-recognised records of the nineteenth/twentieth century Royal Scottish National Hospital (originally known as the Royal Scottish National Institution) for mentally ill children, which was also sited in Larbert.

A guided tour of the archive and exhibition, plus related seminar, will be held at the University of Stirling whilst the exhibition is on display there.  Further details in due course at

Artlink Central has been bringing creativity onto the wards of Forth Valley, for patients to get involved in and enjoy, for 27 years.

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