As founder and chairman of Delancey Real Estate, Jamie Ritblat played an instrumental role in the company, becoming the first ever sponsor of the National Portrait Gallery’s Schools and Learning Programme. This article will look at the National Portrait Gallery’s Children’s Hospital Programme, a pioneering project that provides a welcome distraction and topic of conversation for paediatric patients treated by four children’s hospitals in London.
The Playful Portraits creative arts programme provides an inspiring environment for children, encouraging them to create through craft activities and photography projects with a special focus on portraits.
Hamera Elahi is a Healthcare Play Specialist at Newham University Hospital. She explains that children who come in for transfusions can be at the hospital from anywhere between four to six hours, which is a long time for any child to be in a hospital. The Playful Portraits programme helps to motivate children, encouraging them to get involved with art, as well as providing a distraction from their illness and keeping them occupied throughout the day.
Art is incredibly therapeutic, providing children with an outlet to express how they are feeling. Andrew Wieland, a schoolteacher at the Royal London Hospital, indicates that coming into contact with artists from the National Portrait Gallery has a positive impact on young people.
Liz Smith is the National Portrait Gallery’s Director of Learning & Engagement. She points out that the organisation has relied quite heavily on the support of its funder, Delancey. Long-term funding is particularly important to the project, providing organisers with the reassurance that artists of the highest standard will be returning to the hospitals time and time again, providing a sense of security and a talking point between staff and children. Delancey Real Estate has pledged support over a three-year period, enabling the National Portrait Gallery to present 60 workshops annually and benefiting around 500 children and their families.
Featuring portraits of ‘rebels, believers and dreamers’, the Playful Portraits activity book is free for children and families to download from the National Portrait Gallery website. The activity book shines a light on individuals who have pushed against boundaries to achieve amazing things. Available in PDF format, the activity book offers ideas on things to do, draw and make, as well as providing links to additional resources.
In January 2020, the now Princess of Wales paid a visit to Evalina London Children’s Hospital, where she spent some time at a National Portrait Gallery creative arts workshop, participating in arts and crafts as well as photography sessions. On her arrival, the Princess was greeted by Anna-Victoria Amoafa-Sennie, with the young girl presenting her with a bouquet of posies.
In a blog post published on the hospital’s website, Evelina London’s director, Marian Ridley, said that the hospital was proud to host the creative arts workshop, adding that she was delighted to be joined by Her Royal Highness, the then Duchess of Cambridge, who visited to see the excellent work they do. As Marian Ridley pointed out, art is an invaluable therapy for children while they are in hospital, helping them to develop their creativity and providing them with something to enjoy while reducing their anxieties.
The Playful Portraits programme encourages children to play, make, read, learn, write and create. Designed to be used by children either alone or with their families, whilst on the ward or at home, Playful Portraits profiles a variety of different inspirational sitters, including physician Harold Moody, Paralympian David Weir; crystallographer and chemist Dorothy Hodgkin; the Bronte Sisters; and education activist Malala Yousafzai.
The Princess joined the children at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, making characters and sets for their pop-up theatres. According to Kensington Palace, she then sat for a photography session, posing for a photograph taken by a little boy called Luke Wheeler-Waddison. Luke was subsequently joined by his younger sister Savannah, and the siblings presented the Princess with a handmade rag wreath. The Princess told Luke and Savannah that she would hang it in Princess Charlotte’s bedroom, news that the siblings received with great excitement. Later, Luke acknowledged that he was very happy with the portrait he had taken with Kate, pointing out that not many people get to see a princess in real life.
Dr Nicholas Cullinan, the National Portrait Gallery’s director, confirmed that it was an honour to share the organisation’s vital work at Evelina London with its patron, the then Duchess of Cambridge, acknowledging that he was immensely proud of the Hospital Programme, which demonstrates the positive impact that creativity and art can have on health and wellbeing.
Founded in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was established with the aim of collecting portraits of the most important figures in British history. This role remains unchanged, although the institution has broadened its understanding of achievement to reflect the dynamism and diversity of contemporary culture. Boasting a collection of more than 215,000 portraits, the National Portrait Gallery’s world-class exhibition programme showcases the work of some of the world’s most revered artists, past and present.