Yesterday, members from the Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Baha’i and Buddhist local communities came together to share in a special multifaith celebration event to mark the opening of Bristol Royal Infirmary’s new Sanctuary. 

The contemporary new space has been funded by local hospital charity, Above & Beyond, as part of its £6m Golden Gift Appeal to provide patients, family, friends and staff members with a place of rest, refuge and reflection, in what can otherwise be a difficult time.

During the celebratory opening service, which included music, poetry and reflective prose, members of different religious communities were invited to bring a special object or symbol which will remain in the Sanctuary as a gift for people of that faith to use. 

Revd Brenda Dowie, Chaplaincy Team Leader for University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust: “The new sanctuary is open to everyone and in the new design we wanted to have a sense that this space belongs to us all – it will be a sanctuary for all faiths and none.”

The celebration event provided an opportunity for us to come together and experience the refuge and rest the new space has to offer; where patients, families and staff can come and find quiet and safety in the midst of a busy, noisy hospital.

The Multifaith Sanctuary was funded by Above & Beyond through generous support from the following organisations: Mounthill Mission (£17,000), The Arts Council (£15,000), The Van Neste Foundation (£15,000), Bristol Freemasons (£5,114), Allchurches Trust Limited (£1,500), and a number of individual donors (£5,500). 

£17,000 of the funding was donated to the charity by Mounthill Mission, which after serving residents of Hanham and Kingswood for over a century, was forced to close its doors last year due to dwindling congregation numbers. As a result, the Board of Trustees, including husband and wife Ted and Olive Denning both in their nineties, decided to sell the land for redevelopment and donated the proceeds to local charities, including Above & Beyond. 

Speaking about the donation, Sue Veale, who has been a member of Mount Hill Mission Church for over forty years, said:

Olive was so pleased to think that this way, we will be passing on a bit of the Mission to other people within the Bristol community. We hope the money will help to create a new space where people can go and find sanctuary in difficult times – the very reason Ted’s grandfather built Mount Hill Mission in the first place.

The £15,000 grant from the Arts Council funded the splendidly evocative artwork by renowned colour artist Ptolemy Mann based on original hand weavings using her signature Ikat technique. Her work is visible in the elements that are central to the sanctuary design scheme. These are the large textile panels on the walls, the large panel that welcomes visitors from the hospital corridor, and the floor to ceiling sliding panels that divide up the space, allowing it to be used by several groups at once, each according to their faith, or just to allow a moment of quiet reflection. Through consultation with staff, patients and representatives of the multifaith community, Ptolemy developed a palette that evoked nature and the variegated colours of Sea, Sky, Forest, and Sun. Looking also at their orientation within the space, cool blues and greens appear in the north west; warm oranges and yellows in the south east.

Generous grants from the Van Neste Foundation (£15,000), Bristol Freemasons (£5,114) and Allchurches Trust (£1,500), together with donations from individual supporters, have helped to fund the other elements of the creation of this space, including bespoke hand-made oak furniture by Jim Sharples and specially designed compass features in the floor and ceiling by architects O’Leary Goss.

"Freemasons of Bristol were only delighted to enable completion of this wonderful project, as we continue to strive hard to support various local projects to benefit the Bristol communities at large," said Prakash Dewani from Bristol Freemasons. 

All these organisations have been very active in the Bristol community and have generously supported a number of initiatives across the city for a very long time. We were grateful for their support in sustaining patients and their families, and the staff who care for them, at very difficult times in their lives by helping to create this soothing and beautiful space. 

Previously, patients and their families had access to the chapel in the hospital’s Old Building but since its closure in 2016, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust has worked with arts and health consultants Willis Newson to create a distinctive new Sanctuary as part of a major conversion and extension project.  

The new Sanctuary is located on Level 4 on the King Edward Building and available for use 24/7.