Students from Staffordshire University have been sharing innovative ideas to help commemorate a former Stoke-on-Trent hospital.

The North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary in Hartshill closed in 2012 and is currently being demolished as part of major regeneration plans for the city. The University Hospital of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM) set students a five-day challenge to come up with creative ways to preserve the landmark site’s legacy.

Lorraine Whitehead, UHNM Director of Estates, said: “The site holds many memories for staff, patients, local residents and visitors both past and present and we want to capture its contribution to the region for future generations. We have collaborated with Staffordshire University before and have been really impressed by the students, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to work together again.”

Organised by Professor Jess Power, the challenge took place during the School of Digital, Technologies and Arts’ employability week, which was attended by 49 industry partners and more than 800 students. The event also formed part of three-year project “The Creative Connection” funded by the Royal Academy of Engineers Visiting Professors Scheme.

Interdisciplinary teams from a range of courses had chance to delve into archive footage and photographs of the old infirmary for inspiration and to learn more about its history from those who worked there.

Working against the clock, students developed creative concepts with support from Visiting Professor of Innovation Andrew Lawrence before pitching their ideas to a panel of judges which included Stoke Central MP Jo Gideon and Cllr Abi Brown, Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The panel were impressed by the diverse range of projects which included a technology-based ‘heritage hub’ with interactive exhibits, plus a series of installations in the Royal Stoke University Hospital grounds inspired by key artefacts and people in the infirmary’s history.

First place, however, was awarded to BSc (Hons) Engineering Design students Ash Johnson and Nesta Shingler who combined their expertise with BA (Hons) Graphic Design student Sophie Slim to design a memorial walk around the Royal Stoke University Hospital garden.

The ‘Path of Recovery’ takes visitors down memory lane and showcases a chronological history of the infirmary, incorporating architectural features salvaged from the demolition such as tiles, stained glass, benches and chimney pot planters. It also features interactive information plaques with QR codes which can be scanned to reveal stories about the hospital and the people who worked there.

Winner Ash said: “We wanted this memorial trail to benefit all the NHS workers who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic and we hope it will make a nice change for nurses and doctors to visit the garden as well as patients and visitors.”

Sophie added: “I’m still in shock at winning. I was very nervous about presenting to the judges, but by encouraging me to work as a team with students from another course this challenge has really helped to build my confidence.”

The winners will receive a prize of £250, sponsored by IET NW Midlands Network, and will be taking part in a two-day internship at the Royal Stoke University Hospital to explore how their winning concept could become a reality.

Lorraine Whitehead, UHNM Director of Estates, said: “The standard of all the pitches was very high and the students’ passion really shone through but the winning team’s submission covered everything. It had got the creativity and the narrative that we asked for and had the innovation of introducing technology to enhance the experience.

“A huge part of what we do is to help patients as they recover from their illness and the ‘Path of Recovery’ shines a light on this important part of our work. It also recognises the fact that our staff have been through a really tough time and this garden trail is as much about staff restoration and recovery as it is for patients.”

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