In 2014 I started work within the Archive Department at the University of Stirling, researching and conserving the Stirling District Asylum records, for a new visual art commission and collaboration .
In 2013 the University of Stirling’s Art Collection initially approached me to facilitate a project that would increase awareness and interest in their newly acquired NHS Forth Valley historic archive, whilst creating an artistic reflection. Through my work with Arts and Wellbeing charity Artlink Central the project expanded to actively include current residents of Bellsdyke Hospital and a real time response to its fascinating history and environment.
It’s been a remarkable and moving experience and one that constantly reminds me how far our understanding of mental welfare and care has come. So much has changed with regards diagnosis and treatment for those living with mental ill health; however it is striking that as much as attitudes and methods have changed, the same cares and anxieties affected patients and their relationships then, as do now.
This archive doesn’t just offer us a fascinating glimpse of life inside the Scottish District Asylums system but presents an extraordinary document, charting attitudes, moralities, social-economic conditions and an insight into lives of the wider community.
It also provides evidence that although knowledge of mental illness was lacking, this was also a place of care and in many cases recovery.