Researchers from the Centre for Health Humanities have worked with colleagues and patients at the Royal Berkshire Hospital to create a workbook which encourages users to doodle, to write, to reflect, and to pass the time. Based on the idea of a ‘distraction pack’, often used to powerful effect in writing therapy groups, our Writers’ Block workbook is intended to relieve anxiety, alleviate boredom, and keep our minds and hands active.

Recently we have been working on ‘Stories of Ageing’, a joint project between the University of Reading and the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust, to use art and stories to support patients in the Elderly Care Ward at the hospital. Our aim was to trial the use of artefacts, documents and records from the University’s archives and museums in helping patients with long-term and complex conditions to structure their day, keep their minds active, and pass the time between treatments. The arrival of COVID-19, however, meant we were unable to visit the hospital regularly and we were left thinking how we could work, quickly, to produce something that could be used by patients during lockdown.

The workbook we produced, Writers’ Block, is aimed at adults with complex conditions, but we also found that our colleagues’ children who are being home-schooled during the COVID crisis found the book useful in planning indoor activities. Since then the book has been taken up by residents of numerous hospitals and prisons including Peterborough Hospital, the Royal University Hospital Bath, and HMPs Bristol, Guy’s Marsh and Erlestoke.

Here at the Centre of Health Humanities, we are convinced of the power of the scribble and at no time has our view been vindicated more than during this difficult time of lockdown. As we continue to draw lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to explore how the success of our workbook confirms the need for art and writing in our pursuit of global health and wellbeing.


This work was funded by a grant from the Joint Academic Board, which supports research between the University and the Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Trust.