Art plays key role at Cornwall cancer centre

Willis Newson works with charity to enhance interior design at Cove Macmillan Support Centre at the Royal Cornwall Hospital

The new Cove Macmillan Centre has a Cor-Ten steel sign chosen for it's texture and changing weathered appearance. Image courtesy of Mike Newman

Art plays a key role in the interior design approach to the new Cove Macmillan Support Centre at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro.

Funded by Macmillan Cancer Support, the £2.8m facility aims to improve the lives of people affected by cancer and includes an information area; café; meeting spaces; and rooms for support groups, counselling, and complementary therapies.

Designed by ADP Architects, the building is a simple, yet elegant structure that evokes vernacular wooden coastal buildings.

The coastal theme is continued in the interior with joinery suggestive of boatbuilding techniques.

Scott Woyka's reception desk made using boat-building techniques, with base colour selected to tone with Kurt Jackson's painting

Led by its creative director, Bronwen Gwillim, arts consultancy, Willis Newson, worked closely with the charity and architects to develop a shared vision and strategy for the art and interiors of the new building.

The strategy aimed to:

  • Use the best-quality materials and durable finishes so that the design remains fresh and fit for purpose in the long-term
  • Provide uplifting moments at key locations through bespoke graphic imagery, and sculptural elements designed to work with the functional aspects of a specific location
  • Explore ways of making connections between the architectural, interior, and landscape design
  • Create a sense of local relevance by referencing Cornish culture and industry and using local artists and designers where possible
  • Integrate the brand of Macmillan Cancer Support into the building in a recognisable, yet unobtrusive way

Kurt Jackson's painting in The Cove reception

The idea was to integrate art and interior design so that the resulting environment would be unique and special: not only a calm and reassuring place with carefully selected colours and high-quality materials, but also a place that is full of character and offers moments of inspiration.

The shared vision of the design team meant each element of the design works together harmoniously, with colours inspired by paintings which, in turn, are inspired by the building's location in Cornwall.

From the outset it was determined that the team would use Cornish artists, fabricators, and suppliers and that the names of rooms inside the building would reference Cornish coves. This firmly rooted the centre in the local landscape and ensured a strong identity was embedded from the start.


Willis Newson proposed that some of the building budget for furniture could be re-allocated and used to engage a craftsperson to make unique, high-impact, and high-quality work. This attention to detail ensures the end result is enduring, with a sense of solidity and longevity.

The design of the entrance and foyer area celebrates the idea of a cove or harbour as a welcoming and safe place, with the reception desk and shelving screen created by furniture maker, Scott Woyka, suggesting sculptural traditional boat forms.

Using boat-building techniques such as profile cutting, routing and steam bending, Woyka created tactile curved surfaces using natural materials including wood and copper rivets.

These bring an element of nature into the space and invite careful consideration of just how these objects were created.

This is particularly interesting in the context of a cancer support centre where it may offer distraction to male patients who can often find these spaces difficult to inhabit comfortably.

Artist Chelsea Holter pictured with her wall mural. Image courtesy of Mike Newman


In healthcare environments it is vital that artistic interventions are durable, cleanable and long-lasting, which makes using large-scale paintings difficult. However, the design team knew this effect was what they needed to create moments of inspiration and uplift for patients.

Willis Newson worked with renowned Cornwall-based painter, Kurt Jackson, to create and frame high-quality large-scale digital prints of some of his Cornish landscape paintings.

The selection and siting of the artworks set the flavour of the space and the interior colour palette for each room was chosen to complement the images.

Within the centre there is also a separate space for teenagers and young adults which needed a different ambience to the rest of the building.

Willis Newson consulted with young patients in the hospital to discover their preferences and then used that to inform the artist's brief and to recruit illustrator, Chelsea Holter.

Holter then carried out further consultation with young people to find out what was special to them about Cornwall. Answers included the Eden Project, surfing, and spending time with friends.

She then created a large wall mural which has an overall calming effect, but which incorporates the young people's suggestions as small collaged images which are there if the patient chooses to look in more detail.

Alongside this work, Holter created a graphic motif which runs throughout the centre - across windows, walls and even door signs - creating a subtle visual brand for the building, which is then used alongside Macmillan Cancer Support corporate colours and fonts.

This door sign featuring detail from Kurt Jackson paintings was overlaid with text showing the name of a Cornish cove and Chelsea Holter's graphic motif