Cefn Coed remembered

Dr Will Bryan, Professor Michael Coffey, Dr Elizabeth Gagen, Professor Mary Gagen and Dr Tim Kindberg collaborated on an Escalator Grant in 2018. The project also involved external partners the Oriel Science project (www.orielscience.co.uk), and Martin Thomas from the ABMU/SBU NHS Health Board.

Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea was one of the UK’s last remaining residential institutions from the asylum era when it closed its doors in 2018. As Professor Gagen explains: “Our project explored a problem surrounding the closure; how to experience life at a hospital that no longer physically exists.

Our objective was to develop innovative digital, immersive means of preserving and experiencing life at Cefn Coed hospital after closure, and to conduit the hospital’s stories to stakeholders.”

The project posed two research questions: 1 - How can innovative digital interactions facilitate a return to significant spaces and provide safe experiences to those who were there? 2 – Can digital platforms allow the safe presentation of patient data and balance the requirements of privacy with the benefits of engagement with mental health history?

Professor Gagen comments: “We experimented with a projection-mapped space for recreating experiential aspects of Cefn Coed close up via a digital ‘Reliving Room’. Because Cefn Coed ceased to exist physically upon closure digital methods were in fact the only solution to the preservation of the potential in a physical, spoken, written and visual archive of 90 years of UK psychiatric practice. We also began the digital archiving of the visual, oral and written records of Cefn Coed and exposed several problematic areas for further research.”

Key achievements of the project include the exploration of 25 early patient records from the period 1930-1960. Explorations of these records formed part of the ‘Cefn Coed Remembered’ exhibition which ran at Swansea Museum from January to June 2019. The Cefn Coed ‘Reliving Room’ was constructed in January 2019 and runs as part of the Cefn Coed Remembered exhibition at Swansea Museum.

This digital installation provided an artefact-driven methodology by which visitors to the exhibition could navigate between places, points of view and times at Cefn Coed. Our Reliving Room films can be seen here (all by Dr Tim Kindberg, founder of digital technology company matter II media https://matter2media.com ).

The Corridors of Cefn Coed.

The Boy in the Basement.

“They used to dance under it”, the Cefn Coed Disco Ball.


Time lapse footage of Cefn Coed through a series of 24-hour periods in which the central Cefn Coed ‘water tower’ is visible. The time lapse can be viewed here.

Feedback regarding the reliving room has been very positive and revealed that people felt the Reliving Room was a point of connection to the hospital. Some feedback examples are below: “I found the film fascinating, because I had never been there. I had two relatives there (at the hospital) but I never visited them despite living very close. I was a child at the time. Wishing I had seen it.”

The project team envisages two research workstreams going forwards, and are in discussions with the wider Cefn Coed/ABMU Heritage group and researchers from COAH regarding these.