Designing better mental healthcare facilities

Morpeth ‘flagship’ facility’s choice of secure settings ‘promotes a meaningful day for patients’

Developed around the concept of a ‘village campus’, a new medium secure hospital at the heart of the £60 m redevelopment of Northgate Park Hospital in Morpeth, Northumberland, provides a range of indoor and outdoor settings for relaxation and activity, ‘relieving boredom, and addressing the risk of challenging behaviours and poor physical health’.

Architects, Medical Architecture, said: “Built by Sir Robert McAlpine for NTW Solutions – Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Sycamore at Northgate Park Hospital is vital to the future delivery of modern and effective forensic mental health services in the North East of England, and a catalyst to bring all the Trust’s secure services together into an integrated secure centre of excellence.” The entire redevelopment provides 116 male inpatient beds, in new and reconfigured buildings. The new-build element, ‘Sycamore’, provides inpatient accommodation for 72 male patients with forensic mental health needs, including patients with complex personality disorders and/or learning disabilities.

Delivered through the New Hospital Programme, the project forms part of the Trust’s £72.6 m Care Environment Development and Re-provision programme (CEDAR).

The existing hospital site is a large open campus, containing a mix of buildings and facilities, with much of the eastern portion neighboured by mature woodland. Early feasibility work demonstrated benefits to flanking the new hospital with trees on three sides; the natural setting enhances accommodation’s  therapeutic nature.

Medical Architecture said: “A key design driver was to ensure a meaningful day for all patients, promoting recovery through activity, with a ‘village campus’ feel, focusing on the individual patient and staff experience. As many spaces as possible, inside and out, offer opportunities for mitigating boredom. This is achieved in settings accessible autonomously – from bedrooms to living spaces, and sheltered gardens to open courtyards, with opportunities for  structured and unstructured sports and activities.”

The six patient wards are paired together and arranged around a large recreation courtyard. Each building is adjoined, creating a secure boundary without fences, minimising the feeling of confinement. The architects say that ‘with rich landscaping and integrated security measures, this shared space does not feel like a typical forensic mental health facility’.

The courtyard is separated into two distinct character zones – ‘Passive’ and ‘Active’, with the former offering restful places and ‘refuge’ to sit among plants and grasses, and views out to the wider recreation area, and the latter a 200 m jogging/walking loop, activity spaces, and fitness ‘trim trail’. The main reception building houses a covered sports barn.

At each ward’s centre is a private landscaped courtyard for relaxation, while between each ward pair is a designated activity courtyard, with sports court markings.

Bedrooms face outwards, with views to the surrounding woodland, while abundant daylighting, attractive views, and a sense of spaciousness, contribute to the therapeutic environment.

While use of the common spaces is actively encouraged, it was acknowledged that this patient group may choose to spend time in their own room. To maximise the opportunity, the design of the bedrooms stemmed from a detailed re-imagining of how these spaces could work. Medical Architecture said: “In an evolution of previous designs for the Trust, the bespoke fitted furniture is devised to assist with a personal workout outside of scheduled recreation time. Adequate floor space for exercise, and a television which can be easily viewed from the bed or floor, enables a patient to either be active or to rest.”

The transition from private bedroom to shared circulation and day spaces has been considered to provide a reassuring path into more stimulating environments. The bedroom corridors are single-sided, with immediate views to the landscaped ward courtyards from each bedroom door, ‘providing orientation, good observation, and balancing circadian rhythms’.

The front reception building provides a secure boundary to a large section of the internal plan, reducing the need for high fencing, while a visible, publicly accessible café with integrated artwork provides a welcoming space for visitors and staff.

A consistent and controlled palette of materials and architectural styles has been developed to integrate the building with the most recent additions to the hospital site, and to present a positive image for visitors and new arrivals.

Paul Yeomans, director at Medical Architecture, said: “It is fantastic to see this important project realised. The technical requirements for forensic mental health buildings, particularly with regards to security, can present challenges to the creation of supportive and recovery-focussed environments. However, standing in the thriving central courtyard, it is hard to tell you are in the middle of a forensic hospital. That normalising of the accommodation will have such a positive impact on patient wellbeing.”

John Carson, head of Capital Development at NTW Solutions, added: “This has been a fantastic scheme to deliver for CNTW, with a true team spirit with all involved, especially with the clinical teams on site. That teamwork has paid off, and it’s inspiring to see the unit in use, and heartening to hear the early feedback from clinicians about the quality of the accommodation. This is a flagship development, and it has set a new standard, not just for our

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