A new era for palliative care

An interview with the architects behind St Columba’s Hospital in Edinburgh

St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh

First opened in 1977, St Columba’s Hospital in Edinburgh has recently been given a new lease of life. Here we speak to the team behind the project

St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh opened in 1977 and was the first facility of its kind in Scotland to provide palliative care for people with life-threatening conditions.

Ahead of its time when it was first built, it set a precedent for end-of-life care services across the country.

However, more than three decades later, and the building was no longer compliant with modern healthcare requirements.

The hospice did not have accessible toilets and showers and there was not enough space to develop services any further.

“The building was coming to end of its life in terms of maintenance and access and the appropriate style of accommodation we wanted for our staff and patients,” said Alison Allan, project lead at St Columba’s Hospice.

“For us it is about providing a sensitive and dignified environment for patients and their families in order that they can carry on living their lives fully until they die. We wanted a building that reflected this.”

Taking action

Early on in the planning process, the hospice worked with designers from Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall Architects (JDDK) to develop an action plan.

Ian Clarke, director at JDDK, said: “We began with a meeting with the chief executive and chairman of the hospice where we looked at the issues and what could be done.

“We spent most of the first year helping the client to review the services provided and that was very valuable in making sure we all had a common understanding of the main objectives.”

The site was complex, set in a conservation area, and included two listed buildings.

“Many people would have said it was far too difficult to even think about developing and may have decided to move, but we were lucky to have such a forward-thinking client who wanted to take advantage of what is a wonderful location,” said Clarke.

What we have achieved is a building that will provide a much more modern environment for the delivery of 21st-century palliative care services

Set in picturesque grounds, and with impressive views North over the Firth of Forth, the team was eager to come up with a design that would utilise this outdoor space.

The result is a newly-completed £26m project which has seen some of the original buildings demolished and others enhanced and modernised. New-build facilities have also been constructed.

The state-of-the art facility is a modern two-storey structure and has 18 single en-suite bedrooms as well as four three-person rooms for visiting family and friends. Each single room is fitted with the latest moving and handling equipment, and there are new outpatient facilities and an education centre for healthcare professionals of all levels.

Some features from the old facility – a stained glass window, a stone fountain, three Celtic stones and an iron wind vane - have been preserved and incorporated into the new design.

A flexible approach

St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh

“There’s absolute flexibility within the new building based on what we know about palliative care services,” said Allan.

“When you walk in you arrive at a large walled garden, which has been there for years. This is the main gateway through which people access the site, and it immediately helps you to relax.

“Then you will arrive at the single-storey glazed entrance pavilion, which is very welcoming. From here you can see all around the building, with glazed corridors leading in different directions around various courtyards.

“Everything has been designed to look more like a hotel than a hospital. So when you first enter the site, you do not realise it is a medical facility.

“It has also been designed to make the most of natural light and ventilation and offer views out over the surrounding landscape.”

For us it is about providing a sensitive and dignified environment for patients and their families in order that they can carry on living their lives fully until they die

Each patient room has a terrace or balcony, with French doors opening out onto the surrounding lawns, providing a welcome distraction for patients and their loved ones.

The development was built by Graham Construction. Regional director, Neil McFarlane, told BBH: “Across the board we have all gained valuable knowledge from this development.

“It was a very complex site, but the success of the scheme was down to all parties fully understanding what the key drivers were and then managing those expectations.

“What we have achieved as a result is a building that will grow and evolve as the services do, but which will provide a much more modern environment for the delivery of 21st-century palliative care services.”

Companies