Learning disability centre sets precedent for future design

Facility in Hull heralds a new era in mental health architecture

Townend Court has been designed by Gelder and Kitchen architects

Efforts by trusts in the north of England to vastly improve inpatient services for people with learning disabilities has led to the development of a purpose-built facility in Hull.

Designed by architects at Gelder and Kitchen, Townend Court will set a new precedent for the delivery of acute services for people with learning disabilities.

The part new-build, part-refurbishment project, due to be completed later this year, provides an exemplar for a range of integral services for patients, carers and local communities, and is part of improvements being delivered by Humber NHS Foundation Trust and NHS Hull primary care trust.

The site for the development currently houses the County Unit, which until 2010 provided a 10-bed medium-secure inpatient forensic service; the current Townend Court, a former maternity hospital that is now used to treat and assess people with learning disabilities; and Aysgarth House, which operates early intervention, crisis resolution and assertive outreach services.

The trust was keen for this to be a flagship development for healthcare and, more specifically, for the provision of learning disability services in the area

Under the revamp plan, a new single-storey building will be developed to provide six beds for crisis services and eight treatment and assessment places. The revamp and extension of the two-storey Aysgarth House will provide an additional six beds for rehabilitation.

Architect, Alessandro Caruso, said of the project: “There were various constraints around the site and the trust was keen for this to be a flagship development for healthcare and, more specifically, for the provision of learning disability services in the area.”

Currently there are no specific guidelines for the development or provision of environments for people with learning disabilities, so the design team had to explore best practice and interpret general guidance for mental health buildings.

Caruso said: “Learning disability design does have similarities to general mental health on the behaviour side, but from the outset we discussed with the clinical team what their exact requirements were.

“We also visited other units and spent some time watching how the staff and patients worked in the existing services and how this could be improved.”

From the outset we wanted to mitigate the clinical look and bring a more domestic feel to the building

Workshops were held to enable staff and service users to have an input on the design, and what has resulted is a development that aims to provide a home-from-home environment promoting rehabilitation and recovery.

Caruso said: “When it comes to the development of an environment for the treatment of patients with learning disabilities, we have taken a very domestic approach. We think this is important and from the outset we wanted to mitigate the clinical look and bring a more domestic feel to the building.

“Some patients are there for quite a long time, so it is important that they feel at home and have space they can feel is theirs.

“We wanted to create an environment that was safe, but which did not feel or look restrictive.”

The proposed layout of the building is divided into different wards for assessment, treatment and rehabilitation, with shared services occupying the main spine, accessed off an entrance lobby. These services will link to the newly-revamped Aysgarth House.

All patient bedrooms are en-suite and will have views out onto the surrounding landscape. Where boundary fences are necessary for the safety and security of patients, these have been carefully camouflaged.

Our focus has always been to deliver a building that works from a clinical perspective and provides an optimal working environment, while being somewhere that is pleasurable to recover and work in

Natural light feeds into the building through rooflights, high-level glazing and glass screens, which also aid observation. Traditionally-narrow corridors have been opened up to break out space and enhance sight lines.

Attention was also paid to noise reduction with the introduction of sound-absorbent technologies. And the development is designed to achieve a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating through the use of air source heat pumps, under-floor heating and sustainable building materials.

The architects are also working with an arts co-ordinator to introduce artworks around the building and there are plans to incorporate arts therapy into patient pathways.

Procure21 construction partners, Medicinq Simons, are currently on site, with the development due to open early next year. Medicinq project manager, Miles Thomas, told BBH : “We have previously delivered mental health facilities for this trust and other trusts, but this project had a particular focus on the type of clients and the challenges of trying to make their accommodation as comfortable as possible.

“We have designed the building with a domestic-style environment being less-institutionalised and more welcoming for the clients, despite the mandatory restrictions such as infection control and anti-ligature measures.”

“From the outset we had a strong brief from the client, with input from user groups and patients. Our focus has always been to deliver a building that works from a clinical perspective and provides an optimal working environment, while being somewhere that is pleasurable to recover and work in.”

“The trust wanted an award-winning building where people feel uplifted, welcome and content, a place where people are proud to work and be associated with. This is what we at Medicinq Simons feel we are creating for Hull.”

David Snowdon, Humber NHS Foundation Trust’s chief executive, added: “We are very excited about this new development. The building will be filled with natural light and has been designed with our patients’ wellbeing in mind. Our staff and patients are looking forward very much to moving in.”

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