Design Practice Location:
Grafted into a mature landscape on the fringe of the Northumberland countryside in Prudhoe, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust’s new development, Ferndene, provides mental health and learning disability care for children and young people, aged from 4 to 18. The new assessment and treatment centre has 40 beds for young people with complex mental health, behavioural and emotional needs, including those with a learning disability. It is the first service of its kind in the country to provide these services in this integrated way.
Medical Architecture (MA) is an international, multi-disciplinary healthcare architecture and planning firm. Established in 1991, the Practice has forged a reputation as one of the UK’s leading architects for mental healthcare, driven by evidence based design and the evaluation of existing buildings worldwide. MA were commissioned as Ferndene’s designer to bring together new and existing services, previously housed in outdated accommodation of varying quality, and dispersed around the large former-asylum site. The task of integrating a range of patient ages and conflicting needs presented multiple obstacles: sharing amenities whilst separating vulnerable children from young people with challenging behaviour; providing safe and secure boundaries without a sense of incarceration; creating a resilient yet therapeutic environment and ensuring adaptability for future change.
The buildings’ design concept was conceived as a hand – a shared activity and recreation building sits in the palm of the hand and fingers of bedroom accommodation span outwards. A corridor on one side of each finger lets generous amounts of natural light in and views out and courtyard gardens signal the transition from private bed space to a shared therapy area. This arrangement of graduating internal space is clear at each ward entrance where a view through the entire building and beyond provides a bright and uplifting welcome for patients and visitors. The positioning of living and day space at the fingertips gives panoramic views over the mature woodland and Northumbrian hills beyond.
Hierarchy of space, both externally and internally, was a key design driver. Service user and staff spaces are signalled using colour reflecting the site-wide narrative (the Trust acknowledged that their corporate colour scheme was not appropriate with this patient group). A conscious effort was made to move away from standard NHS supplied furniture and, instead, specify furniture and finishes that appealed to young people. A full size mock-up bedroom and en-suite were built in one of the site’s existing disused buildings to engage service users from an early stage and allow the final design to be experienced and developed prior to completion. Privacy and dignity is afforded to each young person with brightly coloured en-suite wetrooms, keeping with the contemporary and tailored design. Bespoke furniture, such as desks and wardrobes, were designed in collaboration with the patient group and local manufacturers, including unique complementary coloured built-in units to suit each ward.
Materials were chosen for their sustainable qualities as well as their aesthetics. In areas of high traffic, such as window seats, wall protection is used imaginatively, resulting in an attractive and robust finish. Loose furniture is akin to specification in the leisure industry, tested by the Trust’s infection control department to ensure it would be suitable for this setting whilst attractive and comfortable. Ferndene’s design seeks to optimise shared, flexible space with the activities and recreation centre providing a variety of different sized classrooms, therapy rooms and a large multi-purpose hall. Accommodation is at ground floor level and clustered in pods where appropriate. In the activities building, pods of accommodation without a corridor allow spaces to be used efficiently and minimises conflicts between the vulnerable patient groups. In the single storey wards, large sliding doors offer level access and spill out from day spaces into private external courtyards for therapy and relaxation.