Movement: Moving more for our mental health

By Karen Flatt, Architect – Studio Director – Mental Health Lead, Arcadis

Grange University Hospital, Specialist Inpatient Service Unit (SISU) for Mental Health

Arcadis was commissioned as architects, landscape architects and interior designers to design the new Grange University Hospital SISU in Cwmbran Wales. This new 73-bed inpatient unit, taking takes the form of an integrated, low secure healthcare setting that is carefully planned to offer the best support for adults and older adults with mental health illness and for people with learning disabilities. The proposals make the most of the existing green space on the site with the orientation of the building carefully considered to optimise daylight and views to green space for all occupants. The strategic positioning of the site next to a mature lining of trees supports the calming nature of the facility.

The therapeutic benefits of nature and landscape on service users are known to have a healing effect. Therefore the concept behind the design of the building is to maximise the connection to the external landscape providing a variety of spaces which can be used by the service users at different times when experiencing different moods.

One of the most important things everyone can do to help protect mental health is regular movement. Moving more can increase energy, reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem and improve sleep patterns. It is particularly important within an inpatient mental health hospital to ensure movement and exercise can be accessed by all the building’s users as due to the nature of the care requirements freedom of movement is restricted.

With these fundamentals in mind the design for Grange University Hospital places great emphasis on service user wellbeing and reintroduction into community. This was achieved early in the planning process by establishing an innovative single storey building arrangement, centred around the ‘rings of recovery’ informed by the ‘recovery model’ of care. The proposal combines several complementary services that work together to surround service users with adequate support to have a more normalised pathway to recovery and rehabilitation within a community setting. This project looks beyond pure function for today’s needs and instead towards a more sustainable and forward-thinking wellbeing model, in line with the aims behind the Welsh Well-being of Future Generations Act. This calls for more holistic thinking about how any intervention may impact society in the future, not only by reimagining what a mental health unit looks and feels like but also by delivering health and environmental benefits.

This is reinforced by developing wards that cater to the specific recovery needs of admitted service users. Each ward will have access to a therapeutic outdoor space, such as courtyards or recreational green spaces, where service users can exercise and experience the benefits of fresh air, daylight and the changing weather patterns.

At the heart of the new unit at the Grange is a community hub, including a mental health drop-in centre, with access to therapeutic garden spaces and views of the surrounding trees and agricultural land. A café close to the entrance will be run by the service users and accessible to the public. This removes the ‘barriers and stigma associations of mental health by creating welcoming, warm places that encourage people in. Service users will be encouraged to use the café and community hub creating normality in their daily routines, having the opportunity to access fresh air, exercise and engage with family, friends and staff.