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News archive - November 2014

A building without barriers

A building without barriers

A new hospice in Eastbourne, East Sussex, is helping to change the face of palliative care in the UK.

Designed by R H Partnership Architects (RHP), St Wilfrid’s Hospice provides inpatient services for up to 20 people, together with wellbeing facilities and a Hospice at Home service.

Right from the outset, the vision was to create ‘a building without barriers’, with a relaxed and informal atmosphere that welcomes people in. This was a deliberate move away from the clinical environments and public perception more commonly associated with traditional hospice environments.

Perhaps the most-innovative aspect of the development was the decision to open the building to the wider community - a move it is hoped will help to overcome the stigma associated with end-of-life care.

David Dimbleby, one of the hospice’s patrons, said: “The great thing about the hospice is that it connects people and they feel part of what is going on. The thing is to make it part of our lives and part of living, and I think that is what the building achieves.”

Architect Nic Hoar of RHP added: “The charity’s chief executive, Kara Bishop, took inspiration from the Maggie’s Centres. It is wonderful to see how the hospice has embraced its new home, in particular how the spaces are being used by the wider community.”

On the approach to the building, visitors, staff and patients find themselves in the first of several landscaped outdoor spaces, with the Wellbeing Garden directing them towards the entrance and into the building. Once inside, rather than a traditional reception desk or nursing station, the design is more informal and fluid, with volunteers greeting people and taking them through to waiting areas or patient rooms.

A glazed, double-height reception area floods the building with natural daylight and includes a café, which is open to the local community; as well as a hairdressing salon. All patient rooms are in a single-storey facility and have en-suite shower rooms, large windows and direct access to the central, landscaped Courtyard Garden designed by Chelsea Flower Show gold medalist, Rick Rowbotham.

Consultations showed how much people wanted to connect with the outside and with nature, so patients can now look out onto the garden, they can walk out and sit on the benches provided, and beds can be wheeled out if required.

“We have tried to get as much direct daylight into the building wherever possible,” said Hoar. “With the interior design we have chosen to use colour, light and artwork to create a more-homely and less-clinical environment than you may normally see in a facility like this. These features also act like landmarks. The result is very uplifting.”

In addition to the wellbeing facility, which includes a gym, treatment and counselling rooms for inpatients and outpatients, and a café, the ground floor of the main building accommodates support services, including kitchens and the laundry, and staff facilities; while the first floor houses administration and an education suite from which the hospice offers courses in palliative care.

Interior design, planned in conjunction with IBI Nightingale, was co-ordinated to provide a home-from-home environment for patients and their carers.

“Furniture is important,” said Hoar. “It’s interesting to see more and more products coming onto the market that give you the opportunity to create spaces like this. Finishes need to be of a clinical standard, but the interior design conveys the impression of boutique hotel rather than a hospital.

“We have moved away from clinical spaces and have used fabrics, bedding and finishes that are lovely to look at while at the same time being hygienic and fit for purpose. In the bathrooms, for example, digital artwork is incorporated into the finishes, with images having been selected by patients during the consultation process.”

Externally, as well as the Wellbeing Garden on the approach to the main entrance and the patients’ Courtyard Garden, the site also boasts the Retreat Garden and an orchard embankment planted with apple trees.

“The design has achieved something quite unique and I certainly haven’t seen anything like it before,” said Hoar. “It will be very interesting to see how different groups will live in the space.”

Gwynneth Burrows, marketing manager for RHP, added “The scheme was about trying to break down barriers and we think this design helps to achieve that.”

The development has already picked up a Sussex Heritage Award recognising its ‘innovative and brave’ design, and a regional Civic Trust Award.

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