The new Children and Young Adults Mental Health Unit (CAMHS) is a flagship scheme, set within the former Victorian mental hospital grounds of Severall’s Hospital, which is a highly vegetated and tree covered parkland style landscape with open grasslands.

Intensive Care and Generic Care are two residential wards that wrap around three internal, secure courtyards. Two of the courtyards are designed as calming ‘garden’ spaces, allowing for contemplation and solitude, with one of them providing the only external space accessed by residents during their residency. Planting, lighting, lawns and meandering paths provide for specific therapeutic, patient use; robust in style and free from danger, as there is a high risk of self-harm by resident patients. A third courtyard provides an enclosed games court to encourage physical activities within a safe environment.

The aim was to create an innovative design across the whole external environment, whilst integrating the building within the surrounding parkland landscape; increasing visual permeability of the site when viewed from the adjacent highway and residential area. The design intentionally avoids the traditional appearance associated with ‘institutionalised’ buildings, omitting the use of security fences and encouraging positive visual interaction with the local community.

Open grasslands with specimen trees form the wider landscape, containing a picnic area for use by staff, with water attenuation swales surrounding the building; placed sympathetically to avoid impacts on existing trees.

ELD completed the following works: Survey of trees to BS 5837; Phase 1 habitat and Reptile Surveys; coloured concept masterplanning; courtyard design options; detailed hard (paving) and soft (planting) landscape design; water features, furniture, lighting design and specification; design of Swales and SUDS drainage; planting specifications, cost estimates; liaison with design team; CDM reviews; presentations to NHC Client and resident children; plant nursery visit; problem solving on site during the contract and contract reviews with snagging of defects.

Challenges that were overcome: Specific end users with self-harm tendencies meant very careful design considerations; operations during adverse weather; tight construction programme; value engineering against best advice and specification resulted in poor planting conditions; main contractor secured a very low landscape tender value, resulting in poor plant stock and omissions from contract; failure to order specified paving materials in advance led to alternative specifications; failure to install lighting duct cables before final soil cultivation was completed; adverse wet weather and heavy clay soils resulted in waterlogging for prolonged periods and plant failures. Following occupation, residents took to exposing themselves at windows, requiring ELD to propose elevated screening solutions using soft landscape.

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