During the first stage of the project to design the interiors of the new RHSC’s CAMHS unit, designers Projects Office worked with artist James Leadbitter to develop an innovative design research strategy. Through a series of in-depth workshops with young service users, their parents, carers and NHS staff, they created new ways to explore the impact of space and environment on good mental health.
These fascinating sessions offered first-hand information about coping with mental health issues and emphasised the emotional and practical importance of well-designed environments. They helped the design team to define a range of comfortable and non-clinical spaces for young people suffering from significant distress.
This approach allowed stakeholders to engage with the project early in the design process. It also acknowledged the challenges of the project (two larger CAMHS units being combined on a single site) and aimed to alleviate the ‘consultation fatigue’ of stakeholders who felt their concerns had been sought but not addressed. The result is a collaboratively developed and cohesive set of designs which work hard to resolve the real challenges of the people who will use the space every day.
A key question in their workshops was ‘What does good mental health feel like?’ in answer to which many participants described the coast. The theme of the sea was then woven into a narrative thread that unifies a wide variety of different spaces and programmes within the department. Referencing the landscape, colours and landmarks of the Scottish east coast the age-appropriate interiors gradually transform from vibrant seaside colours and motifs in spaces for the younger children to a more rugged offshore theme for the teenagers. The atmosphere is vibrant, friendly and non institutional without being artificially domestic or patronising.
From a lighthouse to retreat to, to a nook to watch from, to a personalisable shelving unit: the designers created innovative and unconventional healing spaces. These spaces drew directly from the results of their user engagement process and pushed the boundaries of established thought on the provision of mental health care environments with the input, support and enthusiasm of the CAMHS’ NHSL staff, patients and families.