Therapeutic Spaces

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On watching a documentary recently on the closure of the East Riding Mental Health Buildings of High Royds Hospital I was touched with sadness. Such institutions by no means had a perfect reputable history but the sadness was evident within the local community and their campaigning to have some areas of the estate maintained in the memory of the hospital.

As a student nurse at Leeds College of Health I travelled to High Royds for study days. The hospital was being used by the College for teaching all branches of nursing students whilst the Hospital was still part functioning. We experienced the vast miles of internal intertwining  corridors, the views over the Dales and the many gardens within one hospital, and the beautiful architecture of the buildings. The trips were blooming driveways in summer and crisp frosted paths from the small train station in winter. I remember being informed of the history of the place, being a self sufficient village of a farm, dairy, gardens all on one site.

You will be right to think my description is a romantic reminiscence of the time and place and limited in the functionality of the hospital. The physical locality of the hospital does seem dated and fitting to times when patients were cared for in rural areas, mental health institutes, infectious diseases wards, rolled out verandas for fresh air.

Our modern day hospitals and high tech equipped units, with clean, sterile, white washed corridors, brightly lite seem very clinical in comparison. Outdoor spaces in hospitals are the car parks, the transport links and loading areas which are of the upmost importance. But do we need outdoor space that is green? In times of distress, illness and worry which are experienced within a hospital setting, do we need a therapeutic space?

In todays hospitals these spaces still do exist but they are often compact, than rolling fields and views. Sensory minimalism comes to mind as the modern gardens can still be in ear shot of the sounds of the clinical environment oppose to the sounds of nature.

A writer called Clare Hickman explored hospital gardens in her research. In the early 1900s it was viewed that open air spaces are beneficial for physical health, a view held by Florence Nightingale herself as specific spaces for patients for convalescence (1893 Notes on Hospitals). In sanatoriums the benefits for fresh air where valued. In Asylums the view was held that “what a person sees he emits, taking in the vast beauty of landscapes and the peace and tranquillity”.

Do we need to value our therapeutic spaces more deeply centred to health? Do we need to look towards the community garden projects to reintroduce fresh air benefits and areas that can promote mindfulness in our hospitals?

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