East Anglia's Children's Hospices supports families throughout their experience of caring for children with life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses. Suffolk Architects Barefoot & Gilles have now completed their new Treehouse Hospice in Ipswich to help the charity support many more families.
Built in the centre of a four-acre woodland site, the building provides six children's bedrooms, family accommodation, meeting activity areas, therapy rooms, living rooms, a staff wing and outdoor facilities for the Children's Hospice in a domestic environment, which promotes dignity and independence for all users. Designed around a courtyard with strong links to the landscape, the building is a safe, non-institutional environment where children, families and staff can thrive.
The architects worked with the CEO, Heads of Care and Nursing, and Facilities and IT managers to develop the brief for the new hospice and held several interactive events with staff over a period of months as the design evolved. End of life care is only part of the EACH's work; the hospice acts as a base for all their work in Suffolk and North Essex, a home from home for families, and an ongoing place of support for the bereaved.
The new hospice settles into the woodland, supporting and complimenting it. Each part of the building forms a separate finger into the landscape, threading between mature trees which are retained. As the adopted name for the hospice suggests, in the 'Treehouse' one can always have a view of trees. Public areas to the front of the site shield the private, contemplative and quiet parts of the building from view, and a series of vibrant activity spaces form the major circulation, reflecting the vitality and life-affirming approach of the staff.
The building is large, complex and highly serviced, as is necessary at times when looking after children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions, but it is important that it doesn't feel like a hospital, more a 'home-from-home'. The bedrooms are full of highly technical equipment and services, but Health Care Architects Barefoot & Gilles have ensured much of it slides and shuts away so that in day-to-day use it isn't intrusive.
Each pair of bedrooms is connected through a shared assisted bathroom, enabling easy transfer from bedroom to bathroom via hoist if necessary. Every bedroom opens out onto its own patch of forest, a direct connection with the natural environment outside. The rooms also surround an inner courtyard with a sensory garden and window seats.
Designing a large, highly serviced building on protected woodland posed several environmental challenges to the architects, and these have been met via a collaborative approach, integrating the expertise of contractor, ecologist, arboriculturalist, structural and services engineers.
Obtaining planning consent was dependant on demonstrating that the site, whilst perfect for the hospice, would also be protected by the hospice being built there, as the woodland would be improved and future development would be prevented.
The building is designed for low environmental impact with material choices throughout. Extensive green roofs have been planted with native drought resistant species to contribute to reviving the ecology of the woodland which was damaged by the 1989 storms.
The sustainable building is complimented by a 15 year Wildlife Management Plan. After the removal of some self-seeded sycamore saplings, the remaining trees are protected by no-dig hard landscaping, bored piles and very careful treatment by the contractors.
“We're absolutely delighted to now be delivering care services from our spectacular new Treehouse hospice in Ipswich. Barefoot and Gilles did an incredible job from start to finish. Not only did the design have to protect and enhance the woodland habitat, it also had to satisfy a large number of criteria to allow us to deliver such specialist care. The care and thought throughout the whole design and construction process has enabled us to offer a magnificent facility for local families, and one the community can be proud of.”
Graham Butland, EACH Chief Executive
“We watched the new hospice being built; it was really exciting and William couldn't wait to visit for the first time. The new building, woodland and play areas are just amazing - the space, the facilities, the overall feel you get when you're there ... it really is something else.
The Treehouse is such a big part of our lives - we knew it was going to be special but WOW, we had no idea just how special!!”
Paula, William's mum