We all know that our NHS is under pressure and that reshaping services for the future involves action on many fronts. NHS England’s five-year strategy has made it clear that part of the solution lies in promoting healthier lifestyles in our communities to tackle some of our modern ills and reduce demand on over-stretched NHS services.
"Some of the UK’s most pressing health challenges — such as obesity, mental health issues, physical inactivity and the needs of an ageing population — can all be influenced by the quality of our built and natural environment," said Kevin Fenton, national director for health and well-being at Public Health England, on the launch of the NHS healthy new towns initiative last year.
That initiative, which will see 10 healthy communities developed across England, explicitly links health and place-making. But much other large-scale housebuilding also offers the potential to bring health closer to home through the provision of such simple features as cycleways, walking trails and green space.
The idea of promoting health through buildings and landscape is far from new, however, as can be seen from a glance at the history of the Graylingwell Hospital, on the outskirts of Chichester. The late Victorian former psychiatric hospital sits in a wooded parkland setting that was itself intended to contribute to the healing process. The hospital’s residents would tend kitchen gardens and orchards as part of their therapeutic regime and to provide their own food. The hospital’s more formal gardens surrounding its wards, called airing courts, also provided space for health-promoting exercise and the grounds had a cricket pitch.
More than a century after it was first built, the hospital was one of 96 to be declared surplus to NHS requirements and was brought forward for housing redevelopment by the Government’s Homes & Communities Agency (HCA).
The site’s transformation to a community of 750 homes began in 2008, being masterminded by housebuilder Linden Homes working with housing association Affinity Sutton, architect and masterplanner JTP and landscape architect Studio Engleback.
Appropriately, there are echoes of the site’s past in the new community. While Graylingwell Park’s redevelopment pre-dates NHS England’s promotion of healthy place-making, the scheme has been designed as a sustainable community, combining heritage, environmental principles and quality of life. Homes sit alongside amenities including a farmers’ market and are surrounded by green spaces, sports grounds and pathways that create an attractive setting and encourage residents
to adopt healthier and more sustainable lifestyles.
The site is now just over half way through its development programme, with Linden Homes currently selling three- and four-bedroom family homes.
The fine buildings and established landscapes of the Government’s disused 19th century hospital sites have made them desirable housing developments. JTP partner Rebecca Taylor describes Graylingwell as "a huge opportunity and an asset, presenting the chance to connect into the context".
The hospital’s 36ha of parkland were on Historic England’s register of parks and gardens of special historic interest, the gardens having been laid out in the late 19th century by Robert Lloyd, the horticulturist and asylum gardener.
When the grounds were created, records noted that 12,000 trees and shrubs were planted and 4.5ha of lawn laid. The extensive tree planting included rows of limes and planes as well as specimen trees, such as a blue Atlas cedar, while airing courts were flanked by fencing and holly hedges. The parkland is also crossed by an Iron Age dyke, which has scheduled ancient monument status.
Under the redevelopment, the hospital has been converted to apartments and community facilities, and housing is being developed around it. Buildings occupy around half of the site,
with the remaining open space retained, much of it forming Havenstoke Park. "The ambition was to have decent densities for the housing but provide good green space," Taylor explains.
As the site was brought forward by the HCA, it was intended to be an exemplar, promoting the sustainability policies of the then Labour Government. "The aim was to make as much energy as possible, grow as much food as possible and deal with water on site," says Luke Engleback, director of landscape architect Studio Engleback. The landscape architect also took health and well-being into account, considering such factors as physical health, safety, activity levels and air quality, mental health, human interaction, the opportunity to see and experience the natural environment and the communal experience of growing food.
- Retention of 622 mature trees and planting of 1,428 new ones.
- Varied planting, including hebes, photinias, hydrangeas, Hidcote English lavender and juniper ‘Blue Carpet’.
- Provision of fruit trees to promote food growing, activity and social interaction. Espalier fruit trees have a further purpose, Engleback explains: "They are a passive design feature. They give a little bit of privacy to residents, particularly where there are bigger windows." The developer plans to provide allotments and an orchard on an area of the site adjoining the River Lavant.
- A sustainable urban drainage system.
- Cycle routes, paths, sports grounds and play space. The scheme has local areas of play and an adventure playground, featuring timber elements on an undulating landscape.
Congenial and convivial
Although not designed as a garden community, the scheme shares a key principle associated with the garden city movement in its community ownership and stewardship. A development trust has been established to manage the community and Chichester Community Development Trust now runs this and a nearby estate.
The trust owns and manages both community buildings and land, generating rental income to sustain amenities into the future. It supports the community through events such as a summer food festival as well as skills and training projects. Another of its initiatives was a community garden, established as a meanwhile use for part of the site. Although this has now closed, it is scheduled to be reinstated later in the development programme as a permanent feature.
This is a long-running development that has had to weather changing governments and housing markets.
That has meant that some of the initial design proposals and ambitions for Graylingwell Park have changed too, but the scheme now taking shape remains "a cut above", says Engleback. "Graylingwell is a product of the ideals of trying to get more sustainable housing in a more congenial, convivial environment.
We were trying to preserve the best essence of the existing features to give a quality of place."
Developers Linden Homes, working with Affinity Sutton and the Homes & Communities Agency
Architect and masterplanner JTP
Landscape architect Studio Engleback (masterplan), Allen Pyke Associates (open space, play and plot)
Ecological consultant Corylus Ecology
Landscape contractors Windmill, Millstone Landscapes (phase five)
This case study is from Horticulture Week’s Landscape4Places campaign hub. The Landscape4Places campaign seeks to highlight the contribution of quality landscaping to great place-making. For further details about the campaign, go to www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/landscape-for-places