Mitford provides inpatient support and treatment for adults with severely complex autistic spectrum disorders. The building provides care for up to 15 adults, in single and shared flats within four ‘fingers’ of accommodation.

It is the first building in the UK specifically designed for this service-user group and is a pioneering project, requiring client driven design standards. The client recognised the correlation between the environment and positive outcomes for people with autism.

Evidence suggests that the condition is exacerbated by the wrong environment. This inevitably results in an increase in challenging or disturbed behaviour, leading to increased levels of risk and an inability of service providers or carers to cope. The typical care pathway for these patients involves a stay of 18 months – two years, during which individual stimuli and appropriate therapies are identified, before returning to the community.

Design drivers include attention to the graduation from public to private space, addressing the vulnerability of each patient. The thresholds from each flat to the circulation space, and progress from there to shared therapy spaces, are all carefully considered to encourage the patient and avoid conflicts with fellow service users.

“A real example of the powerful and positive impact of the environment!”
– Steve Naylor, Projeeco

Wide, organically-shaped circulation spaces encourage movement but offer a measure of privacy and ‘safe’ window seats. All the flats are oriented to the east for a comfortable internal environment, with direct access to the private gardens to support the therapeutic needs of individuals.

The roof form provides generous overhangs at each garden access door, increasing the usability of the external space. The ‘fingers’ of accommodation are linked at their southern end by a band of shared spaces. This front-of-house accommodation is organised to carefully protect the privacy of the patients, and allow the staff to work efficiently with minimal journeys around the facility.

After only a few months of opening the building and clinical environment has enabled improved care provision and is having a hugely positive impact on the patients.

“Happiness is……getting everything you asked for. I never thought it would be so good.

The building has been tested and it stood up to it all. The entire design of Mitford has been centered around people with autism, with low-stimulus environments and very specific features to help reduce anxiety for the people we support. This new building will provide one of the most tailored environments in the country for adults with an autism spectrum disorder.”
– Pamela McIntyre, Ward Manager, Mitford

“There’s one patient who used to live permanently in seclusion and crawled everywhere. Within a week of moving in to Mitford he was having a coffee with staff in one of the offices.”
– Anecdotal evidence from staff, 16/12/16

Northgate Hospital, Morpeth, Northumberland, UK
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear
NHS Foundation Trust
Lead Consultant
Complete November 2016
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