Engineering Wellbeing into the Community

By Rick Mallett, Associate, Perega (www.perega.co.uk)

To say the pandemic-related lockdowns throughout 2020 and 2021 have taken their toll on mental health and well-being would be an understatement.

People living in care homes have been particularly hard hit, often having even less contact with loved ones than the rest of us. Staff have also been affected, bearing a heavy mental and emotional load as they care for our country’s elderly and most vulnerable.

As we navigate the roadmap out of lockdown, the construction industry has a role to play in improving care home design to support occupant and worker wellbeing.

Crucially, developments of this nature need to be considered holistically. Alongside carefully specified and curated interiors, well-planned outdoor spaces also present a prime opportunity to create soothing environments, which can have a positive impact on both resident and carer welfare.

SPACE TO THINK

High ceilings are known to cultivate a sense of freedom and creativity. So, having a communal, high-ceilinged space can help alleviate mental strain, allowing the ‘grey matter’ to operate with less constriction. A few extra feet above can make all the difference, and residents will feel less physically, and mentally, bound.

However, to prevent heating costs from creeping up, rooms with high ceilings should, where possible, incorporate south-facing windows to optimise solar gain and enjoy the health benefits of more natural light. With effective passive design, these spaces harness the elements to stay warm during the day and cool off at night.

Where this option isn’t available, low-energy infrared and radiant heating solutions can help keep occupants comfortable without losing heat to convection.

Alternatively, sunrooms are another great addition which can help people feel less restricted, bringing the outside in during miserable or cooler weather.

STRONG CONNECTIONS

Few people would repudiate the importance of video calling and the internet throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, a strong and reliable Wi-Fi signal is not guaranteed nationwide.

Especially during stay-at-home orders, location can make all the difference between community and isolation. Easy access to shops or deliveries, helping hands and internet access all play a vital role beyond simple convenience. They keep people connected to one another.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Before modelling a new care home, consider if the chosen area for development will provide residents with the support necessary to ensure their well-being and comfort. It’s not such an impossible task, despite the density and popularity of many towns and cities.

In greater London, the South East and East alone, there are approximately 22,000 hectares of brownfield, representing a third of such sites. These are valuable resources and ones which should be considered wherever possible.

Along with minimising embedded carbon, brownfield sites are often located near pre-existing municipal infrastructure and thriving neighbourhoods. This ensures seamless integration with the wider community and allows residents to stay close to a familiar locale, preventing the costly, logistical challenges of establishing supporting systems for new villages.

GREEN TINTED GLASSES

The design and construction of outdoor areas is just as important as a care home’s interior. Blue skies, ample greenery and fresh air can work wonders on mental and physical wellbeing.

Furthermore, as warmer weather approaches, visits will take place primarily outside, in line with government guidance. So, providing pleasant al fresco areas will be essential to ensure residents can see friends, family and loved ones with minimal risk.

Residents’ needs should be carefully considered and catered for within the landscaping design. Wheelchair friendly access, for example, helps everyone move around freely with minimal constraints. Additionally, seating areas should be designed to encourage socialising within social distancing guidelines to protect residents.

Water features, such as swales, rainwater gardens or ponds, can help create a more peaceful, restorative environment. They also bolster the property’s green credentials, offering water storage, reducing flood risk and mitigating pollution at source.

CONSTRUCTING FOR CONNECTION

At its core, a community is its people. However, it is much more accessible with the help of good location, access and amenities.

Working closely with engineers, architects and specifiers when build- ing a new care home or seeking to improve an existing one can ensure occupant, and staff, wellness are kept at the heart of the design.

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