Alder Hey’s Mental Health Hub: Sunflower House & Therapy Gardens

We have been supporters of Alder Hey Children’s Hospital for many years. Our latest project with them has been to fund the “Imagine” therapy garden at Sunflower House which is part of Alder Hey’s new Mental Health hub. We asked Alan Newton-French from Alder Hey to give us an update and insight into what is happening at Sunflower House.

This is what Alan had to say: “We are delighted to report that construction work on this world-class building has been completed. Filled with natural light, child-friendly finishing touches and access to safe and secure garden spaces, it really is a very special place. With commissioning of the hub currently now complete, we look forward to welcoming our first children and young people in late 2022.

Sunflower House

Our new Mental Health Hub is a truly transformational project, bringing together inpatient and outpatient support on the Alder Hey healthcare campus for the first time. This sends a clear message that the experiences of children and young people who are living with mental health conditions are important and they are valued. This we are sure will help to remove stigma and create a new gold standard for mental health care nationally.

Kieron O’Toole, Alder Hey’s Capital Projects Manager who has overseen delivery of our new Mental Health Hub, reflected on the importance of the new hub and the impact that charitable funding has had on the project:

Atrium at Sunflower House

“It has been a real honour to be part of such an important project that will have such a huge impact on so many children and young people in the years to come.

Many of the key aspects of this project have been influenced by the ideas and ambitions of the children and young people from our design group who truly understand the unique challenges that a mental health diagnosis bring. Mental health facilities can often feel cold and unwelcoming, but our new Mental Health Hub really does have a ‘home from home’ look and feel.

The weathered steel exterior makes the building feel completely non-clinical and complements the building’s parkland setting. Internally the building is made of timber, revealed and expressed throughout so it feels solid and reassuring. The design provides spaces for children and young people to be together, or find a moment of seclusion, but always with a connection to nature and natural light throughout.

What we have at Alder Hey is unique and the reason we have been able to deliver such an amazing building is thanks entirely to charitable support. Thank you  to all who have contributed in helping us to embrace those innovations that will improve the experiences of our children and young people above and beyond core NHS provision.

Therapy garden at Sunflower House

Over the past decade, the huge mental health benefits of spending time in nature have become widely recognised across the healthcare community. With the support of many, we have been able to create a truly inspiring therapy garden at Sunflower House, the new 12-bedroom inpatient unit within our Mental Health Hub.

Our therapy garden is situated at the heart of Sunflower House in a central courtyard space and will provide children with access to outdoor space throughout their treatment journeys. This is extremely important as children can spend many months in our care. This new garden space is multi-use and has been designed to support children to play, relax, learn and even lead on their own gardening projects.

We spoke to the Sunflower House team about the impact that the garden space will have on children spending time at the new unit. Service Manager, Steve Gowland told us that it is a ‘real game changer’ that will ‘revolutionise’ the support his team is able to offer.

‘Imagine’ – a place to learn

We have been able to create the learning zone in the therapy garden. In line with the youth-led nature of this project, children currently under the care of our mental health teams came together to name this area of the garden. They decided on ‘Imagine’ which captures how the space will be used to inspire new thoughts and ideas.

“Imagine” zone – the children are about to arrive

Education is a huge part of the identity of all children and the ‘Imagine’ area now provides a bespoke outdoor classroom space. It contains raised beds, a high-quality fixed table and benches as well as multi-functional tiered seating. The space is accessible from the Sunflower House teaching area and the main classroom has a view over the gardens. This easy access means that learning can be extended into the outdoor space.

Clinical Psychologist, Elizabeth Rushbrooke told us:

“The outdoor learning area makes a huge difference, providing opportunities to take part in activities outside, using play and nature to engage and encourage participation. We know that outdoor learning can provide a great alternative for children in comparison to traditional classroom-based learning.”

We spoke to some of the Sunflower House team about their reactions to the completed ‘Imagine’ space and the impact that it will have on our young patients. They told us:

“Being able to do lessons outdoors will be amazing! I can see this space being used all year around, especially with our long-term visitors, it is so important to keep them connected to nature.” Peter Woods, Teacher

“Everything has been built to such a high quality. The table and seating feel really robust and permanent. It is exactly what our children need. They really deserve this.” Gemma Richardson, Security

“The tiered seating is great and so multifunctional. I love the way it doubles as a stage for children who may want to put on performances to showcase their talents as their confidence grows. The teachers from our hospital school will be delighted.” Emma Higgs, Psychotherapist

A truly youth-led project

Our greatest achievement for our Mental Health Hub is that it has been a truly youth-led project. The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel De Souza visited us over the summer. She saw first-hand the developments at Sunflower House and how they had been co-designed with children and young people to ensure that it is the best environment possible for them.

Lisa Cooper, the Director of Community and Mental Health Services at Alder Hey told us about her reaction to the new Mental Health Hub and garden spaces:

“Thank you to everybody for supporting our new Mental Health Hub here at Alder Hey. When we embarked on this very special project in 2019, consultation with our children, young people and staff, revealed a clear aspiration that it should be the best place imaginable – ‘a Ritz experience for the children’ as one of our staff put it. Having visited the completed building, I truly believe that we have delivered this.

The children and young people who will attend Sunflower House represent some of the most vulnerable children in the region and the level of support we provide is known as ‘Tier 4’ support. This is reserved for children and young people who present with mental health needs that cannot be safely managed in their own homes and communities.

Alan and Kieron

As children can spend many months in our care, with some having to travel long distances from their homes and families, it was always vital that we make Sunflower House feel like a real ‘home from home’. The garden spaces which have been funded with help from charitable supporters and have been key to helping us achieve this vision. At Sunflower House we support children at a key stage in their development and our ethos is all about empowering them to go on to lead fulfilling lives back in their own communities. As with all areas of the unit, the therapy garden has been completed to a really high specification which sends a clear message that the lives of our children are important and quite simply, that they ‘matter’.

As we look to the future, we will continue to share the impact our new hub is having widely across the healthcare community. This building represents a really important step forward and we are confident and excited that it will not only transform the lives of children here at Alder Hey, but for children living with mental health challenges across the country.”

Our partnership with Alder Hey is a long term commitment and we have already started to discuss “what next?”. We will keep you informed about the new projects as we all work together to make Alder Hey Children’s Hospital the very best for our children, young people and their families.