‘The Nook’ at Framingham Earl is the result of a shared vision to transform children’s palliative care in Norfolk and North Suffolk. It was a £10 million vision, which required a team effort from many different quarters to overcome challenges in funding, designing and constructing the much-needed, purpose-built hospice.
The Nook Appeal involved a nationwide funding campaign, which was supported by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, who helped to launch the appeal in 2014. Nicola Haste, an award-winning vlogger, and Lucy Loveheart, an internationally-renowned artist, also offered their support alongside dozens of locally based businesses. This support helped to get the appeal off the ground. The design and construction of ‘The Nook’ posed further challenges to realise the vision for a purpose-built hospice that would transform children’s palliative care. Architects Barefoot & Giles worked closely with East Anglia Children’s Hospices (EACH), as well as drawing on previous experience to develop an outstanding design based around the needs of the children, families and staff that would use the hospice. Builder, RG Carter worked collaboratively in the later stages of design and throughout construction to help realise this vision, as well as actively supporting the Nook Appeal. After overcoming these initial hurdles, construction work on the ambitious project began on the site in November 2017, much to the delight of HRH who penned a letter to mark the occasion.
“An exciting and important milestone has been reached for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. After much dedicated effort of all those involved in the Nook Appeal, the building of a new hospice in the heart of Norfolk has begun.”
Duchess of Cambridge
In July 2019, the original vision became reality and the new purpose-built facility was handed over.
The new hospice, located in Framingham Earl, replaces the old site in Quidenham; a building not designed or equipped to handle the modern requirements of children’s care. Quidenham had been an incredible home for many families, but its facilities had become cramped and out-of-date; with an ever-increasing requirement for better children’s hospice care services and facilities, a new home was desperately required.
EACH currently offers specialist care and support to 371 children and young people with an additional 385 family members being offered face-to-face therapeutic support. With demand for services in Norfolk at an all-time high, ‘The Nook’ now allows EACH to offer greater levels of care in a much improved, significantly larger and more appropriate environment.
‘The Nook’ is in a five-acre woodland setting, five miles south of Norwich. This unique location places it nearer to the centre of the county and much closer to local services, hospitals and road networks. It has made travel distances shorter for most of the families and staff who receive and deliver care. This transformative facility is far larger, with an open plan, offering larger and better equipped en-suite bedrooms for children and young people, en-suite family accommodation and far more outside space to safely explore and play. All this combines with extra family support groups, counselling, one-to-one therapy and general activities to deliver the highest level of care that the charity has ever achieved.
The layout of ‘The Nook’ draws on the architects’ experience in designing the ‘Treehouse’, a six-bed hospice for EACH in Ipswich which was completed in 2011. Here the concept of paired bedrooms linked around a central courtyard proved to work very well. Bedrooms are arranged in pairs with a Bathroom between them, each suite of spaces allowing the children a degree of social interaction whilst providing access to a highly-serviced hygiene facility.
This arrangement of bedroom suites around a central courtyard is carried over as an integral feature of ‘the nook’ as is the relationship of the courtyard with the day area which forms the focus of everyday activity within the building, again drawing from experience gained at the Treehouse.
‘The Nook’ will fulfil many different functions for EACH as it will provide a regional base for palliative care and respite care as well as a regional training area for staff, an administrative centre, a regional centre for physiotherapy and a venue for fund-raising. Each of these disparate functions had to be combined into a single floor layout whilst preserving the privacy and security of the resident children. Fortunately, the generous 5-acre site allowed for, effectively, a ‘blank canvas’ where the optimum arrangement of spaces and activities was possible.
The building contains areas which are open to the public, such as the hydrotherapy suite and physiotherapy rooms, areas which are accessible by EACH staff generally for training and conferences and areas which are accessible to ‘The Nook’ clinical staff only. In addition, conference/training areas can be combined with the dining area and outside terrace to provide a fundraising venue capable of entertaining up to 150 guests with a space for a marquee on the terrace. Arriving at a floorplan which successfully integrated each of these functions took nearly a year of consultation with the various teams within the client organisation.
As the public and more active functions of the hospice contrast with the calmer residential elements so the scale and form of the components which accommodate them contrast and complement each other. The meeting rooms, dining and kitchen areas all require relatively large spaces. Public areas such as the meeting rooms, dining area and activity area also need to be light, airy spaces.
Grouping the public and dynamic activities of the hospice has allowed a plan form which responds to the landscape and provides the opportunity for a strong, high profile central ‘core’ building form whilst the arrangement of the smaller, more private rooms around the courtyard creates the opportunity for contrast.
Once the range of activities and their interaction had been rationalised into a functional and coherent floorplan the form of the building could be developed. ‘The Nook’ is a highly-engineered and complex building and yet in order for it to be seen as a place of refuge and respite it needed to appear reassuring and familiar.
For this reason, traditional building forms were adopted for the main elements of the building using the wide-ranging plan form to create a slightly ‘rambling’ appearance reminiscent of a series of farm buildings. The building is, however, a sophisticated and highly engineered structure and in order to avoid a too vernacular, ‘rural’ approach to the design, care has been taken in the choice of materials and detailing of the building envelope. Modern materials such as raised-seam zinc cladding contrast with more traditional materials such as slate and timber.
Timber has been used as the main cladding material for the lower, single-storey sections of the building. This traditional material has been arranged, however, in large solid sections laid horizontally with shadow gaps between them to accentuate the long, low buildings housing the bedrooms and family accommodation, thereby emphasising their close relationship with the lie of the surrounding countryside.
A similar contrast between operation and appearance exists within the building where the interior is required to fulfil the complex range of functions required by health technical memoranda and yet must remain informal and of a ‘residential’ nature. Resolving this apparent contradiction has required ingenuity and close cooperation not only between the architects and the nursing staff but also with the contractor’s mechanical and environmental design team which was required to integrate a high level of environmental control as unobtrusively as possible into a ‘domestic’ interior.
In summary, ‘the nook’ will make a significant contribution to the welfare of families in the region providing palliative and respite care and giving access to unique facilities such as a very highly sophisticated sensory room, a hydrotherapy suite containing a large fully-immersive and fully-accessible pool together with facilities for music and art therapy. Again, building on experience gained at the ‘Treehouse’, EACH has substantially increased the amount of family live-in accommodation where up to three families can stay for limited periods and the team based at ‘the nook’ will provide care extra-mural care within the community.
The design combines a familiar building form with a crisply-detailed use of both traditional and contemporary materials to create a building which is at once reassuringly competent in appearance whilst remaining user-friendly and welcoming.