Art and nature are integral to the £65 million redevelopment of Northgate Park

Posted: 08/08/23

A view down an outside courtyard, with grasses and plants in the middle of paved walkways.

Art and nature have played a crucial role in creating a therapeutic environment at our redeveloped Northgate Park hospital site, due to open in autumn 2023.

Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW), a provider of mental health and disability services, began redeveloping the site at Northgate in 2021 as the existing buildings were outdated and unable to meet the needs of patients.

The construction of the Sycamore building is a major part of the redevelopment at Northgate Hospital, now to be known as Northgate Park.

Sycamore is a state-of-the-art secure facility, providing assessment and treatment for men who have a mental illness, a learning disability or personality disorder who may have come into contact with the Criminal Justice System.

£60 million has been invested in Sycamore, which will provide 72 beds across six wards. A further £5 million has been spent on redeveloping other parts of Northgate Park.

The Sycamore building has been designed to ensure patients can engage in a variety of meaningful activities, in purpose-built spaces including an education suite, art rooms, sport and exercise facilities, and gardens.

Creating a therapeutic environment around other areas of the site is also important for patients’ wellbeing. Nature themes are a focal point for the new art and design work at Northgate Park.

Black and white photograph portrait of Dan Savage, a white man with dark hair, beard and glassesYork-based artist Dan Savage has been working closely with staff and patients to create artwork for the Sycamore buildings and outdoor surroundings.

Dan decided to create artwork for hospital settings after spending time in hospital being treated for cancer when he was halfway through his art degree.

Dan says: “I like creating art for hospital buildings because instead of making art for the elite or people who visit galleries, you’re creating it for people across society who need to spend time in hospitals.

“Whilst maintaining the security and safety of the buildings, it’s important to take opportunities to transform these clinical or safety features into art so that people feel better about the space.”

For example, a photography competition was held for patients, with the winning photographs of landscapes around the North East used on fences outside and internal privacy screens.

Dan hosted a consultation session with patients and staff to find out which images came to mind when they thought about the new ward names at Sycamore – Alwinton, Berwick, Elsdon, Harthope, Linhope and Rothbury. The flora, fauna and well-known landmarks, such as the Berwick walls and the Rothbury shops, discussed by patients and staff became the focus for the artwork.

A photo of a small waterfall, used as panels on a fence round an outside courtyardEach ward block has its own identity based on these themes, featuring a scene, flora, fauna and poetry. Ward signs will feature a scene relating to the place and reference the style of the old railway posters.

In the outside spaces around Sycamore, circular paving interventions in engraved granite feature motivational quotes or distance facts around the signposted mile-long walk around the site. The ward scenes also feature on paving discs outside the ward entrances.

Dan says: “I feel that the consultation process has been robust, meaning people will feel a sense of ownership over the project and artwork.”

Art has always been an important part of care for secure care patients at Northgate. The Art Hub provides art and craft-based activities for service users as well as opportunities for creativity and expression as part of patients’ care pathways.

Last year, 25 art and creative works by patients from Northgate received an award at the Koestler Awards. These annual awards for arts in criminal justice aim to challenge negative stereotypes and help people in custody and in the community to lead more positive lives by participating in art.