Duchess of Northumberland opens new Sycamore unit at Northgate Park hospital

Posted: 17/11/23

On Thursday, Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) welcomed Her Grace Jane Percy, The Duchess of Northumberland, to officially open the new Sycamore unit at Northgate Park hospital.

Sycamore is a new, state-of-the-art secure facility which looks after men with a mental illness, learning disability or personality disorder and who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. It contains 72 beds across six wards.

Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW), a provider of mental health and disability services, began redeveloping the Northgate hospital site in 2020, as the existing buildings – some of which dated back to the 1960s – were no longer fit for purpose and were unable to be adapted. To raise the standard of care and meet the demand for secure services, new buildings were needed.

An aerial view of the unit under constructionWork began on the unit in November 2020, and the successful opening of the unit is the result of the hard work and dedication of many hundreds of staff.

The unit has been carefully designed to the highest standards, equipped with cutting-edge technology and a variety of spaces to ensure that patients receive the best possible care. These purpose-built spaces including an education suite, art rooms, sport and exercise facilities, a workshop for woodwork, and gardens.

The new building also features imagery of local wildlife, plants, and landscapes throughout, with artwork created by York-based artist Dan Savage. Dan is an artist who often works designing for hospital settings, inspired by his own cancer diagnosis during his art degree. Photographs taken by patients of North East landscapes have also been used to decorate fences and internal privacy screens. (You can read more about how art and nature create a healing environment at Sycamore here.)

An aerial view of the finished unit At the end of September, shortly before the unit was fully operational, staff gathered at the new unit to bury a time capsule. This preserves the history of care provided at the site for many decades. The capsule included photographs of the site throughout the years, artwork by patients, and memorabilia such as CNTW’s newly launched Carer Promise, and a hi-vis jacket worn by staff during the construction. (You can read more about the creation of the time capsule here.)

Patients moved into the new unit in late October 2023.

On Thursday, the Trust welcomed representatives from CNTW and its subsidiary company NTW Solutions, building contractors Sir Robert McAlpine, other local healthcare organisations and charities, and local MPs, to visit the new unit.

The Duchess touring the facilities at the new unit with staff. Darren Best, Chair of the Board at CNTW, opened the event, and thanked all of the staff involved on behalf of the Trust’s board and council of governors, encouraging them to take a moment to celebrate.

Darren also noted that the development work at Northgate Park hospital has gone beyond the new Sycamore unit, remarking that “the whole site has been rejuvenated.”

James Duncan, Chief Executive at CNTW, added his thanks to everyone who contributed, calling the new unit “a real example of partnership working.”

“I’ve been involved in many building projects in my time,” he said, “but this has been the most challenging, with work going on through the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m immensely proud of this facility, which will support some of the most vulnerable and forgotten people in society. For people deprived of their freedom, it’s so important that we create an environment where people feel safe, and can have a sense of belonging, until the next step on their journey.”

The unit was officially opened by The Duchess of Northumberland, who toured the building and met with staff.

She said, “I know what will have gone into a building like this, and that no one person will be responsible for this; it is a team effort. Thank you to absolutely everyone for the role you’ve played in building this facility.” A plaque marking the occasion was unveiled.