On Friday 22 September, staff gathered at Northgate Park in Morpeth to celebrate the burying of a time capsule at the new Sycamore unit. As the staff there prepare to open this state-of-the-art new hospital, the capsule preserves the history of care provided at the site for many decades.
Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW), a provider of mental health and disability services, began redeveloping Northgate Hospital in 2021 as the existing buildings were outdated and unable to meet the needs of patients. The new, state-of-the-art Sycamore unit is set to open this autumn. The building will look after up to 72 men with a mental illness, learning disability or personality disorder who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.
We hope to show people in the future just how much the care and treatment on this site for people with mental illness and learning disabilities has changed and improved over the years.Fiona KettleAssistant Capital Projects Officer
The time capsule was the brainchild of Fiona Kettle, Assistant Capital Projects Officer in the NTW Solutions Capital Team. NTW Solutions provides a wide range of services, from estates and facilities operations to business support services. The company was established in 2017 by CNTW and now provides services to other NHS organisations and beyond.
Fiona explained, “We hope to show people in the future just how much the care and treatment on this site for people with mental illness and learning disabilities has changed and improved over the years.
“We’ve included memorabilia from our celebration of 100 years of Learning Disability Nursing in 2019, some articles and documents which show how the COVID-19 pandemic affected our lives and work, and documents about CNTW’s newly-launched Carer Promise.
“When clearing out areas of the site which were decommissioned ahead of the new unit being built, we found some old documents which we’ve included too. There’s a copy of the Mental Health Act 1983, and even papers from a conference in 1968 titled ‘The Residential Treatment of Disturbed and Delinquent Boys’ – language which shows you how far we have come since then.
“There are lots of photographs of the site through the years. We also ran a competition for patients to include some artwork in the capsule, which was won by a gentleman who has received prizes for his photography in the past. He took lots of photos capturing the Northgate Park site as it looks today.”
We hope that when people open the time capsule in 20 years, they will be able to look back with pride at the development of Sycamore at Northgate Park and all the opportunities it brought.Dennis DavisonAssociate Director for Secure Care services
Dennis Davison, Associate Director for Secure Care services at CNTW who will oversee the new unit, added: “It’s been a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the past while we look ahead to the opening of the new unit. Sycamore is the culmination of so much best practice and research, offering outstanding facilities for our staff and the people we care for.
“We hope that when people open the time capsule in 20 years, they will be able to look back with pride at the development of Sycamore at Northgate Park and all the opportunities it brought.”
The capsule also contains a banner created by patients to celebrate the Queen’s life following her death in 2022, and a hi-vis jacket – which staff become very accustomed to wearing whilst visiting and preparing for opening! – from contractors Sir Robert McAlpine. Respected psychiatrist Dr Kenneth Day, who the old Medium Secure Unit at Northgate Park was named after, is also commemorated in the time capsule by including his book ‘Prudhoe and Northgate Hospitals: A History 1914-1999’.
To formally mark the burying of the capsule, staff were present who’ve worked on the new unit, from CNTW, NTW Solutions, and building contractors Sir Robert McAlpine (SRM). To mark the occasion James Duncan, Chief Executive of CNTW, said a few words thanking everyone involved in the ‘remarkable’ project.
The capsule will be located on the edge of the large central courtyard shared by the six wards which make up the Sycamore Unit. It will be marked with a circular granite plaque inscribed, “Buried in 2023, due to be opened in 2043.” It also bears a quote, “The past is the past, you can’t change it. All you can do is look forward to the future.”
Though the contents were gathered together and celebrated by staff on Friday, due to the weather the capsule was actually cemented into the ground by Sir Robert McAlpine staff on a drier day the following week. This will ensure the contents are safely preserved for when the capsule is due to be opened in two decades time!