An innovative new sensory garden and sensory room have been unveiled at a ‘crisis house’ in Northamptonshire as part of a project to make the facility more accommodating for autistic people.
NHFT’s two crisis houses – The Martins, in Rushden, and The Warren, in Northampton – have been redesigned as colourful and comforting spaces for people with autism, who use the facilities, thanks to a £240,000 grant from the Government’s Department of Health and Social Care.
Both crisis houses have benefited from new equipment, including sensory boards, special mirrors, aroma diffusers, bean bags, projectors, sequin boards and more. New energy-efficient coloured and dimmable lighting has also been introduced.
At The Warren, a spacious new sensory garden has also been introduced with a range of aromatic plants and flowers to provide a calm and comforting space for residents with autism.
The new installations have been developed in co-production with autistic service users who have helped shape the look of the redesign.
On Friday 25 August 2023, the garden and sensory room were officially unveiled at a special event at The Warren attended by health professionals, media representatives, and users of the service.
NHFT’s crisis houses provide safe and ‘homely’ environments where people, over 18 years old, needing urgent support with their mental health can stay for a few days and get round-the-clock support, without needing to go to hospital.
In January, during a visit to Berrywood Hospital, the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, described NHFT’s mental health services as “trailblazing”, and praised the innovative work of the county’s ‘crisis houses’ in providing urgent care for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Simba Kapishe, Crisis houses manager, said: “This project is already making a positive difference for our residents. Having seen an increase in people with autism using the service, we wanted to create a more welcoming space which caters for their needs. We know, from the feedback we receive from users of the service, the positive difference the crisis houses make in helping people with their mental health, before it escalates, so it is fantastic that we could make the facilities even better. I’d like to thank everyone involved in the project, including our gardeners Alex and Will Pettitt from Topoforma and those involved in the co-production side.”
The garden isn’t just proving good for mental health; it’s also encouraging service users to improve their physical health with one resident saying they walked around 10,000 steps around the new garden’s winding paths when they were staying there.
Kirstie Pope, an autistic adult and service user, said: “This is, by far, the biggest co-production project I’ve been involved in and to see it materialise into something that is exactly what we asked for is phenomenal; it’s something that should be celebrated and enjoyed.”
Garden designer Alex Pettitt from Topoforma, said: “It’s been a really rewarding project. The garden has been designed to be a valuable resource for both patients and staff. It’s been exciting to implement the feedback we had on the initial designs and create a peaceful space for people to enjoy.”
Louise Kirby, NHFT’s autism lead, said: “I’m so delighted that the needs of autistic people are being catered for with this tranquil and calming room and sensory garden space, which will allow people to escape into and regulate as they need to.”
The project also aligns with the NHS objective that all health and social care services provide reasonable adjustments to enable good quality access to healthcare for autistic people.
Read more about NHFT’s crisis houses at www.nhft.nhs.uk/crisis-houses