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Co-producing Bespoke Buildings and Environments for the People We Support

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Co-producing Bespoke Buildings and Environments for the People We Support

Reviewing the Physical Design of Supported Accommodation for People with Mental Ill Health and Learning Disabilities

Our research team has embarked on a plan to co-create supported living environments specifically for every individual we support. The right built environment is a critical component of our approach to care, support and co-production.

Our Research Officer, Dr. Anne Johnston, is a leading authority on the design of living environments for people in receipt of care and support and says that the evidence is clear.

“There is little existing guidance material on the subject which means that Praxis Care had to undertake our work from scratch,” says Dr Johnston. The team has conducted a scoping review and has developed the first set of guidelines for the co-design and build of supported accommodation.

“We at Praxis have been working closely with people we support, our team of architects, social care researchers and Queen’s University Belfast for the last two years to achieve this.”

“We started by co-designing an evaluation form to get an accurate picture of each person’s needs, likes and dislikes and this has been central to informing the future design of their homes.”

A scoping review was then undertaken to understand the physical design of supported living accommodation. Its objectives were to examine the current evidence base, to identify physical design features of the accommodation and to explore the impact of the accommodation design on the health and wellbeing of those who lived and worked there.

Architect David Sutherland left private practice after 23 years in residential design to join us at Praxis Care. His belief that architecture had a central role to play in good mental wellbeing drove a passion for changing the built environment for and alongside people with complex needs. One of our first sites to benefit from the new designs is in a supported living service in Portadown where Praxis work alongside a young person with learning disability, complex autism and behaviours that can present challenges.

“We undertook a comprehensive briefing process from the outset, with input from our staff team, occupational therapists, the individual’s family and social worker,” says Mr Sutherland, Head of Property for Northern Ireland at Praxis Care. “This allowed us to develop a design which was truly bespoke and addressed the specific needs of the person who would be taking up the tenancy as well as addressing the needs of our staff who work alongside them daily.  This co-produced process continued throughout the design and construction process with all parties attending regular site meetings. The end result was the design, specification and finished product were tailored to the person at the centre of what we do. The objective was to co-create a home and, in doing this, to help further enhance their quality of life.”

 “Working with Dr Johnston’s team, we have now established the Praxis Care model in which specifications are agreed with the person living in the accommodation and their wider stakeholder network including therapists, social workers and operational staff using a co-produced approach.”

Building on this work, we have developed a design catalogue and associated process providing clear guidelines for all involved in bringing properties forward.

Dr. Johnston, who co-authored a paper entitled Physical Design of Supported Accommodation for People with Mental Health Problems and Intellectual Disabilities: A Scoping Review with Praxis Care senior staff and external professionals including Professor Gavin Davidson, Paul Webb, Neil McCartan, Keith McAllister, Richard Broughton, David Sutherland and Dr. Christine Kennedy which was presented at an international conference last year, says the three point approach of context, scoping review and design catalogue requires time and dedication as each resident requires specific attention.

“This is about improving lives and implementing the Praxis Care promise to shape care around the individual. Ultimately it is about helping each individual reach their full potential and to live as independently as possible.”

Dr. Anne Johnston

A detailed report of this project can be found at:

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