The RIBAJ MacEwen Award winner is a very human design, attentive to visitors as much as residents. That’s what makes Meadow View special – particularly so as it’s a public sector client
Meadow View community care centre
Glancy Nicholls for Derbyshire County Council
I’d driven past a few times and at first assumed that this appealing terraced complex in the verdant Derwent Valley just north of Matlock was some kind of upmarket house or flats development. What made (and makes) it unusual however is its clear modernist aesthetic, albeit tempered by the use of locally appropriate materials such as Derbyshire sandstone and timber, along with high-quality planting. It was good to discover that Meadow View is not only an old people’s care home but also one commissioned and run by the county council – not a private company as you first assume from its evident quality. This gave it the edge on a MacEwen shortlist that, this year, boasts several good buildings of this type.
But to win the MacEwen it needed more. Meadow View is designed to be a local community facility as well as containing the usual ingredients of a good care home for ‘older people with complex needs’, including dementia. A hopeful sign on the road by its entrance advertises a café. And indeed, there is a smart café there, all ready and waiting, looking out across the Derwent Valley to the Peak District, but not on this day one that is in use. According to the member of staff on duty the day I called in, it’s not easy to get people to work in what’s seen as a bit of an out-of-the-way place, despite being so close to the thriving centre of Matlock and with the Whitworth Hospital just 100m or so up the road.
Meadow View provides activities, day care and rehabilitation services to the wider area, not just to its inhabitants. Of its 32 residents, half are short-stay and intermediate, with a view to maintaining people’s independence and giving their carers a break as well. The other half of the population, in a separate but linked part of the complex, are higher-need, in particular those with dementia.
All the MacEwen judges, me included, had direct personal experience of visiting relatives and loved ones in the usual run of care homes. We’re very familiar with the drawbacks of such places as well as being often impressed by the dedication of staff. Soraya Khan in particular singled out one aspect of the Meadow View design that recommended it to her: the fact that it is so clearly intended to accommodate visitors. You know that thing when you take young children on an often awkward family visit to see grandma, say, and there is nothing for them to do, nowhere for them to go when you are there other than being cooped up in a room? Here, in contrast, there is a generosity and variety of spaces inside and out – helped by the way the building is terraced into the valley side. Its planted roofs help to camouflage it and there are some ambitiously cantilevered terraces to provide extra outdoor space, as well as well-landscaped gardens of intimate little spaces tucked in sheltered corners up against the slope. The kids can run around a bit.
‘Meadow View’? The name is pure care home but, actually, what a view, across meadows to the distant hills, and one that the building fully exploits. Although the busy A6 road runs right past the front of the building, the fact that it is set up higher makes that almost irrelevant. You can see other things, such as the heritage locos and steam trains of Peak Rail puffing past on their way to the head of the line at Rowsley, and the walking/ cycling path that runs alongside it.
Meadow View is the last of four Care Centres developed as part of the county’s strategic framework for elderly and dementia care, formulated in 2012. Derbyshire County council’s project manager Liz Ewbank says the brief for Meadow View stipulated that ‘the design of the new facility was to be influenced significantly by the opportunities to create the best caring environment, providing spaces which are conducive to promotion of well-being, health and happiness, both for residents as a home, visitors and staff as a workplace.’ Moreover, she says, ‘The authority was looking for inspirational and innovative design, and for the buildings to make a positive contribution to people’s lives, the location, the environment and the community.’
The architect says: ‘The centre is designed to embody and champion the natural heritage of the locality, while positively dispelling the stigma associated with buildings for the elderly.’ Moreover, it adds, it was specifically designed to foster independence and social interaction between residents and visitors of all kinds – not just visiting families. They have succeeded in this and in making a thoroughly decent building regardless of type. While there is the odd aesthetic awkwardness to be found, on the whole it all works well: and its multi-level terraced nature breaks down what could otherwise be something of a bulky building.
No such place can ever be wholly non-institutional – much as anyone might try to bring a domestic feel to the spaces, anywhere that treatment and long-term care takes place is bound to show it, in its furnishings and equipment as much as its surface treatments. Even so, this is a thoroughly convincing attempt to humanise and open up this building typology. It is to the credit of Derbyshire County Council which has now employed Glancy Nicholls to supervise the building of a new care home on a former industrial site in Belper, the market town further south down the valley, as part of a complex originally planned by Latham Architects to include a new public library. That will also look out across the Derwent Valley, in that case in what is also the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site. That too promises to be the kind of place you can indeed look forward to going to. Meadow View sets an encouragingly high bar in this sector.
Client, QS, environmental/M&E engineer and landscape architect Derbyshire County Council
Architecture and interiors Glancy Nicholls Architects
Civil and structural engineer Curtins Consulting
Contractor Balfour Beatty