Broomfield Hospital is an acute district general hospital on the edge of Chelmsford with around 5,000 staff. It is largest of four sites run by Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust. The Trust is proud of the large natural estate at Broomfield including two areas of deciduous woodland and a variety of green spaces. In recent years there has been a concerted effort to encourage the use of these by patients, staff and the wider community. Sensitive management of the estate is taken seriously, with community involvement important for its long-term support. The Trust’s ‘Natural Health Service Project’ offers the opportunity for people in the hospital and the wider community to gain skills through hands-on volunteering and education within a natural environment.
The Sustainability and Grounds & Gardens Teams have led a number of projects. In 2015, a Wellbeing Terrace with box planters and games was created for the benefit of staff. In 2015 and 2017, two courtyards were transformed into safe and secure gardens for patients with dementia. Planting close to the hospital entrance has enhanced this area and will be further developed during 2019 to create an attractive outdoor seating area with sculptures and interpretation. A ‘Sunken Garden’, historically a pond, has just been refurbished with gazebos and seating to provide a peaceful area primarily for patients. Since 2014, a vegetable garden and fruit orchard have been cultivated, and are cared for by Mencap students, who learn communication skills and organic farming techniques through the project.
The creation of new garden areas has relied on charitable income and volunteering, without Trust funding. Between April 2017 and March 2018 these initiatives attracted 1,900 hours of volunteer activity from both staff and the wider community, equating to £18,600 worth of time. Participants are invited to take part in activities through a wide range of channels including external and internal social media.
The Sustainability Team sees the involvement of staff volunteers as one means of raising staff awareness of the site’s green spaces and encouraging their use. They also promote these spaces through leaflets and posters with occasional stands in the hospital’s atrium. The Trust’s Sustainability Coordinator leads twilight bat walks in the hospital grounds and has found them a good means of engaging staff with the benefits of site’s green space and wildlife conservation. Surveys have shown that the Wellbeing Terrace is popular with users, but that some staff lack the time to reach it. There are now plans to create a new green seating area in an alternative location on the site. Other plans include greater engagement of volunteers in clearing and planting the woodlands.