Mount Vernon Cancer Centre


Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is a specialist cancer care centre, based in Northwood on the outskirts of London, with 500 staff, treating 5,000 new patients a year. Run by East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust (ENHT), the hospital historically specialized in TB and retains its original sanatorium buildings, though now occupied by offices. In front of the terraces and balconies that were once used for fresh air treatment is a large expanse of lawn, with a grove of mature trees nearby. 

In the last three years the hospital has piloted outdoor lunchtime activities for staff and volunteers, with a view to improving health and wellbeing. Activities have been carefully designed to meet key staff preferences identified through consultation: they are no more than 20 minutes long, non-sweaty, low-cost and easily accessible. The idea of using the site’s outdoor areas for health took hold when a member of staff suggested that an on-site gym would be popular. Ginnie Abubakar, the Community Engagement Manager, attended a talk about green gyms and realized that what their site lacked in indoor space, it more than made up for in outdoor space. In a staff survey, 90% said they would like to make more use of green space at their workplace.

Since 2016 Ginnie has worked with others to instigate first a walking group, taking a route around the site, and then outdoor taster sessions in Qigong, a system of movement, breathing and meditation. Qigong has proved popular and self-sustaining, with weekly indoor sessions established throughout the year. Walking activities, in contrast, though well received, have proved harder to sustain. Staff feedback shows a dislike of walking round car parks. Though there are pleasant paths in nearby woods off-site, these are currently inaccessible because of traffic danger. In response to these issues there are now plans to create an on-site walking route around the sanatorium lawn, with seating and a mown grass pathway. It is hoped that these changes will help to make on-site walking more appealing. 

The walkway proposals are part of a wider programme to improve the quality of several green spaces at the hospital. This will focus initially on refurbishment of an existing ‘sunken dell’ garden by the chemotherapy suite, enabling chemotherapy patients to be treated outdoors. The hospital is 15km from Heathrow Airport, and is undertaking this work with a grant from the Heathrow Community Fund, together with the efforts of teams of volunteers who support the site’s gardening projects.