An untidy and largely forgotten area in the grounds of the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) in Paisley is about to be transformed into an environmental gem.
Over the next few months, an overgrown pond, hidden out of sight at the back of the hospital, which has little to no access for patients, staff and visitors, will be completely revamped, creating an important resource for everyone at the RAH, as well as the local community.
Led by the NHS Greater Glasgow Sustainability Team, and using the expertise of award-winning landscape architects Erz, the £245,000 ‘Pond and Beyond’ project – funded by the NHSGGC Endowment Fund and the Green Exercise Partnership – will see a huge range of improvements:
The work, which gets under way later this month [September] and is hoped to be complete by the beginning of next year, will also see the creation of new habitats such as wildflower areas and the construction of an outdoor eating area. It is envisaged that future work will include food growing beds outside the hospital’s dining room, and an outdoor gym area.
In addition, it is hoped the pond area will eventually be part of a campus-wide network of walking routes, linking indoor walkways and outdoor spaces, so patients, visitors and staff, and the wider community, can all benefit from a stroll in the fresh air.
The project is part of a range of environmental and sustainability projects across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde in response to the climate emergency, and allowing the board to meet or potentially exceed, and provide best practice examples for, statutory biodiversity and sustainability requirements.
And the changes are particularly fitting, as the original vision for the hospital when it was built in the 1980s was to link indoor and outdoor spaces to allow patients to have access to rehabilitation in the fresh air, and staff to get time away from their work by going for a walk.
The pond was conceived as a space outside the dining room for staff to relax, eat and socialise, and the covered walkway through the hospital was supposed to be a ‘treehouse walk’, with trees planted within the external spaces creating a woodland atmosphere easily accessible by all. There was even a plan to have a ‘waterfall of flowers’ from the balconies inside the hospital atrium, to bring nature right inside the building.
The significance of the changes beginning this month is not lost on Gemma Kitson, Greenspace and Urban Realm Officer for NHSGGC – a role part-funded by the Green Exercise Partnership.
“With this project, it’s like we’re completing the work that began nearly 40 years ago,” said Gemma.
“It has been well known for many years that time spent in the outdoors has huge benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing, so I’m delighted that this work is getting under way.
“By renovating the pond and its surrounding areas, we’re not only creating a valuable space for patients, staff and the whole community, but we’re returning to the original ethos of the hospital’s design.
“It had originally been planned that work on the pond would begin earlier in the year but, as with so many things in our lives, the timetable was hit by COVID – and then by the arrival of baby swans at the pond.
“It is just great to see work ready to get under way – and given what has happened in the past 18 months, and the value we all now put on outdoor space, the finished pond area will be even more important to the wellbeing of our patients, our staff, our visitors, and the whole community.”
Felicity Steers, director at Erz architects, said: “We are really excited to start work on the Pond and Beyond after waiting all year for the baby swans to fledge before we disturb the woodlands.
“Our work is going to improve the habitat not only for birds but also for staff, patients and visitors at RAH. We will be working during the quiet winter months, so hopefully the swans will be happily nesting again by next spring.”
:: The Green Exercise Partnership (GEP) is supported by the Scottish Government and is a collaboration between NHS boards, Public Health Scotland, NatureScot and Scottish Forestry. Its aim is to improve the quality and accessibility of greenspace in and around NHS sites – and working alongside experts such as the GEP and Scottish Forestry, NHSGGC can reap benefits both now and in the future.