The Alder Centre was established in 1989 by a small group of health care professionals in partnership with bereaved parents who identified a gap in the services available. The Centre is unique within the NHS and internationally; providing bereavement counselling for families who have had a child pass away as well as a national telephone helpline and general counselling for hospital staff.
A series of rooms configured like a big house, set inside a secret garden can be a familiar place for parents to meet, talk, grow things and have a cup of tea. The architecture is easy to use and simple to understand, informed by a conversational process with the counsellors, users and bereaved parents. The building is arranged with a large communal space in the centre that is ‘the heart’ with a lounge and kitchen from which seven counselling rooms unfold, each with their own private garden. There is a flexible training room, office and dedicated room for the ‘Child death helpline’ where volunteers answer phone calls from parents to a national helpline.
The simple layout of the building is analysed with sophisticated environmental modelling software and includes sustainable technologies. Windows and skylights are sized so that diffuse light illuminates counselling rooms; temperatures are controlled by ground source heating which uses the earth’s core to temper spaces; and opening vents in the walls and at the top of pitched roofs drive natural ventilation to give each of the rooms plenty of fresh air. Healthy materials like brick walls and exposed timber ceilings further add to well-being.