19 October 2018 Community

Building for a greener tomorrow: how the NHS can lead the way

Better buildings at the heart of our communities can lead to happier, healthier lives, says Assura’s Simon Gould

The Channel 4 show Shameless might seem an odd place to start in a piece on the UK’s leadership on climate change. But the area of Manchester which provided the backdrop to the series back in the early 2000s was also the birthplace of a building which we hope will inspire other NHS premises in the years to come.    

The decade-long task of regenerating West Gorton has included hundreds of new homes, improvements to a local primary school building and the creation of a TV drama production hub. Further plans for new nursery facilities and a community park are still in the pipeline, but a key improvement has been the creation of a new primary care and community health building.

Time for change

Serving almost 6,800 patients, West Gorton Medical Centre's former run-down premises were right at the heart of the community. While the journey to the new building is less than half a mile, the goal was to create a space for primary care that was worlds away from the cramped and ageing home the practice had long outgrown.

“I don’t think it’s one bit environmentally friendly,” said Julie Jefferson, the practice manager about the old building. “It uses an awful lot of energy. So we’re hoping that the new building will help us control energy costs and help the environment at the same time.”

It’s a challenge the NHS is keen to take on – the health service’s own figures show the UK generates almost one-fifth of all emissions from non-domestic buildings.

That meant a building that wasn’t just modern and attractive as part of the area’s regeneration was required. But one which would be a model for the more sustainable, energy efficient buildings that the NHS can and should be leading the way on. After all, the built environment is intrinsically linked with our health and how we feel.

Health & sustainability

We talk so much about ‘place-making’ today in the worlds of housing, regeneration, design and architecture – and it’s hard to think of a more logical sector to set the tone for that than the service charged with protecting our health. 

The new premises include a pharmacy and training space, as well as a light and airy waiting area and modern consulting rooms. But it’s the centre’s combination of sustainable building techniques which really set it apart.

The goal was to make West Gorton the country’s first ultra-low energy doctor’s surgery building, with technology, engineering and construction approaches coming together to eliminate its costs for heating and lighting. If its features perform in the way we hope, West Gorton will help pave the way for what buildings can do to help the NHS reduce its costs and save on energy.
West Gorton was officially opened by Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, in November last year: “As a former health secretary, I’ve opened many health centres across the country but I want to say to everybody this is one of the most impressive.”

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