Royal Edinburgh Hospital case study

Royal Edinburgh Hospital (Psychiatric Hospital)


The Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) provides acute psychiatric and mental health services, including treatment for learning disabilities and dementia. Forming a hidden oasis in a densely populated residential area on the south side of Edinburgh, the hospital site features extensive grounds which are used in a variety of ways by a wide range of user-groups.

Project Description

The many and various open spaces, ward gardens and allotments are very well used by both staff and patients: beautiful large open lawns, numerous gardens attached to wards, small comfortable niches to sit in, an old orchard, new allotments, a community garden, mature feature trees, bird feeders all ensure that there are plenty incentives to spend time outside. Many wards also have their own ‘private’ gardens, providing sheltered and secure places which are easily accessible. ‘Activity programmes’ encourage and guide people, and there are also open days and celebrations. Publicity material highlights the many opportunities to participate.

As well as garden spaces used mostly by patients, other areas of the site are used by the wider community. REH wish to make the whole site more permeable to facilitate access and erode the divisions between the psychiatric hospital and the local community; for example, the Community Garden at the far west end (a productive garden, along the lines of an allotment), is accessed from a nearby public road, some way from the hospital entrance.

ArtLink has also been running art therapy projects at REH for 20 years and has recently developed the 'Growing Spaces' programme of horticultural therapy.

Key achievement

The REH site is characterised by extensive areas of grounds, larger than required for the immediate needs of hospital patients and staff. Rather than seeing this as a problem, the hospital has taken the opportunity to extend their usage to the wider community and in doing so started to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

New partnerships to enable creative approach to use of the REH grounds have been established with a range of agencies, including British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and Forestry Commission Scotland. The Community Garden arose out of a partnership of The Cyrenians (who won the management contract), community groups (Shandon Local Food Group, a local permaculture group, a Steiner School, Transition Edinburgh South) and the NHS.

What are the health benefits?

Spending time out of doors in contact with nature has particular benefits for mental health. REH have used their extensive open areas to develop a range of opportunities for mental health patients.

Contact with other people in supportive recreation and work situations can also help patients develop social skills for rehabilitation. At REH there are special places for informal socialising, for purposeful work on the allotments and for harvesting fruit.

The orchards also provide fresh fruit for REH and other Edinburgh hospitals by way of 'Edinbugh Community Food' cooperative.

There are health walks and gardening groups led by occupational therapists, using the REH grounds as a beautiful, easily accessible and safe space.

Managers' perspectives

“A new Health and Well-being Group was set up at REH in 2008, which makes better use of the hospital's considerable open spaces. Their work has received backing from the Chairman of NHS Lothian and the REH General Manager and this was a key factor in their success”.

“The community garden has benefitted from the good management of the Cyrenians, a Scottish charity working with people on the margins of society, and the huge contribution of volunteer time from various local groups”.

Lessons learnt

  • Bird feeders once started can require quite intensive upkeep and ongoing costs. It may be better to create wildlife corridors through the site so birds and other animals can forage for their own food. Sowing seed-bearing plants is also effective;
  • Where facilities have more outdoor space than is required for their own needs taking a more creative approach to their use will be essential – and building new partnerships with local groups could be part of the answer;
  • Some open land is only available in the short term, so this has been put to good use with a nursery project grafting and propagating apple trees.


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