Williton Community Hospital case study

Williton Community Hospital, Somerset


Williton Community Hospital is a ‘cottage’ hospital which carries out smaller-scale surgical procedures and also provides convalescent care for those who have suffered from a stroke or had more major surgery. Built in the 1980s, the Hospital is located on the edge of town overlooking neighbouring farm-land and is surrounded by a large garden which is well-used by patients, especially those recovering from a stroke.

Project description

The gardens in themselves are un-exceptional in their design, however the therapists have adopted a creative approach to activities in the outdoor areas and as a result they are very well used. All patients who are mobile enough have free access to the outdoors and enjoy using a small network of paths, including one off-site, to re-learn their balance and walking skills.

The garden features a continuous circuit of paths around the building with sections over different surfaces (grass; rough paving; gravel); steps; a raised fishpond where people can sit and watch the fish; plenty of seating; quiet corners as well as busier communal areas, and access from the site onto neighbouring farm-land.

Key achievement

Worth noting in particular is the constructive attitude towards Risk which is considered here alongside the benefits of the activities. Whilst some facilities would consider the patients too frail for independent access to be a possibility, the staff at Williton carry out an informal ‘Risk Benefit Assessment’ and then monitor the progress of individual patients as they regain their ability to walk and balance outdoors.

What are the health benefits?

Having independent access to the gardens has major benefits for people’s sense of general wellbeing, promotes confidence and speeds up the post-operative process, and recovery of mobility and balance. Whilst being in a hospital environment is often stressful, once outside most people relax and the subsequent reduction in stress has been proven to facilitate the healing process.

A clinician’s view

Senior Occupational Therapist Sonia explained:

“We believe it’s really important to allow patients the freedom to enjoy the garden un-supervised. Having that extra bit of independence means that they have to learn to be more confident outside, which is an essential skill for them to learn if they are to be discharged successfully. Sometimes, yes, they do have a fall, however we look at these incidents in a constructive light and the information about how and why it happened then informs our therapy and treatment programme to reduce the chance of it happening again.

Because we’re in a rural area, we have a lot of farmers through, and it’s especially important that they are confident in a more ‘informal’ setting - no use just being able to walk on tarmac. So with them, we take them onto the footpath next to the garden and if they are able, even over the stile and into the field, even walking over rough newly-ploughed ground. It’s so important for them to know that they can do these activities”.

Lessons learnt

  • Carry out a Risk Benefit Assessment to understand people’s capabilities, monitor their progress and keep a record for the files;
  • Provide a variety of types of spaces so that people can choose whether to sit where they will be able to socialize with others, or just sit on their own in peace;
  • Features such as steps are useful in helping people recover their mobility but these should be designed in as part of the overall garden layout rather than as free-standing structure.


Occupational therapist Sonya Johnson

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