The Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Mr Michael More-Molyneux and Cllr. Mrs Mary Sheldon, Mayor of Elmbridge seen here with Whiteley Homes Trust CEO Chandra McGowan and Chair, Rod Bennion OBE cutting the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the Eliza Palmer Hub

A new £10.5m nursing care centre for older people has just opened at the Whiteley Village retirement community in Walton on Thames, Surrey – the provider of 25% of the specialist social housing for older people in the borough of Elmbridge. Named after the first resident to move to the village when it opened in 1917, the 30-suite Eliza Palmer Hub is among the most innovative care facilities in the UK, blending clinical support with a major emphasis on social interaction amongst the whole village community.

Prominently positioned at the heart of the village, the distinctive octagonal building features the stylish conservatory-style Lantern Café as a social hub for all residents, as well as a hair salon, therapy and consulting rooms and 30 studios for residents needing higher levels of support. Led by residents, Whiteley Village is active in recognising loneliness and taking action to support each other – and this was a pivotal consideration in deciding to locate the key social facilities of the village at the Eliza Palmer Hub, encouraging greater interaction between those residents living independently in the village and those who need more care.

Designed by Levitt Bernstein and Francis Roberts Architects, the residential facilities of the two–storey building challenge the traditional nursing home model. A central, communal open-plan kitchen and living area is the focal point on each floor, with adjacent bedrooms enabling a sense of connection that is lacking in many nursing homes as Chandra McGowan, Chief Executive, The Whiteley Homes Trust, explains. “Our ethos is that life is for living so that, even if your health or mobility is restricted, it doesn’t mean you can’t engage with the normal rhythms of the day going on around you. Just as the kitchen is the heart of every home, the design makes interaction around food as easy and normal as possible.

“Many memories are evoked by the different senses associated with mealtimes and staying connected to a sense of home makes all the difference to quality of life. The sad reality for many UK nursing home residents is that their world is overly confined to their bedroom, whereas our approach is to create spaces and interaction where friendships can flourish.

“Respect for the individual is central to our personalised care strategy. At the heart of this is the understanding that our residents have lived their lives, usually in a mutually supportive “family” unit, until the point of acknowledging a need for more help. We are determined to enable them to continue doing as much as possible for themselves – and for others. Where our residents have the capacity and desire to take control over their lives, we will do everything we can to help them maintain their own independence as well as providing opportunities for them to contribute. This reflects the wider ethos of the village and why the Hub is so key to enhancing opportunities for mutual support within our community.“ This approach is also reflected in the landscape. A new courtyard in the heart of the care centre offers private and sheltered external space with plant beds to encourage residents to get outdoors.

Irene Craik, Director at Levitt Bernstein, said: “The Eliza Palmer Hub demonstrates the importance of putting people at the heart of the home; and the home at the heart of the community. We are proud to have helped deliver the Trust’s unique vision, designing the next generation of facilities and homes for Whiteley Village that are fit for the next 100 years, knowing they will make a real difference to the quality of life of the residents.”

Dominic Roberts of Francis Roberts Architects said: “The Whiteley Homes Trust has shown a great commitment to quality of materials and design, allowing us to create a carefully crafted and intricate building that responds to the patterns and forms of the historic village.”

The Eliza Palmer Hub was facilitated with loan funding from ethical banks Unity Trust Bank and Triodos Bank and was constructed by Castleoak, design and build specialists to the care sector.