Down to Earth is a group of social enterprises that merges innovation in health care delivery with innovation in education delivery. The result is a transformative approach to how we work with people and delivers community-wide change. Down to Earth focuses on tackling social inequality and the challenges of sustainability through innovative and inclusive approaches, such as creating sustainable buildings with natural materials.
Down to Earth is leading on the design and development of the ‘Our Health Meadow’ project at University Hospital Llandough (UHL), in partnership with Cardiff and Vale Health Charity and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.
In 2017, we were approached by Cardiff and Vale Health Charity to create a healthcare facility using the sustainable construction materials such as timber, cob, and straw bale.
We received planning permission to enhance and develop a 14-acre site adjacent to UHL into an outdoor rehabilitation and recovery space. Plans for the project site include sustainable development and native planting; creation of natural flood management featuring wetland habitats; sustainable construction of a rehabilitation and recovery centre; creation of food growing areas, sensory garden and other informal growing spaces planted with native species.
Before our engagement, the project was called 'Our Orchard’. In October 2020, we held an online public consultation with patients, staff, and the community asking them to put forward ideas about the proposed project.
We wanted to know who used the site and how, what materials and designs they would like to see included in the development of the space; what they would like the site to be used for and how they would rebrand it. We arrived at ‘Our Health Meadow/Ein Dôl Iechyd’.
Based on the feedback from our first consultation, our architect created an innovative design for the building. Working in partnership on the landscape plans with MUD Designs and MacGregor Smith, the site is devised around an edible landscape, with a focus on enhancing the health, connectivity and diversity of natural habitats and the species that flourish within them. DTE is working with partners, staff, patients, and the wider community to collaboratively create this innovative, outdoor healthcare and rehabilitation facility.
The primary focus of the project - in terms of construction - is the therapy centre. However, the green infrastructure of the entire site is tailored to be inclusive, providing wheelchair accessible routes throughout, walking areas, and different terrains that people can explore and/or use for recovery and rehabilitation, using Down to Earth’s inclusive sustainable construction and development method.
This is a 3 year project funded by Enabling Natural Resources and Well-being and Heritage Fund Woodlands. Development activity started on the site in Autumn 2021, with the aim to have the project completed by the end of 2023
Start as soon as you can. Lay the groundwork by letting people know who you are and what you do as an organisation. You can never make too much time to meet face-to-face with people, build relationships, and get some publicity out there.
Always give yourself a lot more time than you think you’ll need, to not only plan and deliver your project, but to collate the research and learning and disseminate your findings to your communities and funders.
Allow yourself sufficient time before programme delivery for planning and programme development. We were supposed to be up and running in November 2020, but by April of 2021, we were still waiting to hear if we had been approved for funding.
We would advise those looking to start something similar to have a contingency plan. We’ve learned that – not only from this project but others – the importance of having backup work plans in case you run into significant issues, such as a global pandemic, is a massive help.
- We have employed an ecologist who has taken baseline habitat and species measurements and is conducting annual surveys which will continue to be monitored for five years. We’re being audited by Building with Nature - standards for green infrastructure – hopefully the first in Wales to get this.
- We are running a clinical research project exploring the multiple impacts of green infrastructure on healthcare and how this intervention brings about change in mental health and social cohesion.