Health and Wellbeing at Orchard House, Ugley


By Karen Turnbull

Sustainability Leader Karen Turnbull explains how the right building can support wellbeing.

The proposed new supported living facility for young people living with autism provides a perfect opportunity to use health and wellbeing as a fundamental catalyst in the project evolution. Located in the rural village of Ugley in Essex, the facility, run by the national learning disabilities charity HfT, will enable residents to live as independently as possible, providing appropriate support to lead to greater choice and control of their lives.

Sustainability forms a central part of this approach, with many of the elements that create a sustainable development, going hand in hand with aspects that address health and wellbeing. The building responds to the site, using passive design measures to minimise energy use and provide comfort. Low impact building materials will support a fabric first approach, and landscaping is designed to enhance biodiversity and promote activity, while supporting good mental health.

Flexibility is critical in achieving a balanced approach, in order to integrate principles centred on health and wellbeing, whilst understanding the significant complexity and variance in the needs of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Living accommodation will allow for adaptability to enable individuals and carers to control their environment accordingly, minimising stress levels and enabling residents to flourish and lead fuller lives.

The proposed facility has evolved to reflect the ambition of providing independent homes with access to support, depending on an individual’s personal needs. This is achieved with one bedroom apartments connecting to communal support facilities, with provision for carers, activity space and a courtyard garden. The focus is in on the development being seen as a home rather than an institution. A domestic scale entrance has been used instead of a manned reception area. 



Landscape forms an intrinsic part of the development with self-contained gardens, allotments and wildlife areas linking to the wider rural setting. Understanding autism is crucial to creating this environment. Together with HFT, the project team arranged an informative workshop run by expert Dr John Biddulph, to explore and illuminate our understanding of ASD. ADP has also employed clinical psychologist Hazel Wood, who is participating in regular design reviews.

Individuals with ASD have significant differences in behaviour and needs. Characteristics fall within three key areas: communication, social interaction and flexibility of thinking. Each come with varying degrees of difficulty however some challenges encompass all areas. Additionally, individuals can have sensory differences such as sensory overload, sensory seeking and fragmented perception. 

The initial concept design evolved through understanding the needs of the potential residents in combination with responding to the site and creating an environment that is uplifting and minimises environmental impacts. Apartments are orientated to the east and south to gain some direct sunlight and achieve good levels of daylighting, with appropriate shading to cut out unwanted solar gains. Units have views onto and connect to private gardens to the perimeter of the site.  

Apartments link to the communal space with a focal courtyard garden bringing in light, views out and enabling use of natural ventilation. A circulation route runs around the courtyard, providing residents with the opportunity to take a different route to avoid a certain situation, if required. The courtyard will be a mix of solid elements and glazing to limit direct views across the courtyard to and from resident’s entrance doors, creating privacy and the ability for an individual to retreat if necessary. 

Use of top light is being explored to bring daylight into the deeper spaces within the apartments, with the potential to integrate cross ventilation for improved comfort. Control of the indoor environment is paramount. It needs to be simple, yet cater for the varying needs and abilities of residents. The Passivhaus approach supports this principle, with highly performing fabric and use of mechanical ventilation with heat recovery to minimise heat loss in winter, while providing good air quality and comfort. Low heating demands will involve minimum user input. Use of mechanical ventilation, with low velocity fans to limit noise and energy use, with summer bypass will provide suitable comfort conditions in warmer months and when an individual has the need to cut out daylight and outdoor noise.  

Apartments are a home and refuge. A key feature of the design is a transition space with a built in seat that assists the resident to calmly move from private to public space. This provides the potential to receive visitors without entering the home, and acts as an intermediate space for the individual to adjust from leaving their home prior to entering communal areas. On the circulation side, a seat is integrated adjacent to the apartment entrance door, creating a further transition space while also being part of the communal space. Seating creates an opportunity for people to sit side by side rather than face to face, reducing the potential for social anxiety.  

Communal and support space is minimal, consisting of a small area for staff use, storage and a modest sized activity space. This space provides the opportunity for residents to have support in learning and using equipment, with potential for undertaking simple activities such as making a cup of tea, that many of us take for granted. The spaces can also be used for therapy sessions, such as sensory stimulation. The activity of trampolining can also be very beneficial for calming individuals with vestibular problems.

A large gathering space would not be appropriate, due to the challenges of social interaction that can be very stressful for many people living with ASD. The provision of an activity space however, is very important to enable interaction to take place, reducing isolation and enriching quality of life in a non-threatening environment. Interaction can provide an opportunity to understand and learn social behaviour. This, in turn, can assist in greater independence outside of supported living.

Where possible, spaces will be predictable and intuitive to create reassurance and enable independent behaviour. As part of the design evolution, layouts will undergo a process to simplify the legibility of spaces. This will continue through to the interiors scheme, with use of signage, controls and technology to ensure each element provides clarity and encourages individuals to understand and control their environment. Often individuals with ASD can have difficulties with communication and understanding subtleties with signage, for example using pictorial cues rather than symbols for signage can ease understanding. 

Although the facility will provide flexibility to control the environment to suit individual’s needs, it is also important for predictability, with many residents preferring familiarity and routine. The repetitive nature of the apartments provides a level of predictability, which can be continued within the home in terms of layout, use of colour, and equipment in kitchens etc.

Landscaping and the outdoor environment provides a fundamental element in supporting health and wellbeing. Gardening provides physical exercise, fresh air and the routine of growing vegetables and plants. Activities like mowing can provide a simple repetitive activity which may be therapeutic for some residents. A range of spaces are proposed for privacy and escapism or for activity with minimal communication and interaction, with use of pods and semi enclosed seating giving a feeling of security and enclosure. Use of planting with varying textures, fragrance and colour in different locations is beneficial to some individuals while spaces can be avoided for those who find a particular environment challenging. 

Potential to create a wondering route, a journey that can be reassuring and stimulating. Change in height, levels, shelters bring opportunities to be creative with the design.  

Use of planting with benefit to wildlife will be used to enhance biodiversity linking to the neighbouring rural habitat, bringing life to the gardens, an aspect that has been demonstrated through recent research to contribute to wellbeing.



Karen Turnbull

Karen Turnbull

Karen joined ADP in 1996 and is the practice's Sustainability Leader.
She leads the in-house sustainability team, providing BREEAM and bespoke sustainability services.