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The Trevor Gibbens Unit is an inpatient facility of Kent Forensic Mental Health Services, which is based in Maidstone and serves the county of Kent. The unit provides assessment and treatment services for both male and female mentally disordered offenders.

The unit was originally seen as somewhat dull and lacking in any positive visual impact. Low ceilings and a restriction on the size of any opening windows only added to the dark atmosphere. Past efforts to invigorate the space had been generally unsuccessful and, coupled with a number of ad-hoc projects that encouraged residents to decorate certain areas themselves, had led to an uncoordinated mismatch of colour schemes that had a poor visual impact on those living and working there.

The West Kent NHS Shared Services Agency has worked with Access Collaboration and ICI Paints to transform the surroundings of the unit. The project team wanted to consider the spirit of the DDA and used the requirements of Part M of the Building Regulations as a core standard in this scheme, while at the same time acknowledging the psychological impact of any colours chosen.

The team involved nursing and ancillary staff and patients from the unit in decision making, to create a sense of ownership in the project.

On a practical side, any redecoration needed to be hard-wearing, as surfaces in the communal spaces tend to be subjected to greater vlevels of wear and tear.

Dulux Trade colour consultants developed aesthetically pleasing and relevant visually contrasting schemes. Colours chosen for adjacent surfaces, such as walls, ceilings, doors and floors, were contrasted visually by selecting colours with a difference in light reflectance value (LRV) of more than 30 points, based on the visual contrast minimum requirement of Part M and BS8300:2001. Both these documents have drawn their guidance from Project Rainbow, an in-depth study undertaken in 1997 by ICI Paints in conjunction with the University of Reading, the RNIB and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

A variety of visually contrasting colour schemes were created for each of the different environments, based on the requirements of each area and offering choice to the nursing and ancillary staff, and patients. These were all put together in colour scheme books, which were used in decision making.

Bedroom schemes were designed such that two colours were chosen for all the rooms, with these colours then applied and used in different ways, such as varying feature walls, to add an element of personalisation for patients.

The unit's corridors were particularly difficult for the visually impaired to navigate, due to a succession of large glazed screens framed with dark wood. The size of the windows meant they were hard to tell apart from doors and the effect of indistinguishable rectangles along the wall was confusing.

Colours chosen for the corridors were brighter than the existing decoration and the new colour scheme has blended the window frames into the walls. The doors are contrasted visually, using a darker tone, to aid navigation.

Carpets, which the unit found difficult to keep clean, have been replaced with wood-effect flooring. Light oak flooring brightens areas and gives a sense of space, yet is easy to maintain. Colours and finishes for walls and flooring were chosen to create as light and airy an environment as possible.

The team drew on a number of pieces of research into the psychological effects of the use of colour. The research guided them away from applying primary colours or tones of red and orange, which are less easy on the eye, towards tones of green and blue, which are seen as more calming. The project team steered clear of colours that could be seen as overstimulating or difficult for patients to live with.

ICI Paints put together a choice of colour schemes, taking into account the Disability Discrimination Act (although the DDA does not have any specific colour guidelines) and psychological considerations, which were then used in a consultative process with staff and residents. The final colour scheme was chosen by consensus and consisted of blues, greens and lilacs in muted shades.

ICI Paints specified Dulux Trade Diamond Matt for the walls of the centre, because it offers the durability of acrylic eggshell but with a matt finish.

The type of finish applied can affect the reflective qualities of a surface, which in turn can have a serious impact on visual contrast; high sheens in particular should be avoided if possible. Diamond Matt is 10 times tougher than conventional emulsions and can be scrubbed clean, yet benefits from being extremely low sheen.

Diamond Matt underwent successful trials in situ, before being specified for the project.

It was chosen partly because the project team was keen to keep the newly decorated building clean for as long as possible and Diamond Matt gives them the ability to implement a new cleaning regime.

It is hoped that by improving the surroundings at the Trevor Gibbens Unit, patients and staff alike will thrive in a more therapeutic atmosphere that is both calming and more homely.

It is anticipated that residents will have more respect for surroundings that they helped to create and it is hoped that by developing a more inviting, softer feel, new residents will also settle in to the unit more quickly.

For a copy of the Colour & Contrast CD email colour_ contrast@ici. com or call 0870 769 7668

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