25th Jun 2018 — The Bromley by Bow Centre – A Fresh Take on…

The Bromley by Bow Centre – A Fresh Take on Primary Health Care

Hannah Bergstrand

Several members of SWA recently attended an insight tour at The Bromley by Bow Centre to understand the key principles.

The Bromley by Bow Centre is located in Tower Hamlets, one of the top ten most deprived areas in England. Situated within the wider context of an increasingly ageing population and an overstretched NHS, the centre provides an inspiring model to support a healthy community.

Describing itself as a “community department store”, it provides an abundance of services and facilities in response to many “social determinants of health”. This term was explored by Michael Marmot (in the Marmot Review) and encapsulates factors that have a significant effect on an individual’s wellbeing, from living and working conditions, to education and a local community network.

Therefore, the 100+ projects organised by the Bromley by Bow centre target socio-economic factors, from digital inclusion and the creative arts to employment support and day care. Delivered at the centre and across 25 satellite sites, the projects are fully accessible by all members of the community. They operate alongside a GP partnership to holistically contribute to promoting better health.

“We should stop building health centres because they are principally focused on illness not health!”

The Bromley by Bow Centre

The centre has grown in response to the community’s need. It began operating from an existing church with a diminishing congregation in the 1980s. The services and facilities have evolved over time, with the local community responsible for instigating many of the projects. Wyatt Maclaren LLP have worked with the centre to design a building and the surrounding spaces that accompany the original church, incorporating a bell tower that marks the heart of the project.

The Bromley by Bow Centre is located at the crux of several public thoroughfares; on the corner of two roads and at the edge of a small park. Simple devices such as oversailing roofs and timber structures for growing create a permeable edge, with a variety of thresholds to ensure everyone feels welcome. This is supported by the scale and broken-up massing of the scheme that complements the surroundings. The design does not conform to institutional formalities; vegetation and tactile materials are used in place of clinical ones, and very little signage is used.

Stone carvings created by an on site sculptor furnish the communal spaces and handmade tiles adorn the exterior walkways. Subtle features such the historic archway located outside the prominent entrance or a sharp incline in the landscape outside the GP consultancy rooms suggest which spaces are more public or private. A lack of CCTV or key pad access highlights a certain level of trust, as this is a centre owned by the community, with the GP practice rented back to the health authority.

The Bromley by Bow Centre has developed incrementally from many threads and is not an end product. By providing insight services to research and share key principles, the centre continues to develop­­ the working model. This attitude is also applied to the physical spaces, as cumulative built additions ensure that the facilities have grown in response to need. This overarching approach is an inherent aspect of the centre’s success.

The Healthy Living Centre embodies many of our values as a practice, by promoting social wellbeing and a sustainable future for the local community. It reinforces our belief that an architect’s responsibility is not only to design successful spaces, but a design process that can empower and engage a community.