The Alder Centre, Liverpool – Projects

The Alder Centre,

Established in 1989, the Alder Centre in Liverpool provides bereavement counselling and support services for anyone affected by the loss of a child. The centre is unique within the NHS, and serves hundreds of families throughout the country. For the new building, Elliott Wood worked closely with architects AHMM and the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital to develop a private, comforting, modern facility.

Conversations with the centre’s counsellors, users and bereaved parents were a key influence on the design of the £2.1 million building, which consists of a series of rooms configured like a big house. The building is arranged around a large lounge and kitchen area – the ‘heart space’ – from which seven counselling rooms lead, each with its own private garden. There is a flexible training room, office and dedicated space for volunteers.

Elliott Wood’s design for a structure of engineered timber, steel and brickwork combines traditional materials with modern construction techniques to provide an elegant and sustainable solution. The apparently simple scheme was not without its challenges, though. To create a sense of calm and tranquility, the client wanted a strong connection between the counselling rooms and their individual gardens. To achieve this, the supporting walls were only located in one direction, from left to right of the building, which presented a significant challenge to the building stability. This was complicated further at the window locations, where, in order to maintain the clean lines of the architecture, the timber roof structure met with the top of the walls and window without the use of a lintel. The ‘pyramid’ roof structures were built on the ground before being lifted into place in one piece, a clever intervention that saved a substantial amount of time and cost.

Elliott Wood coordinated with AHMM to scrutinise the detailing, understanding its heightened importance in such a sensitive setting. Outside, the civil engineering scheme incorporated SuDS techniques, including a dry basin to store surface water and granular storage beneath a rain garden.

The project was of especial importance to AHMM, who have close links with Liverpool, and to the whole team for its social benefit. Elliott Wood fundraised collectively with the consultants and completed the project at cost. The new Alder Centre was opened in September 2021 by Emma Weaver, who used the organisation’s services when she lost her infant daughter in 2014. She said, “The Alder Centre played a huge part in helping us come to terms with our grief and heartache in the early days after Georgie died.” The building was awarded overall winner at the 2021 European Healthcare Design Awards.

The Alder Centre, Liverpool