£40m North London care home welcomes first residents

The Hammerson House redevelopment has a raft of innovative features for both residents and visitors


Like all care home bosses, Nightingale Hammerson chief executive Helen Simmons has experienced a stressful year, coping with the “exhausting” demands of operating during a pandemic and trying to keep residents and staff safe.

But in her case, there has been “a wonderful distraction” — the completion of the £40 million redevelopment of the charity’s Hammerson House in Hampstead Garden Suburb. And right on schedule, the 116-bed home in Bishops Avenue welcomed its first residents this week.

A few days beforehand, Ms Simmons gave the JC a tour of the new premises.

With the Chief Rabbi due in little more than an hour for a mezuzah-fixing ceremony, there was an appreciable amount of background bustle.

But the CEO’s focus was on the multitude of features she believes will make Hammerson a home from home for those who will be arriving over the next 18 months or so — 11 have fixed their entry dates, 55 have applied for places and there have been 150-plus expressions of interest.

She was equally keen to highlight facilities which will enrich the experience for visiting loved ones.

“Out of 2,000 decisions we had to make, we only got ten wrong,” she claimed.

The small touches were important. For example, Ms Simmons seemed exceptionally enthused by the visitors’ toilet, where a smaller seat has been integrated for the use of younger guests. Ditto for the resident-friendly benches in the garden area with arm rests and cup-holders.

As well as essential toiletries, its volunteer-run shop will sell craft pieces from local businesses. The conservatory will double up as a succah and Backgammon and Scrabble sets are on display in the six households — “we wanted to get it looking homely”. Some 600 books have been donated and a well-stocked toys’ cabinet reflects the charity’s commitment to inter-generational activities.

A pioneering nursery operates from the Nightingale home in Clapham. Although there will not be a Hammerson kindergarten, “we’re hoping to get many schools and nurseries to come along”. The home is also linking up with a local NHS practice to offer a weekday surgery.

Each household features an activity area and kitchen, as well as an outdoor terrace, and the CEO reported fierce competition to secure the rooms with the most scenic views. Considerable thought has gone into the artworks, with a particularly striking mural in the hair salon depicting women under the dryers in animated discussion.

The lack of corridors is deliberate, Ms Simmons explained, as they created an institutional feel, were difficult to staff and made the site less easy to navigate.

And every residential room will have a memory box outside, containing photos and other items of personal significance. Some care homes only install the boxes where the occupant has dementia. But she felt the ability to personalise accommodation was important to all.

Residents would also benefit from the latest in technology — “from beds able to weigh people so they don’t need to be hoisted to a self-checking fire [alert] system”.

Music will be a key element, both in terms of reminiscence activities and performances — eight donated pianos are dotted around the building.

The concert hall will host regular musical events, also serving as a synagogue, a venue for celebrations and exercise or just a place “for watching Wimbledon together”.

In an inclusive touch, the residents’ smart TVs will include a live channel from the concert hall, allowing them to enjoy activities from the comfort of their room.

“It is a fabulous building but it is the people who will bring it to life,” Ms Simmons stressed.

As for occupancy, “the first rush will be in residential, people who may be in their 90s but are mobile and will engage. So not so many with nursing or dementia needs. But I think that will change.”

A few former Hammerson residents will be returning, having transferred to Nightingale during the construction programme.

Current government guidance is for two weeks’ isolation for new residents and Ms Simmons was pleased that this was under review.

“We want to protect their mental well-being.”

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