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Maggie’s – helping cancer patients through good design

March 6, 2015

Great design isn’t just about making things pretty and creating that ‘wow’ factor everyone wants. Through well executed design you can actually enhance people’s lives and help them through troubled times. This has been demonstrated in the centres of Maggie’s, a charity which offers free support to people with cancer and their friends and family.

My own battle against cancer started when I was diagnosed with cancer in my knee bone when I was just 18. I endured many months of chemotherapy and life changing surgery but 27 years later I’m a proud survivor. Back in the 1980’s, although I cannot fault the treatment and care I received, the concept of using great design in health centres didn’t exist. It was therefore really interesting to visit Maggie’s West London centre recently to see how times have changed.

Maggie's West London

Maggie’s was founded in 1995 by Maggie Keswick Jencks and her husband Charles Jencks who is a landscape architect. Maggie lived with advanced cancer for 2 years and was determined that people with cancer should not ‘lose the joy of living in the fear of dying’. The first centre opened in November 1996 and there are currently 18 centres around the country. The charity is now run by Laura Lee who was Maggie’s Oncology Nurse.

Maggie's West London

Every Maggie’s centre follows the blueprint for a different type of cancer care as laid down by Maggie. At the heart of each centre there is a large kitchen table where people can gather and just talk, laugh, cry – while enjoying tea and biscuits! I know from my own experience that talking to others going through the same process is a great help.

Maggie's West London

Another principle is that there is no reception desk in the centre, any time it is open you can walk in and someone will greet you. Within the open space of the centre you will also find many more intimate areas that can be used for informal meetings or some time for personal reflection. One of my favourite places is a small space at the end of a corridor where you will find one chair in a quiet area with views over the courtyard – a perfect space to sit and contemplate.

The charity’s centre in West London was the sixth Maggie’s built when it opened in April 2008. Designed byΒ Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners the centre sits quietly in a corner of the grounds of the Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith. The design was awarded the RIBA Stirling Prize & Award for London 2009, and after just a few minutes in the centre you can appreciate how well designed it is. Although located on the busy Fulham Place Road the world outside is forgotten due to the peaceful calming nature of the centre.

Maggie's West London

You soon realise how many trends of today appear in the centre. There is extensive use of concrete in the centre – this is now very fashionable to use in residential interiors. I also found a Scandinavian influence in some of the rooms which feature Secto Design lamps with wooden strip shades. And with interiors becoming more colourful you can’t miss the bold orange used on the exterior of the building.

Maggie's West London

The centre includes three courtyard gardens to allow visitors to get outdoors when the weather allows. Dan Pearson Studio was responsible for the landscape architecture of the centre which features evergreen bamboos, lush grasses and much more! Throughout the year the centre’s horticulturist works with visitors to maintain the gardens, a very therapeutic activity. You immediately get a sense of activity (participation is voluntary!) at the centre – on the day we visited a men’s group was meeting for the weekly group session which includes time in the gym and a communal lunch. The internal configuration of the rooms allows for a flexible layout so on another day two rooms are combined to create space for a Tai Chi class.

Maggie's West London

Maggie’s West London Centre is many things to many people. You don’t need an appointment, you just drop in and someone will be there for you. Maybe you need to learn more about your cancer, or are helping a family member on their own battle. You might call in the centre for support from health professionals Β  or you just fancy a cup of tea and biscuit at the kitchen table and a moan to people who will understand you.

You can find more information at Maggie’s website about the work. Surprisingly only 10% of the UK population know about Maggie’s centres so please help spread the word by sharing this post – and remember when you need them they will be there for you, just walk in.

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