Cancer patients often have a special need for support and compassionate care, as do their relatives. However, over a number of years the Danish Cancer Society found that fewer people were using the cancer counselling centres which were centrally located in several Danish cities.
The society therefore decided to build seven new centres close to the cancer departments at a number of hospitals. The project was called ‘Livsrum’ (or Life Spaces), and was partly funded by the Danish foundation Realdania, which supports philanthropic projects in the built environment which enhance quality of life.
Unlike the old centres, the new facilities are designed on the basis of an ambitious construction programme that carefully reflects values such as openness, homeliness and friendliness.
– It was important for us both to have new facilities and also to move to new locations. Being closer to the hospitals means that we see patients much earlier, in many cases on the very same day that they receive their diagnosis. And where the old cancer counselling centres were often housed in former quite box-like offices, the new facilities have allowed us to change and add to our offerings, says Laila Walther, head of department at the Danish Cancer Society.
Example: See the new Livsrum centre in Odense, where Troldtekt ceilings have been installed
One of the main differences with the new centres strikes you the moment you arrive. The entrance is designed as a sheltered zone, where visitors have a chance to get an overview of the room, and find out whether they feel welcome. For many of the patients, the first visit to a cancer counselling centre is associated with having to acknowledge that they are ill, and therefore taking that first step through the door can be a big hurdle.
– One user told us that she had looked at the door to our old counselling centre at least 27 times before summoning the courage to open it. Now, you step into a warm and friendly room that exudes normality, and which is a far cry from the atmosphere you encounter in a hospital. One elderly patient felt it was “like being given a hug as you step inside the door,” says Laila Walther.
Waiting time in comfortable surroundings
In the new centres, there are no fixed appointments. Instead of walking up to a counter and making an appointment, visitors now just have to step inside, and the first available counsellor will attend to them. And while you’re waiting, you are free to either sit quietly in one of the secluded niches or have a chat with other people in the room over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.
– On average, it is about 19 minutes before an adviser is available, and this time can be spent, for example, having a chat with someone in a similar situation or going for a contemplative walk on your own. We have gone to great lengths to open up the centre to the natural environment outside, through having large window sections and using natural materials. The centre also has training facilities, and after training, participants can share their experiences. In this way, the architecture creates networks, says Laila Walther.
It’s not just patients and their relatives who use the new cancer counselling centres. Volunteers at the Danish Cancer Society also use the facilities for brainstorming, meetings and other activities, and much more so than anyone ever expected.
– We’ve created a base for the volunteers, because the facilities work so well. They use the centre from morning to evening, and there’s much more happening in the building than we expected, says Laila Walther.