A safe and warm place where cancer patients and their families feel welcome and can be among themselves; this is what Maggie Keswick Jencks envisioned in 1993. A place where information is given and social support, dietary and exercise advice as well as relaxation therapy are readily available. A place to meet.

In 1993 Maggie Keswick Jencks received the news that she hadn’t much longer to live, due to advanced breast cancer. She decided to use the time she had left to realise her dream, together with her husband and in close consultation with her doctors and nurses: another approach of cancer in healthcare. Maggie died in 1995. One year later the first Maggie’s Centre opened in the grounds of the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.

You can see more about Maggie’s Centres in this video:

Architecture of hope

In Maggie’s Centres people who have been diagnosed with cancer will receive the necessary tools to carry on with their lives, as well as advice on how to add quality to their lives. The centres, all located in hospital grounds, complement the medical care that patients receive. Personal attention, information, support, giving direction to one’s life and meeting others are most important. The people behind Maggie’s are convinced that place and space have a major impact on the way people feel. They want meticulously designed, light and airy buildings, where people feel welcome and at home. Buildings that stimulate the senses and make patients feel alive.

licht eetkamer

Photo: Maggie’s Centre

Each centre offers a unique combination of physical and social stimuli. In the words of Charles Jencks: they embody an architecture of hope. When a Maggie’s centre is designed this human-oriented approach is a very important precondition in the architect’s brief. For each centre another architect is employed, from England and beyond. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas built the centre in Glasgow, for example. This gives each centre a completely unique signature. At the same time they are all inspiring examples of biophilic design.

gebouw met boom in winter

Photo Credits: Maggie’s Centre

Green and healing environment

Maggie and her husband were both active in landscaping and architecture. Both were convinced that natural surroundings have positive effects on people’s wellbeing. Thus, each centre is surrounded by green and the rooms have an outside view. For the design of the latest centres, landscape architects were also involved. The gardens are consciously used as a passage from the clinical hospital environment to the warmth of the centre. For patients, family and healthcare workers, they are a place to relax and be oneself. Visitors of the centres can even work in the gardens if they want.

From a study carried out at four centres, it became apparent that the gardens were much appreciated by healthcare workers and patients, but could even have further use while care is provided. The organisation now intends to add gardening therapy to the social and emotional support programmes. In that way the green environment can more explicitly aid the healing process.

spiegelend glas en groen

Photo Credits: Maggie’s Centre

Appealing care provision

The concept of the Maggie’s Centres is very appealing. It seems there is growing need for a broader, more holistic approach of care. A need for an environment that truly helps people to get better, even though they are seriously – and sometimes incurably – ill. The driving forces behind the requests for more of these centres are often oncologists and nurses who see the added value of these meeting places. Architects, landscapers and artists often offer their support, sometimes even without charge. Patients and their relatives appreciate the informal, warm and professional atmosphere in the centres.

Funding is raised by individuals, organizations and corporations. Each year an average number of 146,000 people visit the centres, including some 16,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients. Over the years 18 centres have been established throughout England and Scotland. Recently a centre was opened in Hong Kong and one in Barcelona will open its doors soon.

working place

Photo credits: Maggie’s Centre

Maggie’s is a source of inspiration for all wanting to develop people-focused health care in green and healing environments. Perhaps one that will come to the Netherlands soon. The University Medical Center in Groningen for one has voiced interest in the concept.