Green light for new £20m mental health unit for people with a learning disability and autistic people

Planning permission has been granted for a new £20m unit in Bristol providing specialist mental health care for people with a learning disability and autistic people across the south west.

The new 10-bedded unit will be built on the Blackberry Hill site and run by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP). It is being designed specifically to care for individuals across the south west with a learning disability or autistic people who would benefit from specialist mental health treatment in a hospital, when needs cannot be met in a mainstream mental health hospital or at home.

The Unit will help bring an end to long-distance placements for this cohort of patients, making life better both for individuals who need hospital treatment, and for their families, friends, and carers. This will go hand in hand with improvements to local care and support of individuals with a learning disability and autistic people so they can live healthier, happier lives in their local communities.

Construction work is due to start in May this year, with the Unit anticipated to open in the summer of 2025.

The project has enlisted the support of people with lived experience and their carers to influence and shape its design. Over the past 18 months groups representing those with learning disability and autistic people have been meeting with architects to offer lived experience on things like ward layout, furniture designs, garden landscaping and sensory considerations such as acoustic and lighting.

Laura Ambler, Executive Lead for Learning Disabilities and Autism, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Integrated Care Board, said: “This new facility has been designed with input from service users, people with a lived experience, and their families and carers and will provide the kind of specialist therapeutic mental health care which cannot be provided at home or in another mainstream hospital. The news of this new local facility, alongside the developments and transformation we’re planning within our community services, is really positive and will significantly improve the services available for people with a learning disability and autistic people across the south west.”

Ben Stunell, peer mentor who has supported the project, said: “It has been very rewarding and confidence building to have our thoughts and ideas listened to and it will be very exciting to see the building going up and taking shape knowing that we’ve contributed so much, alongside other support groups and people with lived experience. We are committed to keeping the autistic voice at the forefront of any ward/clinical design so that the environment is adapted to our needs. 

It’s excellent news that the project has now been approved and I really hope that in future many people and families will benefit from what this new building can offer, and will help to ensure that people get the best care possible to meet their needs and support recovery.”