A STATE of the art treehouse — the first mental health unit of its kind in the country — has won an award for Best External Environment.

The Woodland Retreat, a service provided by Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, received the award at The Building Better Healthcare Awards 2013.

The £178,000 development, which is for the rehabilitation of young people, was given the award for its imagination and inclusion of service users.

It is based in the natural woodland next to the Hope and Horizon units at Fairfield Hospital.

The judges said: “We were impressed with the imagination shown by the trust in recognising how a very challenging, sloping site could be redesigned to provide such a stunning, interesting and engaging space for young people.”

The Woodland Retreat has a 40-metre wooden treehouse, decked area, barbeque and allotment.

The retreat’s success has seen a 65 per cent reduction in incidents of violence and aggression and an 8.5 per cent reduction in self-harming incidents.

Keith Walker, specialist services director at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Treating young people who have a mental illness can be challenging, often involving difficult behaviour, so it’s important that we find new and engaging ways of supporting their rehabilitation.

“The young people who use our services said they wanted a place that was totally different from the clinical surroundings of the ward, which prompted the Woodland Retreat.

“Many of the young people who access our services have had poor life experiences and we hope the retreat will help to build their confidence and make them feel valued.”

Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust funded the development, helped by a £100,000 grant from the Department of Health, via the King’s Fund.

In creating the site, the trust worked with Blue Forest, a tree house company renowned for creating structures that reflect the environment in which they are built.