that have arisen from it. In June 2019, a team from Altro summarised the outcomes in a presentation to delegates at the European Healthcare Design 2019 conference. A key outcome of the study has been the creation by Altro of a ‘Possibilities Studio’ at its UK headquarters in Letchworth in Hertfordshire. Here, nine different rooms for high-secure and other mental health environments are showcased, demonstrating a range of scenarios with individual degrees of robustness, ease of installation, and aesthetics for wellbeing. More than 70 different customer groups have visited the ‘Possibilities Studio’ since it opened, and the rooms provide a permanent forum at which crucial aspects of product installation and usage can be discussed.

Even greater potential than anticipated

Altro Whiterock Satins are ‘colourful, satin finish wall sheets with all the hygiene and durability of Altro Whiterock’, for use in wet environments, wards, and kitchens.

schedules, and draws on the use of recording devices. There were also complex ethical issues relating to access to acute units by non-clinical staff, and we were particularly aware of the need to minimise the impact of our research on the everyday operation of each unit. “We gained an enormous amount of insight through close cooperation with the staff at each site, and are extremely grateful to all those who took part. The needs of patients in acute mental health wards are extremely complex in comparison with the types of clinical settings with which we were more familiar. In-depth discussions with the teams involved in the daily operations in acute units enabled us to explore these complexities thoroughly, for a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the issues, which we could never have gained without this intensive level of engagement. For example, we were able to discuss the practicalities of product durability with the health estate manager, while also finding out, from clinical and support staff, ways in which elements of design could improve the patient’s experience within the ward, and the potential to contribute to important aspects of wellbeing relating to the use of colour and other aspects of aesthetic impact.”

What were the outcomes? Having completed the project successfully, the relevant parties are now able to look back at the study and quantify the benefits


An important realisation for Altro was that specific floor, wall, and door coverings within its existing range actually had the potential to solve many of the problems that acute units were experiencing, if certain methods for their installation and use were adopted. Products developed for installation in industrial applications, for example, were discovered to have many of the required characteristics and performance criteria desirable in acute units. If these materials could be introduced into healthcare settings with purpose-designed approaches for their installation and use (developed through in-depth knowledge of acute mental healthcare), the ‘workaround’ improvisations of the past could be replaced by carefully designed, fit-for-purpose, solutions.

Best practice approaches Implementing the insights gained during the research project, Altro has now developed more than a dozen best practice approaches for installation of the products in high-secure environments. These include more effective methods for installing wall and floorcoverings as a single system, to provide greater durability and improved resistance to damage. As Altro manufactures coverings suitable for floors, walls, and doors, as well as supplying resin floors, the company has been able to devote extensive product development to ensure that transitions and welds between room features such as floors, walls, covings, and doors, are better able to maintain their integrity. Other best practice approaches include methods for high-secure window detailing, installation in internal corners of rooms, and specific installation guidelines for bathrooms and other wet environments. Stakeholders and their floor/wallcovering installers can explore these best practice approaches via Altro’s website, by visiting the Possibilities Studio in person, or by working with one of Altro’s trained installers.

Clarity and a sense of priority “For us, the key benefits of the research project have been clarity, and a sense of priority for our ongoing product development activities,” Antonio Lourenco concluded. “In any R & D strategy it is crucial that the time and effort you invest delivers maximum benefit for the end-user. Our ability to gain an understanding of the needs of these particularly challenging environments means we can ensure that clinical settings with specific safety and wellbeing priorities – such as acute mental health units – have proven products available for their use.

“For hospitals, health estate managers, and service-users, the primary benefit is that there are now products and services that cater for their specific needs, be it everyday ease of use and maintenance, or long-term wellbeing benefits arising from inspirational and functional spaces.”

The next steps

The collaborative research project has brought into being an important resource for those involved in the provision of acute mental healthcare, and stakeholders are invited to visit the ‘Possibilities Studio’ to learn more. As well as having developed practical approaches for improved durability and reduced frequency of repair, Altro is incorporating insights from the research to determine how aspects of aesthetic impact, such as design and colour, can continue to be employed in the creation of its floor and wallcoverings to play an increasingly valuable role in enhancing wellbeing.


Antonio Lourenco

Antonio Lourenço is a Global Product manager for Altro, based in Letchworth. After qualifying in international economics and finance in Portugal and the Netherlands, he completed an MBA at Cranfield University. Having gained experience in the civil engineering and financial sectors, he joined Altro in 2015, focusing on business development through detailed market analysis. He specialises in utilising ethnographic market research techniques ‘to identify the hidden needs of customers in specific market segments’.


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