The ‘Worcester Development Project’ and the transition from institution to community care

For the past few months I have been researching Worcester’s modern medical history (using the Archives at The Hive), with the aim of developing a final topic of discussion based around the NHS and health authorities within Worcester. Within the primary resources I found at The Archives, I found myself drawn to the resources regarding the treatment of mental health. With some more research, I found that a project had been undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s with the express aim of making the transition from the more traditional style mental hospital, Powick, to a new idea of ‘community care’. This became the Worcester Development Project.

The Worcester Development Project was devised in the early 1970s and was initiated by the Department of Health in 1978. It was termed a ‘test-bed’ for a new style of mental health treatment, in an attempt by the government to move away from the previous use of large mental hospitals and move towards a system in which treatment of mental health would be carried out within the community. This was primarily to be done through the closure of Powick Hospital and the establishment of a complex system of replacement units such as day centres, wards attached to general hospitals, and residential hostels[1]. Originally built in 1852, Powick was a large institution that in relation to the national performance of such hospitals, was performing above average; a draft feasibility study compiled by the Department of Health and Social Services in 1969 indicated that only 16% of patients at Powick were classed as long-stay, performing better than the national average[2]. Despite this, the idea of treatment within the community instead of more isolated institutions was growing amongst the government and the public and ultimately, a new system of care was developed with Worcester. 

Previously unaware of the use of Worcester by the authorities as an ‘experiment’ of a new way of treating mental health, the topic intrigued me. The focus of my attention for the remainder of my research will therefore be on the transition from institution to ‘community care’ carried out within Worcester during the Worcester Development Project.

Within this broader area of discussion, I have identified three key areas of research necessary; the reasons for community care and the driving forces behind this, a comparison between the initial plans for the project and the eventual outcome, and thirdly the public reception of ‘community care’ and responses to the Project from a variety of different sources. Through this, I am hoping to find and present an interesting account of the transition from institution to community within Worcester, taking into account different sources with different agendas, focuses and viewpoints.

Powick Hospital from the air, ©Charles Hastings Education Centre

Powick Hospital from the air, ©Charles Hastings Education Centre

[1] P. Hall, R. Gillard, ‘The Worcester Development Project’, International Journal of Social Psychiatry, Volume 28, 1982, pp. 163-172.

[2] Draft Feasibility Study for the Worcester Development Project, June 1969, Archive Reference BA12248/1 (i).


Fern Evans