Since we successfully crowd-funded the Confidence Centre, we’ve been working busily behind the scenes to get it up and running! The most important part of this is ensuring that we get it ‘right’ – both in the form of the anxiety support we provide, and the design of the support space itself. My role in this process has involved heavily consulting existing research on creating relaxing, trauma-informed environments, essentially asking – how does one design a space that makes people feel safe and at ease?

As it turns out, the answer to this question is surprisingly unanimous – it’s nature! Seemingly, we find natural environments to be inherently calming. This involves being physically ‘in’ nature – wooded areas,1 gardens,2 and ‘green’ spaces – but also indoor features such as the natural light3 and scenery provided by windows,4 or the presence of potted plants.5 Even simulated nature, including recorded soundscapes, synthetic plants, and photos or paintings of natural environments seem to create a calming effect.6 (By contrast, reportedly, abstract art causes confusion and can even increase stress levels!)2 Whether this is because finding solace in nature is evolutionarily advantageous,7 or because it simply provides restoration from the demands of our day-to-day lives,6 it makes sense, surely, that we find it to be so calming. Reading all of this indoors, on a laptop screen, with very little nature in my immediate vicinity suggested to me that, perhaps, I needed to rethink my relationship with the outside world a little. Seemingly, all the platitudes were right – being outside in nature (or even just being able to see it) does us a whole world of good. In fact, as well as reducing stress levels, it also improves focus, has been shown to boost energy and performance,5 and it seems, in some cases, even has a meditative effect.8 These findings will certainly inform the design of the Confidence Centre.

We could not have simply consulted secondary sources in this research process, however. It was also crucial that we understood the needs and lived experiences of our local community. Thus, we also ran a survey, asking the community how The Confidence Centre should look, and what services it should offer.

I carefully collated the responses received, with extremely interesting results. Here are some of the findings:

  • Short videos were the overwhelmingly preferred form of advertisement for the Confidence Centre
  • People would feel most encouraged to enter the Confidence Centre if there were a notice on the door explicitly expressing that everyone is welcome
  • Regarding the interior of the Confidence Centre, the strongest interest was in having a range of comfy seating options available – but being warmly greeted upon entry was a close second
  • When invited to suggest their own ideas around the design and services, respondents expressed strong interest in the following:
    • For services: educational resources on anxiety, and social forms of support (e.g., workshops)
    • For design: a welcoming vibe, and, overwhelmingly, the presence of low-sensory elements
    • For promotional material: simplicity, accessibility (e.g., it being open to everyone), and a clear idea of what to expect
    • Across all areas: a range of choices (e.g., different support options, and different things to do / different places to sit within Manga Hapahāpai), and an overall non-clinical approach

Sound relatable? I certainly hope so, because these findings have been absolutely key in informing our design of Manga Hapahāpai / The Confidence Centre.

If you’ve got an idea you’ve not seen expressed here, get in touch! Our survey led to a wealth of awesomely creative suggestions, something we’re always keen to hear more of. While we’re close to opening, The Confidence Centre will remain responsive to feedback and subject to change:)

1 A comparison of the restorative effect of a natural environment with that of a simulated natural environment (Kjellgren & Buhrkall, 2010)

2 A Review of the Research Literature on Evidence-Based Healthcare Design (Ulrich et al., 2008)

3 Psychophysiological Effects of a Single, Short, and Moderately Bright Room Light Exposure on Mildly Depressed Geriatric Inpatients: A Pilot Study (Canazei et al., 2017)

4 Windows, view, and office characteristics predict physical and psychological discomfort (Aries et al., 2010)

5 Green schoolyards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence (Chawla et al., 2014)

6 Multisensory, Nature-Inspired Recharge Rooms Yield Short-Term Reductions in Perceived Stress Among Frontline Healthcare Workers (Putrino et al., 2020)

7 Stress Recovery During Exposure to Natural and Urban Environments (Ulrich et al., 1991)