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Two historic Hong Kong sites set to be converted into creative mental health therapy centres

Roberts Block in the Old Victoria Barracks in Central will be turned into a creative arts psychological therapy centre and Watervale House in Tuen Mun will become a ‘soul oasis’ for people to relieve stress through meditation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 9:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 9:23am

Two of the four latest historic buildings put up for repurposing in Hong Kong will provide creative psychological therapy services, officials announced on Thursday, reflecting what a top heritage conservation adviser described as an “increasingly serious” problem of mental stress in the city.

It is the first time government-owned heritage sites under the Revitalising Historic Buildings through Partnership Scheme will be repurposed to boost mental health, which has become a widespread social concern following spates of youth suicide in the city between 2015 and last year.

Now in its fifth round, the scheme will provide funding of HK$380 million (US$48.4 million) to non-profit organisations that were awarded the four projects, which are expected to be operating by 2023.

In the latest announcement, Roberts Block in the Old Victoria Barracks in Central, built in the early 1900s, will be turned into a creative arts psychological therapy centre. Watervale House at the former Gordon Hard Camp in Tuen Mun, built around 1933, will become a “soul oasis” for people to relieve stress through meditation.

Lau Chi-pang, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Built Heritage Conservation, which is in charge of allocating the buildings under the scheme, said the committee had no preference for any specific services.

“This round there are two applications providing psychological treatment by coincidence,” Lau noted. “Maybe this can reflect that there is indeed such a need in society.”

He said not only young people but also parents, employees and the elderly were all under pressure.

“We can see the problem of mental stress has become increasingly serious. It must be treated and prevented as early as possible.”

Heritage buildings in Hong Kong: why conservation has never been a priority

Lau added that the Roberts Block project operators, Christian Oi Hip Fellowship Limited and Art Hub Asia Company Limited, would also provide creative arts therapy sessions in primary and secondary schools.

Christian Oi Hip vice-chairman Dr Chung Kit-keung said it would be easier for children to express themselves through arts such as music, drawing and dance.

“Children don’t know how to verbalise their stress,” Chung explained. “If they cannot release their negative emotions, these emotions may intensify into disorder.”

Linn Chan, chief operating officer of the Watervale House project, said it would not only provide meditation spaces and related workshops and classes for people to relax, but also feature a Gurkha restaurant with the menu designed by former Gurkha soldiers who once served in the former Gordon Hard Camp.

The other two buildings include the former Lau Fau Shan Police Station, built in 1962, which will be a future guide dog training school; and Luen Wo Market in Fanling, built in 1951, which will operate as a market again after being closed for years.

The scheme aims to conserve and offer government-owned heritage buildings a new lease of life, Including the four sites, it has so far allocated 19 properties to non-profit organisations, with eight of those already in operation.