Front Room/Reception

When it comes to ensuring that the people we serve feel valued and accepted, the way they are treated at this first point of contact is essential. And that first encounter for a client is the lobby and people staffing the front desk.

Questions to consider from an administrative point of view are: How are people greeted when they come to your centre? Do they feel welcome? Are there any volunteers on-hand to offer guidance?

Closely related to this is the layout of the main reception area. Is the receptionist behind a glass wall or is it an open area? Does the space have a warm, welcoming feel, or is it cold and sterile looking?

Feature: Creating Welcoming Spaces

'It feels like a prison.' That’s not exactly the atmosphere we wanted to create for our clients and yet this honest feedback, which a client used to describe their walk up our back staircase, sparked some beautiful changes at the downtown location - Raechelle Devereaux

The Guelph Community Health Centre has used client experiences and feedback to shape the redesign of its physical spaces.

“Whether the role is direct care or navigation and support, we want people who enter into our space to feel that they’re exactly where they need to be at that moment in time,” says Raechelle Devereaux, Director of Programs and Services at Guelph Community Health Centre. “And that the support that they are receiving on the other end is welcoming and leaves them with a feeling of hope and inspiration.”

The need to shift thinking about how the centre welcomes individuals came as a response to a region-wide commitment to welcoming the complexiity of the people with the greatest barriers to accessing health services. These priority populations include a complex group of people with mental health and addictions challenges, newcomers to Canada, especially those with language barriers, as well as people living in poverty and facing homelessness.

Under the leadership of a staff team of “Change Agents”, empathy mapping, journey maps and surveys were used to learn about both client and staff needs and to guide the recommendations that would make the physical spaces more hope-inspiring and inviting. With the help of one-time funding from Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network, the centre worked with Overlap Consultants and Addicition and Mental Health System Coordinator Brooke Young to ask clients about the changes that would make the greatest impact. Approximately 50 clients were interviewed.

Hear Raechelle Devereaux speak more about the process below.

Working diligently to learn more about client needs and to subsequently redesign its spaces and services to better meet them, the centre is in the midst of a three-phase approach.

In the second phase of work, the centre used client experiences to guide further changes to some of its service approaches, including the development of Welcoming Plans for the most challenging clients. Staff also developed individual hope-inspiring challenges to improve client experience. Now engaged in the third phase of work, the centre has just completed a series of journey maps with its clients, and empathy maps with its staff, to inform deeper level service improvements for clients with concurrent disorders.

Early findings point to the need for:
  • enhanced integrated care with partner agencies,
  • the need to create opportunities to continually renew and refresh hope amongst staff amidst what can be very challenging work,
  • opportunities to instill belief and hope in clients as they embark on their recovery journey,
  • as well as suggestions of innovative service delivery models to improve access to care.



Looking back, what was most remarkable about the process was how quickly meaningful change can happen, says Devereaux. And how economical it was to take on that feedback. One waiting room was transformed in about four minutes, she says. Boxes of tissues were made available along with the WiFi password, so clients could pass their time in the waiting room. And they noticed the changes. People commented on the changes and shared how honoured they were that their input was taken seriously. 

“It makes me feel acknowledged,” says Sam Lake, one of the empathy mapping participants. “If someone like me can inspire someone who inspires me, then anyone can.” And she was delighted to see the back staircase transformed with paint and illustrations of trees, or trees of hope as they are referred to at the Guelph Community Health Centre’s downtown location.

Clients even noted the way they are greeted and how they would want this to happen every time. “Smiling at somebody and welcoming them is actually free. It’s about a shift in practice,” says Devereaux. But there’s more that you can always do, she says. “What this has highlighted is that we have committed to continue the work as an ongoing process. For clients but also for the staff; there is a shift in the way they feel. 

Steve Reinhart, a physician at Guelph Community Health Centre, noted that not only is he hearing from patients that the changes are improving their mood and state of mind, he’s experiencing that himself. “I feel more positive in those rooms,” he says. “And that creates a more hopeful experience for clients. It’s a small change but it does make a difference.



10 Things I Learned About How Planning and Designing Services are Different
Design Thinking Resources
Empathy Mapping
Needs Extraction

*Tools from the Change By Design: Using Client Experiences to Guide the Development of Welcoming Spaces and Concurrent Capable Services learning session presented at the 2016 AOHC Conference by Raechelle Devereaux, Director of Programs and Services, Guelph Community Health Centre; and Brooke Young, System Coordinator, Mental Health and Addictions Network, CMHA WWD​​​​​​​.