Living through Landscapes – a reflection

Mary Jackson, qualified teacher and Landscape Architect, discusses our latest project- Living through Landscapes- which is nearing completion after transforming the outdoor experiences of hundreds of people living with dementia. As the charity’s Projects Manager, Mary is based in our office in Winchester and is responsible for several projects including Living through Landscapes.

One of the completed settings.

The Living through Landscapes project, which has seen us support 30 dementia care settings to make the most of their outdoor spaces, has been a leap into a new area of work for Learning through Landscapes. Quite understandably, a lot about working with such settings has been different from supporting schools but what has surprised me the most has been how similar it has been in many ways.

Like teachers, care home owners and senior staff are busy people with responsibilities for those in their care. As such, getting in touch and finding times to speak to them can be hard but when we have had opportunities to discuss their projects, we found them to be enthusiastic and caring, and keen to achieve the best garden designs possible.

We have also seen that for people living with dementia, the impacts of using improved outdoor spaces can be similar to those experienced by children in school settings. In care setting gardens which had been neglected, residents are now partying outdoors, enjoying time spent outside and even dancing in the grounds! Such celebrations have been used to mark special occasions; the opening of a garden, a resident’s birthday or a key date, but the everyday use of grounds has proven just as important.

As part of the project, we have created a suite of resources to help staff to encourage residents outdoors. These have included online training modules and activity ideas. We know these materials have been welcomed as we have received pictures and reports of residents enjoying some of our suggestions, including taking art outside.

While led by Learning through Landscapes, the UK-wide project has been a collaboration between several organisations. Staff from Thrive have used their expertise to help us ensure that those designing the gardens know how to make them dementia friendly. They also visited the settings to provide training so that, as each garden was completed, staff were able to support residents to make the best use of it. Age UK Medway have provided expert advice, Groundwork UK have overseen the creation of each garden, and a team from the University of Kent have been evaluating the impact of the project. It has been very much a partnership between the project team and the staff and residents of the centres we have worked with.

The budget for each garden varied between £5,000 and £20,000, and it has been amazing to see the difference that has been made to each setting. These before and after images show the impact of the project.

Previously a disused space, the Regency Court Care Home now features a beautiful new garden with seating, shelter, a bird feeder, storage and wheelchair access to raised beds with young plants.

Whilst the project is now drawing to a close, you can still access information about it and find advice to help make any garden more dementia friendly. Do visit our website at www.dementiagarden.org.uk where there is more information available and examples of what you can do to your garden or others you may have access to. A design guide with more specific advice will be completed in the New Year and added to the website.

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