To mark the start of National Allotment Week, today’s guest blog is from Isobel Jones, CEO of Alive, a charity working to enrich the lives of older people in Bristol and around the country. I recently visited their dementia-friendly allotment in Brentry with Councillor Helen Holland, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care.
We all know how being outside can lift our spirits. Working outdoors surrounded by nature, nurturing fruit and vegetables or just sitting in the garden can bring a smile to our faces and help us relax after a difficult day. Allotments are incredible spaces for escaping from the normality and stress of our busy lives. They provide us with a real sense of achievement when we harvest crops we’ve tended from day one (and at times a sense of frustration when the cabbages get eaten again!)
For those who live with dementia, gardening can be a source of joy and achievement. Maintaining physical activity, cognitive function and social interaction all help someone living with dementia to remain stimulated and to feel valued and helpful.
However, accessing gardens and allotments can become more challenging as dementia progresses.
So, when the idea of developing and running an allotment for people living with dementia was suggested to us, we jumped at it. We were already facilitating regular gardening sessions for groups in care settings across the city and through them witnessing the joy and satisfaction they brought to many older people. But we also wanted to provide a space for people living in the community to experience the benefits of horticultural therapy.
We were handed the keys to plot 18A at Charlton Road allotments in Brentry in March 2019. The ground hadn’t been cultivated for about four years and was overgrown, unloved and close to being unworkable. However, my incredible team of volunteers and staff have put hours of love and hard work into the plot and have transformed it into the most magical, peaceful and calming space.
We’ve also put in a compost loo, a large social shed, accessible beds and lots of seating so we can meet all needs and garden in all weathers. It has been a real community effort, with support from local funders, businesses, fellow allotment plot holders and a sizeable team of volunteers, who have all supported us in our vision to enable those affected by dementia to have access to the outdoors and feel the sense of achievement and purpose that comes from “growing their own”.
We are proud to say the Alive allotment is now fully open and is running regular supported sessions for people living with dementia and their carers. Participants can choose what they do there; they can come and potter about on personal projects, work with a volunteer, or just sit and have a cup of tea and chat. We are already seeing the positive outcomes on people’s wellbeing and are looking forward to seeing the groups grow.
We need to ensure there are more opportunities like this for those affected by dementia. In the words of one of our service users, “Gardening, it’s almost medical. They need things like this to keep people going.” We couldn’t agree more.