Q&A with Sydenham Garden; dementia, nature & outdoors

Outdoor activities at Sydenham GardenThis month we chat to Rose Pickering – dementia project lead at Sydenham Garden. Rose works to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia by incorporating nature and the outdoors.

Can you give a brief outline of what you do at Sydenham Garden and the type of people you work with?

Sydenham Garden is a unique wellbeing centre utilising its gardens, nature reserve and activity rooms to help people in their recovery from mental and physical ill-health in Lewisham, London. We aim to do this through providing co-workers (the name we give to our primary beneficiaries) an opportunity to take part in one of our four main projects. Three of these projects are focused on Adult Mental Health and include gardening, art & craft, cooking and opportunities to achieve recognised qualifications. The fourth project is focused on dementia and includes all the same elements but underpins them with Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST). We aim to promote inclusion and reduce prejudice by bringing together co-workers with different degrees of mental and physical ill health, volunteers and members of the local community to work together. Sydenham Garden enables people to improve their quality of life, social interaction and physical and mental health in a supportive community environment.

How do you use nature and the outdoors in your activity groups?

With the dementia groups, Sow and Grow and Sow & Keep Growing we make use of the garden in every session.  Connecting with nature, the seasons and its rhythms are a key to our sessions. We can stimulate all our senses as we walk, grow, nurture, harvest and create! We go for a walk and explore every session, sometimes with brollies or sometimes by taking shelter in the greenhouse! On one occasion, it rained so hard just as we donned our coats but we still ventured out marching along the covered balcony and around the centre. We grow our own flowers and shrubs which are often displayed on the welcoming tables. The vegetables are nurtured from greenhouse to our raised beds, we have fun harvesting the vegetables and enjoy making exciting and different meals and snacks from them.

When we are not gardening as an activity we are often creating art work made from objects gathered in the garden, or inspired from the shapes and colours.

How important is it for you to be able to use nature and the garden?

Being an urban area many of our co-workers have restricted access to the outside. Some do not even have a balcony, let alone a garden. A few have poor mobility and little chance to venture outside and less to connect with nature.  In the time they come to Sydenham Garden we can support them to access our beautiful surroundings, connecting with nature in all our activities and enjoy all that the seasons bring.

Any top tips for activities to do on a cold wet wintry day?

We have made fat balls for the birds in the winter and nesting balls for them when the foraging is poor. Hanging them up nearby, we wrap up and watch the birds feed or the squirrels tussle with them and steal them away. The Sydenham Garden, Garden project have dried flowers this autumn and are planning to make dyes with them. We are hoping to brighten up the cold wintry day by using them for simple drip tray dying.

Rose runs the weekly Sow and Grow and Sow and Keep Growing projects at Sydenham Gardens. Find out more

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