Dementia gardening visits

Since 2016, the Food Partnership has run gardening and cookery groups for those living with dementia. When we had to press pause on the groups at the beginning of 2020, it was time to think about how we could distill some of the magic of gardening and cooking together in a way that would be safe for those living with dementia, most of whom would be considered in the high-risk category.

Our skilled existing volunteers were not to be deterred by the challenges thrown up by a virus. On hearing of a project in Lewes that was visiting socially isolated folks in their homes with gifts of plants and offers to help in their gardens, we devised our own Brighton version.

Where we were able to make contact with previous group members on our courses who knew and trusted us, we could pick up those relationships. Ideally, the person being visited would have some interest in nature or gardening and side access to their outdoor space that meant we didn’t have to go through anyone’s house, thus minimising risk of infection. All visits were done in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

Initially visits were made with Caroline from the Food Partnership and one of our experienced volunteers who was keen to develop an ongoing relationship with the person being visited. We have found that these relationships work best with consistency (restrictions allowing) which enable a building of relationship and trust. In some cases weekly phone calls have helped to build these befriending relationships.

After a few visits, ideas of appealing activities were made and when both participant and volunteer felt comfortable to continue as a pair, the regular visits would continue. On some occasions, volunteer and participant would tackle a garden task together – perhaps pruning or planting bulbs. Another time, looking at gardening books or catalogues and reminiscing about favourite flowers.

One lovely man had lots of neglected pots in his garden so volunteer Amanda (pictured above) set about repotting each and every one. It was quite a task and had to be spread over a number of weeks. The patio area was transformed by colourful geraniums donated by the project and plants already in the garden offered a new lease of life. This undertaking inspired a new interest in his outside space and he was gardening independently between visits. Bringing one of Amanda’s fantastic homemade cakes to share each visit certainly didn’t hurt either! In another befriending pair, homegrown and homemade jams and chutneys were swapped with volunteer and participant. You can’t take the food out of the Food Partnership!

With new variants and colder weather, the visits have been suspended and replaced with weekly phone calls where it is of value to the participant. We intend to pick up as we move into spring as many long for the easing of lockdown. We know that social isolation is increasingly an issue and the need for friendly and safe interaction is more vital than ever.

If you are based in Hove/Portslade (or willing to travel to these areas), DBS checked, and have an interest in gardening and befriending someone living with dementia then please do get in touch (caroline@bhfood.org.uk) as we have a few new referrals and would love to support new befriending partnerships. Both participants and volunteers tell us they find these visits to be beneficial on many levels.

‘I’ve discovered so much about her, we have such interesting conversations. It’s wonderful to share something we both love’ Volunteer

‘You’ve got me going with my garden again, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to seeing you’ Participant

This blog is dedicated to our wonderful friend Derek Dove who became such a huge part of this project and never failed to make us smile.

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