Victoria Hill is the Director of Growing Support, an award-winning social enterprise tackling social isolation and inactivity via therapeutic horticultural activities with older people. She writes:
Growing Support is transforming under used care home gardens into thriving growing spaces and lively hubs of community activity.
The Bristol based social enterprise aims to bring the health and wellbeing of social and therapeutic horticulture activities to people with dementia. They deliver community gardening groups in locations accessible to people with dementia – mostly care home gardens but also the gardens of social housing, day centres and community allotments.
Growing Support has helped establish 30 gardening groups in Bristol and the surrounding area. Held weekly, the clubs are designed to provide opportunities to exercise key muscle groups, enjoy sensory stimulation, participate in purposeful activity and socialise.
Each group has 5 - 10 participants and is supported by a group leader, a member of care staff and local volunteers. Participants complete a full range of gardening activities from food growing and maintaining the garden to crafts such as felt making or making scarecrows. Gardening activities continue indoors during inclement weather with access to nature provided through tabletop activities such as planting up containers. A typical gardening group can be viewed on this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xk_CURYtkk&feature=youtu.be
Anyone who lives in the care home or the vicinity of the gardening club is welcome to join, no referral is necessary. The typical gardener is over 70 with multiple health conditions such as dementia, limited mobility or sensory impairment. In some areas Growing Support works in partnership with the Dementia Wellbeing Service to identify people with dementia at most risk of isolation.
Measuring outcomes is one of the main challenges. The majority of service users have short term memory loss or very limited verbal communication skills which makes traditional wellbeing measures such as the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale difficult to administer. In 2016 Growing Support trialled a new measurement tool – the Greater Cincinnati Chapter Wellbeing Observation Tool. Occupational Therapy students from the University of West of England attended 20 activity sessions and captured observations at 10 minute intervals across a range of wellbeing domains such as engagement, confusion, agitation, distress, pleasure and pride.
Initial indications are that the main outcomes are reduced agitation and distress, increased engagement and less confusion. The data also suggests that a key driver of success is the involvement of the community in the groups ie the more volunteers there are to support the gardeners the better the outcomes achieved.
There is lots left to do, for example it is not yet clear what impact attendance at the gardening group has after the activity session has ended. Ideally it would be possible to show a prolonged impact on wellbeing such as a reduction in night time agitation.
Growing Support always welcomes support from the research community. If you are interested in finding out more about their work or how you could be involved please get in touch with Victoria on email@example.com.