We have just returned from a fascinating morning with the Sensory Trust in Cornwall.  Jo, Becky and Noreen joined Ruth Garside and Kath Maguire from the European Centre for the Environment and Health to meet Stuart Spurring, Wendy Brewin, Jane Stoneham and Vicky Hutchinson to discuss our exciting new project ‘My Nature’.

Funded by the University of Exeter, My Nature, is a collaborative project to design and develop a training toolkit to enhance the quality of life for older people living in residential/nursing care (includes older residents with dementia).  As well as The Sensory Trust, we will also be working with two care homes in Cornwall.

For over 20 years the Sensory Trust have been delivering a range of projects promoting sensory approaches to the natural environment in the belief that it brings social, health and well-being benefits. A particular interest recently has been engaging people with dementia with nature. Our involvement began back in 2013, when the Sensory Trust became interested in having a more established evidence base for their approaches and discovered Ruth and her expertise in systematic reviews.  With their mutual interest in well-being and the natural environment this was a collaboration set to flourish!

In 2014, with funding from the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health, we embarked on a collaborative project to synthesise qualitative evidence (words) on how older people describe their sensory engagement with the outside world. The evidence told us that  older people describe their sensory experiences of nature in terms of

  • Seeing, looking at and watching nature,
  • ‘Being in’ nature, e.g. enjoying the birdsong in the garden,
  • ‘Doing in’ nature e.g. gardening, and
  • Pleasure and enjoyment, feeling connected and being part of ‘ordinary’ life.

However, older people living in residential/nursing care can experience barriers to accessing the outdoors.  In fact, there is evidence from some research in Scotland that 50% of people with dementia in care homes never go out of the home, and another 25% go out rarely.

So how could we use this research to make a difference to the everyday lives of older people, particularly those living in the residential/nursing care sector?

With further funding from the University of Exeter we held a collaborative workshop with the Sensory Trust in May 2016 to share our review findings with 17 representatives from the care sector in Cornwall.   It was a great opportunity for mutual learning, making new contacts and finding out how our findings could be more user friendly for care workers.

Spurred on by this, we applied to the University for further funding to develop ‘My Nature: a training toolkit’ tailored for the care sector and today we held our first planning meeting fuelled ( as all good meetings are) by some yummy pecan and banana muffins!


Watch the space for more updates!