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Green-fingered volunteers help sensory garden to bloom

Green-fingered volunteers who play a vital role in maintaining a sensory garden for people with dementia and their families have spoken of the satisfaction they get from helping others. 

Pauline Elliott (pictured) and Jenny Pye have been volunteering at Carlton Court in Lowestoft, which is run by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), since the garden was overhauled and redesigned by former Trust staff Julie Kerton and Louisa Harris more than a decade ago. 

Over the years, Pauline and Jenny have been joined by others, with a group of five volunteers now meeting weekly to maintain the garden's distinct and varied areas, which include a meadow, woodland, orchard, Mediterranean and sea gardens. 

Pauline has spoken of the satisfaction the volunteers get from their work in the run up to Volunteer’s Week, which takes place between 1 and 7 June and gives people the chance to celebrate volunteering and thank those who give up their time to help others. 

“We all find the garden very rewarding,” said Pauline, who lives in Lowestoft. “It gives us a lovely opportunity to work in a hospital environment and know that we are contributing just a little bit to the wellbeing of the patients there. 

“When we worked with Julie and Louisa to design the garden, we made sure we included lots of plants which stimulate the senses, some herbs and some fruit trees, while also adding in some nooks and crannies where patients can get away and enjoy some time alone with their relatives. Some of the elements also provide a stimulus to the memory – one of my favourite moments in the garden, for example, was listening to a patient who would lean on the farm gate which leads into the meadow and tell me all about his life as a shepherd. I’m sure without the gate being there, he wouldn’t have had those memories come to mind. 

“The service users seem to really appreciate the garden, while relatives like to take their loved ones out of the ward environment and into the outside space. Its lovely to know you are helping to enable them to do that. 

“As volunteers, we have all been surprised at how much personally we’ve got from it – its good exercise, we’ve made really good friends and its become a social event for us as well, which is great.” 

Among those who helped Julie, Louisa and the volunteers to create the outside space was Cliff Cook, who worked in the garden every week while he was a day patient at the unit at the start of the project, and credits it with making a massive difference to his life. 

“I worked on a farm when I first left school and ended up building roads, so have worked outside all my life,” said Cliff, 77, who lives in Beccles. “I really enjoy gardening and found that working at Carlton Court really helped me. 

“I’m now doing really well and am getting on with life and enjoying myself, taking each day as it comes. Hopefully I am proof that you can live well with dementia.” 

Lisa Breame, Dementia Trainer with NSFT, said: “I have been stunned by the central garden at Carlton Court, which has been nurtured over the years by these dedicated volunteers. It provides service users, their families and carers and our staff with a relaxing space away from the wards and has made a real difference to hundreds of people since it first took root more than a decade ago.” 

For more information about volunteering at NSFT, click on the “Get involved” tab above. 

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