Belfast Telegraph

Inspirational new sensory garden nurturing growth at Lisburn care home

Sarah Collins at the new sensory garden
Sarah Collins at the new sensory garden
Laurelhill residents George Flanagan and Joan McKinstry
The sensory garden
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Residents at a Lisburn care home are set to reap the benefits of a new sensory garden thanks to a Belfast-based youth initiative.

More than 50 young people have been involved in different phases of the cross-community 'Catalyst' project with Springboard Opportunities, which aims to enhance employability, boost confidence and encourage the young participants to give back to local communities.

The recent transformation of an unused courtyard at Laurelhill House has allowed the group to play a positive role in society, form new friendships and create a memorable space that will support those living at the home with dementia though multi-sensory stimulation.

Sarah Collins (25), from north Belfast, has been involved with the group for several years and revealed the idea for doing something positive for dementia sufferers came from personal experience.

"I'd actually gone to visit my granny the morning before we were meeting to come up with ideas for a project," she said.

"We knew the garden at Laurelhill House had been completely destroyed in a storm and everyone agreed that turning the space into something for the residents and their families to enjoy in years to come would be a wonderful thing to do."

With the seed sown, the young people got down to work last October. "We wanted to create something to stimulate," said Sarah. "We put a lot of planning into it and asked the residents what they would like to see in their new garden. They came up with ideas and we have tried to make sure they're all in there.

"We were asked to include apple trees and berry bushes, things that reminded the residents of their childhood.

"The whole idea is to bring back memories, something that takes them to happy times, and we've been amazed at the reaction to the finished garden."

Seating areas, wind chimes, water features and vibrant colours have all been included and it's hoped they will benefit the residents, both mentally and physically.

"It's wonderful to see the smiling faces, definitely worth all those hours digging and getting our hands dirty when we got some free time.

"We'll definitely be returning to see the residents enjoying the garden with their families," said Sarah.

On a personal level, being involved in the project has been beneficial to Sarah as well.

"I'm such a different person now," she said.

"When I first got involved at Springboard in 2012 I brought a lot of personal demons with me. I was having health problems, struggling with mental health issues, and I was extremely self-conscious."

Yesterday, Sarah stood in front of 200 people to help officially open the new garden.

"That's something I could never have done even a few months ago," she said. "I'm a lot more confident now and I can't wait to get stuck in to my own [garden] when I get the time."

'Catalyst' is funded through the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) Personal Youth Development Programme and works with 16- to 25-year-olds in north and west Belfast who have faced challenging issues including poor mental health, substance abuse, homelessness and difficult family backgrounds.

Speaking at the official launch of the garden, Richard O'Rawe, IFI Board Member, said the pressures that many young people face today are extreme.

"Anxiety, mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, challenging family relationships and even the threat of paramilitary recruitment are all real issues.

"This sensory garden has played an important role to help transform attitudes and understanding, build inter-generational relationships and put a smile on people's faces whenever they spend time in it."

Sue Curry from Laurelhill House said she was delighted with the finished result.

"It has been a pleasure to work with everyone involved with Catalyst because they have been so passionate about creating this new space," she said.

"We all benefit psychologically and physically from being outdoors but for people with dementia this is particularly important.

"The sensory approach will help enhance everyday life as well as bring support and joy to residents, carers, staff and family members," she added.

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