Despite the lockdown our Green Pathways for Life project has been up and running in Frome, Somerset – supporting people living with dementia with a varied programme of wildlife activities, delivered safely by email and letterbox in place of our usual outdoor group activities.
Connection is at the heart of this project. Working out ways of making and strengthening connections – in terms of both person-to-person and person-to-nature – has been a real challenge.
Achieving the nuanced outcome of ‘nature connection’ has become an established goal for many environmental organisations and projects. How exactly a person connects with nature, whether consciously or subconsciously, depends on an intangible combination of personal and social influences. Nature connection is loosely defined and highly variable, or personal, between individuals. Lived experience, personality, background, and importantly in the case of designing programmes for people living with dementia, cognitive factors, all play a role in shaping a person’s relationship with the natural world.
How then, to encourage nature connection for people living with dementia? We use the term ‘encourage’, rather than ‘deliver’, because it is all about creating the conditions and opportunities for connections to be made, reinforced, remembered, and shared with others – rather than delivering something readymade.
Sending out activities under lockdown has felt at times like a token gesture, a stopgap until we can relaunch our outdoor activity sessions again. Keeping people occupied but probably lacking opportunities for meaningful ‘connections’ to be made.
However some of the early feedback we’ve received indicates otherwise. One participant said “we heard a bird singing in the forest and recognised it as a wren” because of our weekly bird song listening activities.
Another pointed out that “the activities have inspired me to connect with friends, it gave me a reason to get back in touch with people I had not spoken with in some time.”
These stories have been truly motivating for our work in supporting people through nature based outreach – so the benefits, and the connections, go both ways!