Welcome to our indoor garden
9 July 2019 | North East England
Amazing green space is transforming lives of dementia sufferers and people with learning difficulties.
Whatever the weather outside, it doesn’t bother visitors to Chuter Ede Community Centre, in South Shields. They have a special indoor garden where worries can be forgotten.
And rain or shine, you can guarantee it’s always summer in this garden. Birdsong fills the air, and there is the sweet aroma of newly mown grass.
The specially designed room has been fitted with a garden shed, containing boxes of tools and a library of books to pick through and assorted deck chairs for relaxing in.
The garden project was created as a quiet space for those who attend Ocean Choices, who provide a day service for adults with learning difficulties and supports those with dementia.
Martin Wray, who runs the community interest company, came out of retirement specifically to run the centre because he wanted to make a difference and help people. He doesn’t take a wage and came up with the idea of the indoor garden to encourage calmness and a place to reminisce. The room used to be used for storage.
“It can get quite hectic, so it’s important we offer a space to be still, have a place to think, or to quietly listen to others,” he explains. “This spot provides this and as an added benefit, every day is summer. And as many people can be sensitive to various weather conditions, we don’t have to worry about that any more in the indoor garden.
“We are also aware that people with learning disabilities are more likely to be affected by dementia, in particular those with Down Syndrome. We have had people who use our services showing the early signs of dementia as early as 30 years old.
“We encourage everyone here to come in and reminisce. With everyone who comes along we work towards completing a memory book about their lives and in the garden they can come and talk in confidence. There is something about being in there that helps them relax.”
Around 30 daily service users attend the centre, which Martin opened 12 months ago. Some come daily, some once a week. The local authorities refer some while others have to pay a fee.
“We are a day service not a day centre. People don’t come here to play bingo. We offer skill-based activities which promote a person’s independence.”
The indoor garden is not the only unique experience that Ocean Choices offer. They also have a fully-fitted, fully-equipped health and beauty parlour on site which Martin recently opened. The point is to give attendees a chance to learn personal care skills and get hands-on experience of working in a salon. Not only that but they open the salon to the public two days a week with people from the centre helping with appointments and interacting with customers.
A volunteer hairdresser comes in on a Wednesday to both cut and teach to cut hair. And a qualified beautician also gives up her time to attend.
“We can do anything from eyebrow waxing to hand massages. As well as giving those from the centre who need it a free haircut, leg massage, or get their nails done, it gives people with learning difficulties the chance to learn how to wash and style hair or give a manicure.
“It also gives them vital life-skills like making cups of coffee, handling appointments and general customer care. They absolutely love it.”
Dedicated Martin scoured the internet for weeks to buy the right items. “I spent ages looking for the right kinds of tongs and straighteners!”
One user who has benefitted from both the indoor garden and salon is 34-year-old Joanne, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
She has learnt how to use a hair dryer and curling tongs and loves interacting with members of the public while in the salon. Martin said she had blossomed since being given the opportunity to learn new skills.
Joanne said: “I recently gave a 30 minute manicure after being taught. It made me feel like I had really achieved something. It also felt good to be giving something back.
“I also learnt about eyebrow tints. I only observed but I am confident I will be able to deliver that service in the future. How the salon is configured means I can get around in my wheelchair.”
She added: “It has changed my life coming here, I am so very grateful. In other centres we were put to the back. Here everyone is equal, my opinion counts and I am able to really enjoy my day. Who knows what doors it will open for my future.”