A sense of place

Person in a garden holding a bird feeder

Lesley is a day opportunities support worker who runs gardening sessions at Daylight: a day service for people with learning disabilities, which also provides activities such as art, drama, music, yoga, and dance. Lesley has years of experience gardening, having completed a gardening skills course at Capel Manor College and online social and therapeutic horticulture training through the charity Thrive during lockdown. She tells us more about Daylight’s Forget-Me-Not sessions are helping people with learning disabilities through connecting them with nature using all the senses

How did the gardening sessions at Daylight start?
About four years ago, I established the Forget-Me-Not session at Daylight. The aim was to support people with sensory impairments, as well as those who were experiencing dementia, to experience nature and gardening – at Daylight and in the local area.

Since the service re-opened in summer last year, I have been able to adapt the activity to have more of a social and therapeutic horticulture approach, for a diverse range of our attendees. After getting in touch with the park rangers at Caledonian and Gillespie Parks, the group have been very pleased to have a day per month at each of the parks. The staff there have been great at arranging appropriate nature and garden-related activities for our group.

What does a usual session look like?
We take time to admire and appreciate the plants and natural world around us. We chat, we sow seeds and see how they develop, we visit beautiful places, observe the seasonal changes and talk about them. When at Daylight, each person attending brings a different interest or skill to the activity. One lady loves to top up the bird feeders and take photos of the garden. Another lady really enjoys watering the plants. Another gentleman enjoys the texture of the soil when potting up the seedlings into bigger pots. Everyone appreciates seeing new growth appearing in our gardening room. We have also taken part in projects such as the January Big Garden Birdwatch and have linked in with Big City Butterflies for activities that help us learn more about wildlife we may come across locally.

What do the gardening sessions hope to achieve?
We hope that people find satisfaction in seeing the progress of nature through the seasons and our own plants growing, and enjoy the opportunity to be sociable in a relaxed environment. There is also an element of skills development. We want people to help people recognise aspects of the natural world around us, which may have not been noticed before. We don’t have to be experts in gardening or nature to appreciate nature. Sometimes in our sessions we just stop and sit and listen, look, smell or touch what is around us and that is a fulfilling enough activity.

We have also been able to link in with the wider community by becoming involved with the planting at Caledonian Park in the community gardens there, as well as in future hopefully being able to link in with volunteer opportunities in nearby Highbury Fields. We are visible in the local community and that is important.

Forget-me-not gardening sessions are always looking for volunteers to help with ongoing gardening maintenance. If you would like to help out, please contact Lesley on Lesley.Buxton@islington.gov.uk

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