June 30 2018

It started small but ended on a high - our first farm-based activity group for younger people living with dementia has completed its three-month pilot. 

The group was set up by Alzheimer's Support and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust at the Trust's Blakehil Farm nature reserve near Cricklade in North Wiltshire. 

Members met fortnightly at the nature reserve, a former air base, where they took part in farm-based activities and craft projects, watched wildlife and made new friends.  Now, after the successful three-month pilot, the two charities are seeking funds to continue the group next year.

Ian Wiltshire, a retired farmer who now lives with dementia, said: "I was a bit nervous the first time. I didn't know what to expect. But now I feel so relaxed here. It is good to be out of doors with other people and helping to get the land back for future generations." 

Phil, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his 50s, attended the group with his wife Kay. He said: “It has been wonderful. We are all in the same boat and we are there for each other, helping each other out. It’s been smashing.”

Kay said: “I’ve enjoyed it too because it gives me some time out when I don’t need to think about everything else I should be doing. The environment is just gorgeous. It is a tonic just to come up here. I just wish it could carry on.”

Amy Blount, Wild Connections Project Co-ordinator for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust said: "Our nature reserves are magical places for wildlife and people. Those living with dementia and their loved ones can be hesitant in accessing the countryside due to barriers such as lack of confidence, safety concerns and lack of support to participate in outdoor activities. Our Blakehill Farm group addressed these concerns and allowed everyone to fully experience the benefits of being in nature."

Heartfelt praise for social and supportive project

Sarah Marriott, Head of Community Services at Alzheimer’s Support, said: “There has been nothing but heartfelt praise for this project. It has been fantastic. Although we had a slow start, numbers steadily increased and everyone has loved it.

“People with dementia can become isolated and lose touch with skills but many, especially in younger age groups, are still very active and able to work with tools. This group gave people the chance to be out of doors, get involved in practical tasks like making bird boxes and enjoying nature in a social and supportive environment.”

She said the charities were now working on ways to continue the group: “We have demonstrated the value of a group like this and shown how beneficial it is to those who come along. We would like to be able to run it every spring and summer in the future. We’d like to thank the Trust for planning and leading the activities and the volunteers who came along to support the group.”

Carilyn Telford, who attended with her husband John said, wrote to Sarah the day after the group ended saying: "I could not let another day go by without saying thank you to the people who organised the Blakehill Farm Group. I am carer for my husband John, and may I say what a delight it has been. Everyone has been so kind, friendly and helpful. I truly pray this event may continue because it gives so much practical help and brings smiles to our faces."