Come on Board, Wildlife Gardening with Avon Wildlife Trust.

About the project:

Come on Board is a project run by All Aboard Watersports that’s aimed at supporting individual older people to feel less socially isolated by participating in group activities.  Come On Board runs a variety of different activities across the city with their partners, one of which is Avon Wildlife Trust.

Avon Wildlife Trust run the Wildlife Gardening’ sessions at Feed Bristol nature reserve in Stapleton. The sessions run on a Monday and take place once a fortnight. There is a dementia friendly morning session from 10am until 12pm and another session for over 50s from 1pm until 3.30pm. Both the activities and the transport are provided free of charge to make this project accessible.

The activities vary according to the seasons. When the BAB team visited in early autumn, the beetroots and apples were ready to be picked and used. The group harvested the fruit and vegetables they needed for their recipes (beetroot and apple coleslaw), chopped and prepared the recipe and ate together. On other days, the activities are often based around encouraging wildlife to the garden, such as making bird feeders or helping out in the wildflower nursery doing tasks such as seed sowing and potting on.


Participant stories:

Jeffrey is ‘Bristol born and bred’ and has had a variety of jobs over the year from working in pubs to security work. Following a period of ill health, Jeffrey had to finish working and began to feel socially isolated.

St Monica Trust supported Jeffrey during this period and his befriender suggested he try one of the Community Wildlife Gardening sessions at the Feed Centre Feed Bristol. Jeffrey has been attending for just over a year now and enjoys how calm and relaxing the sessions are.

Jeffrey said, “I always look forward to coming. There’s always something different to see and smell and I think that helps everybody, we all have a great time. It’s nice to come for a couple of hours to just forget everything and come and get some fresh air. You meet people you wouldn’t normally meet and just have a friendly chat. Since I’ve been coming I’ve taken plants home and put them on my window sill and I’m buying plants and looking after them and I feel a lot calmer. Before I came, I didn’t have any plants. Now I water them and look after them, do a little bit of weeding and cut them back. It’s something to take my mind off things.”

Fran is also a long term Bristolian, having moved to the city as a child, Fran currently lives in a care home of around 60 people. Fran appreciates the free transport as it means that she is able to leave the care home for the afternoon and do something different. “I like talking to different people from different walks of life, it’s interesting. At the care home people are inclined to talk about their illnesses, I like to hear the good stuff. When I come I feel at peace with myself, that I’ve achieved something different with my day and spent some time outdoors.”

Sessions are also run for older people who are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Maggie, an activities coordinator at one of the care home involved describes the impact she feels the sessions have on clients. “They were so happy to do things on their own. For example, today we were chopping veggies like they used to do before going into supported living. It’s nice for them to chat about what they are doing, and discuss memories about what they used to grow in their own gardens, or about their childhood. You can see it brings back positive memories. Getting to meet different people as well is, I think, a really beneficial experience.”


Learning and Impact:

Nature is great at bringing people together and provides a common interest to build relationships and friendships from, we all have memories of and connections to nature so it’s an easy topic for people to join in with. The Trust have been impressed at how effective the project has been at combating social isolation.

Relaxing and doing meaningful activities for wildlife can provide people with a sense of belonging and achievement. The project have been surprised by the amount of participants who’ve been inspired to do wildlife gardening at home – for example, starting to feed the birds in their gardens or carers who’ve repeated the activities with other residents in their care homes. 

Organising suitable transport has been an ongoing difficulty for the project and local transport providers have found it difficult to keep up with requests and weren’t always able to offer suitable times – which meant that participants were often waiting around for an hour or two before/after the session or were arriving late or getting collected early. To overcome this Come on Board decided to use private taxis instead. However, some of the taxi companies have seemed under-trained and/or inexperienced at supporting participants who may need extra emotional or physical help to use their service. Ongoing, Come on Board are trying to find a taxi company that are better trained to support the participants who are attending the sessions.

Early mornings have also sometimes been a barrier for people attending who are living with dementia. This has meant that the morning sessions can be a bit patchy with attendance, some weeks there’s a full group and other weeks there’re 4 or 5 people. If the project was to run again, Avon Wildlife Trust would organise the sessions so that the dementia sessions are run in the afternoon rather than in the morning.

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