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Bolton Mutual Aid Centre

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Recent winner of a runner-up award from GMCVO (Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation) Bolton Mutual Aid Centre is a small self-managed community centre in the ethnically-diverse Deane area of Bolton. It is volunteer-run and unfunded. BMAC facilitates a mental health gardening group, a food coop, a fell walking group, healthy cookery classes, free English classes and a women’s group. The ‘forget me not’ gardening group was started a year ago in collaboration with the NHS’s Memory Assessment Service, Bolton Gathering of Organic Growers and Bolton Council’s Community Capacity Team. This project was developed in response to a lack of groups which offer opportunities to engage in purposeful activities for people with dementia.

The group ran for on a weekly basis for an initial 6 months to pilot the effectiveness for those recently diagnosed with dementia and their family members. Four key themes were identified from participants’ feedback including self-worth, engagement and motivation, a space to ‘be normal’ and belonging. The group attendees offered powerful messages such offering hope, an opportunity to “live again” and being “the best thing” since the diagnosis. Overall, by engaging in purposeful gardening activities and focusing on what they were able to do, this appeared to support people with dementia to normalise their diagnosis and continue to see value and worth within themselves. The findings offer a promising basis for the efficacy of such groups, suggesting they may be beneficial in helping people live well with dementia.

Forget-Me-Not’ gathered every Friday for 6 months in 2017, covering the growing season. The group was intended for people with dementia, however carers were also welcome to stay if they wished to. People recently diagnosed with dementia and family members were invited, provided they did not have significant physical impairments or frailties which could impact their ability to take part in practical activities. The group combined a range of indoor and outdoor activities including: preparing planting areas, pruning, composting activities, weeding, harvesting plants, flowers, sowing seeds, mulching borders, sweeping and raking, making plant pots, hanging baskets, herb pots, wind chimes, floral displays and developing a schedule for horticultural activities. The facilitators aimed to work collaboratively with group members to help develop the group over the initial 6 months.

Given the gardening group was experimental in this way, it developed over time and additional activities were incorporated. This included growing fruit and vegetables in the garden and using these to prepare meals, baking and making produce such as jams and chutneys which group members could take home. This provided a wider choice of activities for members to be involved in, catering for different interests and skills. As well as this, it promoted skill development in day-to-day activities people with dementia often find challenging, such as cooking and preparing meals, and promoted healthy eating and education through growing fruit, vegetables and herbs and consuming the organic produce.

This year the project has just started up again & will be looking at developing as a social enterprise and examining ways of generating income – last year jams and chutneys were produced and sold at a local café.

Alan Archy

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