Gardening project offers “DIGnity” in risk

AN innovative project revolving around the therapeutic benefits of gardening is helping promote socialisation and wellbeing among aged residents and those experiencing mobility issues in the community.

Funded by the Tasmanian Community Fund and established by The Centre for Rural Health in partnership with the Dodges Ferry and Dunalley Neighbourhood Houses, ‘DIGnity’ is a wellbeing project aimed at building the therapeutic capacity of three well-established community gardens.

The project enables health workers, artists and researchers to work alongside community members, garden coordinators and volunteers to create a safe and inclusive gardening space.

DIGnity occupational therapist Jessie Bynon said the project was an “innovation in health care.”

“It is a simple idea, but with enormous potential to improve health and wellbeing in rural communities,” she said.

“We aim to provide an environment for people to feel safe, welcome and able to participate with other members of the community, particularly for people who have lost their confidence or their physical or cognitive capacity to garden.

“Gardening in a community setting provides not only opportunities for exercise, but also for socialising and mental rejuvenation.

“Combining garden activities with art and craft also caters for a broader range of interests and abilities.”

The community gardens involved in the project – located at Dodges Ferry, Dunalley and Nubeena – have been altered to offer wider paths and raised garden beds for participants who use a wheelchair or walker.

To ensure support is on hand if needed, an occupational therapist, social worker and two garden coordinators are always available on site.

Having health staff close at hand reassured carers that the participants were well looked after, Ms Bynon said.

“While at the same time, the outdoors setting affords people a certain dignity in risk, which benefits physical and mental health, as well as self-esteem,” she said.

“We don’t dictate what people do here, whether it’s gardening, weaving, spending time with children or simply having a chat – we are just here to help them with whatever they want to do.”

Ms Bynon said the main thing she had seen emerge from the program was a strong sense of community.

“When we started the program in 2015, I thought it was going to be a lot about gardening,” she said.

“But what we’ve really found is that it has created this feeling of community and people just love coming here because it feels like a family.

“It is also just a beautiful place – it’s organic and natural, which is a welcome change for older people who are stuck inside a lot of the time because of their limited mobility or need for a carer to be present.

“We don’t provide support in the traditional sense of the word, but rather offer assistance to anyone who needs it, in whatever shape or form that takes.”

The DIGnity Project will be taking a break over winter and will resume in the first week of September.

For more information, phone 6265 9281 or visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=dignity%20gardening.

Caption: DIGnity artist Gwen Egg, right ,and participant Sya Kleywegt spend some time working on their arts and crafts.