St Catherine’s Hospital is a former mental healthcare hospital located three miles from the centre of Doncaster, South Yorkshire. It is set in the grounds and parkland of a grade 2 listed former private estate with the old house and outbuildings at its heart, and is surrounded by housing estates and nearby local schools.
St Catherine’s Hospital was one of 10 NHS Forest pilot sites set up in 2009 when small saplings were planted - these now tower above people’s heads! In 2011, the Big Lottery awarded funds to the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare towards a project called Outer Space as part of the Access to Nature programme run by Natural England. This aimed to show how improving access to green spaces could be used to for a wide range of green health benefits for local people.
The Outer Space site centred on the site's ancient woodland - a calm, sheltered area on the edge of the hospital grounds. The project included a group of mental health patients and community volunteers creating new pathways and an outdoor classroom. Various events have taken place subsequently, including an art project, run by Occupational Therapists for service users.
The woodland is also being used by hospital staff and service users as well as people from the local community. An ancient walled garden on the site is now home to a nursery growing plants for sale and an adjacent Victorian tea room has been set up and is also flourishing. These initiatives help provide employment and training to members of the community, including some former service users.
A recent development is that a Community Dementia Garden has been established within the grounds of the Victorian walled garden area. A local charity, Donmentia, has taken the lead on the creation of the garden, which is open to all but which is particularly being used by local people with dementia. Some of the visitors are able to carry out gardening activities by using the new raised beds which have been built at a height accessible to people in wheelchairs. The garden has been created as a space for relaxation, and includes planting schemes that are multi-sensory to prompt people's memory recall by appealing to all of the human senses - sight, smell, touch, sound and even taste thanks to the thoughtful use of herbs and edible produce grown in the raised beds.
A small fountain provides a focal feature and a calming background play of noise, as well as attracting wildlife. A large arbour gives shade for rest and contemplation on sunny days, and pathways lined with roses, lavendar, mint and honeysuckle produce wonderful aromas. Sages and artichokes give shape and texture for touch experiences, and vibrant colours are abundant in the choice of herbaceous plants. Foxgloves, geraniums and verbena all attract bees and butterflies to the garden.
As the project has evolved, local people have taken greater ownership of the site, naming the green space ‘Woodfield Park’ and setting up a ‘Friends of Woodfield Park’ group to oversee regular community activities. The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare has recently received investment for these community activities from People’s Health Trust, using money raised by HealthRich through The Health Lottery. This funding allows for the setting up of a new walking group at the site and is also enabling the NHS Forest to involve local schoolchildren at Woodfield Primary School in environmental arts to inspire them with a love of nature and to engage them and their families with the benefits of being outdoors for their long-term health and wellbeing.
The children’s art activities are being run by darts, a community arts organisation based in Doncaster. The children have enjoyed sessions in photography, ceramics and woodland sculpture, as well as producing some wonderful textile bugs! Please click on the document below for more information about this pioneering project.
All of these activities mean that members of the local community can join together in activities in the woodland, or visit the site independently, so that many more local people can enjoy the multiple health benefits of this green space. The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare is very grateful for support from Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, the Big Lottery and the People’s Health Trust towards this thriving project.